Friday, August 30, 2019

Rabbi Shmuel Salant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Role Models

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

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Seeking God in Elul

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted annually.

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Close to God

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

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Happy Bow Tie Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Look Good and Comply with Jewish Law

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

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Why is Jerusalem Not Mentioned in the Torah?

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

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

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

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

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Promote and Support Jerusalem

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

Monday, August 26, 2019

Progress for Women

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

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

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

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

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Support Progress in Context

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

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Hebron Massacre of 1929

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on August 23, 2011.

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Support Israel

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

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Grace Before Meals

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

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

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

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

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Israel’s Special Foods

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

I’m a Poet and I Don’t Know It!

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

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

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

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

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

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Express Yourself Via Song and/or Poetry

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Golden Ages of Estonia

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

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

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

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

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

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Learn the Jewish History of Estonia

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

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Western Light

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

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

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

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

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Prayer Should Illuminate

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

Friday, August 16, 2019

Shabbat Nachamu

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on August 4, 2017.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Offer Comfort

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

Thursday, August 15, 2019

No Holiday as Joyous

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Tu B’Av.

Tonight and tomorrow is Tu B’Av.

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

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Celebrate Tu B’Av

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Sir Moses Montefiore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on August 3, 2009. 

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Support Jewish Causes All over the World

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

All That’s Left

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

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

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

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

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

If you are left handed, enjoy the day.

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

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Lefties Tend to Be Proud of their “Condition”

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

Monday, August 12, 2019

Resuming Normalcy

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was originally published on July 23, 2018. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate Your Spotify!

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

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Consolation after the “Morning of Mourning”

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

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

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mourning over Jerusalem Helps Rebuild the Holy City

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

Friday, August 9, 2019

Tisha B'Av

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for later events on this date 

This Treat was originally published on August 8, 2008.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shabbat Chazon

This Shabbat is Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath of the Vision (prophecy), named after the opening word of the Book of Isaiah, the first 27 verses of which are read as the haftarah on the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av (the Ninth of Av).

Isaiah’s vision is sad and mournful, for he saw both the sins of the Children of Israel and the great destruction that would come as a result of the people’s sinfulness: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God has spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master's feeding trough; but Israel does not know, My nation does not understand” (Isaiah 1:2-3).

In the haftarah of Shabbat Chazon, Isaiah calls out “How has the faithful city become a harlot! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now, murderers” (Isaiah 1:21). “How,” queries the prophet. In Hebrew, the word for “How” is the word “Eicha,” which is also the name and first word of the prophetic work read on Tisha B’Av evening (known in English as Lamentations).This same word, “eicha,” is also found in the weekly Torah portion, D’varim, which is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av. Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1) begins with Moses addressing the people before his death. He reviews with them their entire history in the wilderness. In verse 12 he asks: “Eicha - How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens, and your strife?” Even Moses, our greatest leader, lamented the challenges brought on by the willful Children of Israel.

This Treat was last posted on July 28, 2017.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.


As Jews, we usually do not question God’s ways, but our tradition teaches that on and around Tisha B’Av, we do indeed ask this question, the question. Eichah, meaning, “how?” is the name of Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations, and a question Isaiah asked in the Haftarah that is recited prior to Tisha B’Av.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Unspeakable

The Prophet Jeremiah, lived during the destruction by the Babylonians of Solomon’s Temple, and served as the Jews’ chief consoler as they were being exiled out of Jerusalem. Jeremiah’s narrative describing the devastation to the Jews and the barbarism of the Babylonians is recorded in the Biblical book of Lamentations. One of the most unspeakable and jarring images provided by Jeremiah can be found in the second chapter: “Behold, O Lord, and consider to whom you have done this. Shall the women eat their fruit, their cherished babies? Shall the priest and the prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord?” (Lamentations 2:20).

The 17th of the kinnot (elegies), read on Tisha B’Av morning, addresses this disturbing image. Each stanza ends with the Hebrew “a’le’lay li,” woe is me, a quote from the tragic epistle of Job (10:15). The phrase describes the ravishing hunger and degradation of the Jewish people, which was a consequence of the Babylonian siege and seizure of Jerusalem. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who popularized explaining the kinnot on Tisha B’Av day, rather than just reciting them by rote, strongly suggested reading this elegy in English. Rabbi Soloveitchik would usually share a Holocaust story at this time as well.

Rabbi Yisrael Zev Gustman (1908-1991), a towering Lithuanian scholar in pre-war Europe, survived the Nazi onslaught and rebuilt his shattered life in Israel. Rabbi Gustman once commented, “I witnessed in the Vilna Ghetto all of the atrocities mentioned in the Tisha B’Av kinnot.” The Gustman’s only son, Meir’el, six at the time, was murdered before their eyes. Rabbi Gustman recalls seeing in the ghetto, a starving elderly woman lying in the filthy street. As he approached, he was shocked to learn that the woman was none other than the widow of the famed Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, the leading Torah scholar of pre-Holocaust Europe, who had died earlier in 1940. This woman was royalty in the enormous Vilna Jewish community. She was so sick, that she was unable to consume the carrot that Rabbi Gustman gave her, until he first chewed it for her.

Woe is me. Woe is us!

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Mourning Jerusalem I: A Brief History of the First Temple

Jews all over the world will be observing the fast of Tisha B’Av on this coming Saturday night and Sunday. It is on Tisha B’Av that the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. The First Temple was destroyed almost 2,500 years ago and the Second Temple 1,949 years ago. It is therefore not easy to understand what exactly it is that the Jewish people mourn.

A brief history of Jerusalem and the First Temple:

King David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and established it as his capital (c. 1040 BCE). He desired to build a sanctuary in which the Divine Spirit could dwell. However, God told David “You have been involved in war. The Temple is to be a site of peace, so your son, King Solomon, who will be anointed after you, will merit to build the Temple” (II Samuel 7).

“Solomon’s Temple” stood for 410 years. It served as the center of Jewish life, and Jewish pilgrims from all over ascended to Jerusalem three times a year. Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers (5:5) states that ten miracles occurred in the Temple--for instance, the fire of the altar was never extinguished by rain.

Unfortunately, during the rule of Solomon's son Reheboam, the united kingdom dissolved. The northern ten tribes formed one kingdom and the southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) another. Strife between the two kingdoms, and their worship of idolatry, led to foreign conquest. First the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom (719 BCE) and then the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE) conquered Jerusalem, destroying the First Temple and sending most of the Jews into Babylonian exile.

The destruction of the First Temple was a massive trauma for the Jewish people, for the nation was now bereft of its spiritual epicenter.

This Treat was originally published on August 6, 2008.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Pray to Keep that which is Important to You

In addition to wishing to fulfill new goals and dreams, make sure to always pray to treasure and keep all that you have and have already accomplished. Never take what you have for granted!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Gateway Sin

Those who debate the issue of legalizing certain types of drugs, will often encounter the notion of a “gateway drug,” something that, by itself seems somewhat benign, but may lead to the use of much more dangerous substances. Can there be “gateways” to sin?

Rabbi Israel Meir Hakohen (Kagan in Russian), known as the Chofetz Chaim, the title of one of his greatest works, also penned a lesser-known volume called Ahavat Yisrael, in which he codifies the laws regarding Ahavat Yisrael (loving a fellow Jew) and the horrible consequences of its opposite. He explains why the iniquity of Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) has more deleterious consequences than other evils.

First, he writes, the act of hating causes one to violate, every second in which that hatred is present in one’s heart, the Biblical precept of hating a fellow in one’s heart (Leviticus 19:17). This can accrue for months or even years, where the sins multiply at a rate one cannot even quantify. Second, reasoned the Chofetz ChaimSinat Chinam serves as a gateway to further religious malevolence, such as causing disputes, evil speech, tale-bearing, deceit, and causing embarrassment, which our sages have homiletically likened to homicide. The prohibition of taking revenge (Leviticus 19:18), which is the Biblical prelude to the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow as oneself, implies hatred as well.

Finally, the Talmud suggests that two friends who do not talk to one another for three days because of anger, are considered to be in violation of the prohibition of hating a fellow. Thus, it is entirely possible that one small misunderstanding between Jews, a minor infraction, or an insignificant spat, could result in violating several major religious infractions. The Chofetz Chaim declares: “We must conclude that we must try very hard to see and fix this bitter iniquity, which is the principal cause of our extended exile. May our good G-d aid us in removing this hatred from our hearts. May no one be jealous of us, nor may we be jealous of others.”

This Treat was last posted on July 17, 2018.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Brotherly and Sisterly Love on Tisha B’av

The theme of “unconditional love” can be found in the Tisha B’Av kinnot, as the ideal that was absent during our history’s lowest moments.

In kinnah number 26, the author, Elazar HaKalir, invokes a Midrash (Eicha Rabbati, peticha 24) where the prophet Jeremiah, arouses the matriarchs and patriarchs from their eternal rest, begging them to intercede with God to prevent the utter destruction of the Jewish people. He approached Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all of whom pleaded with the Almighty to spare their beloved Jewish children for the sake of their holy actions. “Is it in vain that I suffered ten trials?” cried Abraham. “Was it in vain that I was inscribed to be slaughtered?” offered Isaac. Jacob, Moses, and Leah too were unsuccessful in their entreaties. It was only Mother Rachel who aroused God’s mercy, for Rachel famously showed great unconditional love for her sister Leah. The Bible recounts that Jacob was slated to marry Rachel, but Laban, Rachel’s wily father, believed that Leah needed to be married first, as she was older than Rachel, and intended to deliver Leah to Jacob, during his wedding with Rachel. Knowing her father’s predilection for subterfuge, Rachel concocted a code with her beloved Jacob, to assure that Laban would not try to marry Leah to Jacob. When Rachel learned that Laban was indeed engaging in that deception, she had mercy upon her older sister, and revealed to her the secret code that she had set with Jacob, so Jacob would indeed marry Leah first.

Another kinnah, number 23, cites a tragic story recounted in the Talmud (Gittin 58a). At the time of the Temple’s destruction, seven Jewish slaves could be purchased for the price of one horse. The son and daughter of Rabbi Yishmael, the High Priest, who were both of attractive countenance, were sold to two separate Roman patrons, who, seeing their beauty, suggested breeding them. They were placed in a dark room together, each in his own corner, crying over their predicament. As the sun rose and they recognized one another, they died of heartbreak in each other’s arms. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (1910-2012, Jerusalem) suggested that too often we remain in our own corners and label others slaves and maidservants. Only when the light appears do we see these slaves and maidservants as our own brothers and sisters.

It is clear that one of the most important takeaways from Tisha B’Av is that we destroy ourselves when we hate each other. Conversely, when we love one another, we rise and succeed.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Don’t Hate Those with Whom You Disagree

How can one hate for no reason? It must mean hating another for their different views. Make sure to avoid this toxic behavior.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Girl in the Red Coat

Aside from the opening and closing scenes in Stephen Spielberg’s 1993 Academy Award winning “Schindler’s List,” the entire movie was presented in black and white, except for one girl’s red coat depicted in a scene taking place in the Krakow ghetto. The camera followed this young girl as the haunting tune of the famed Yiddish tune, “Oyfn Pripetshik” played in the background.

One of the ways to comprehend mass tragedy is to focus on individuals. By understanding one personal tragic story we can better comprehend mass tragedy. On Tisha B’Av, the sages wrote kinnot (elegies) about the loss of individuals, in order to foster better comprehension of the magnitude of the mass tragedies that we mourn on Tisha B’Av.

Following is a brief review of some of these kinnot.

Kinnah number 11 describes the tragedy of King Josiah. The opening line of the kinnah is taken from Chronicles II 35:25, and the text is considered by some to be Jeremiah’s eulogy upon King Josiah’s death. Rashi proclaims that the sad story of Josiah needs to be invoked during every tragedy for the Jewish people.

Menashe, born to the righteous king Hezekiah and his queen, the daughter of the prophet Isaiah, became one of the most vile and immoral kings in Jewish history. As but one example, Menashe replaced the name of God with his own name in all Torah scrolls. Menashe’s son Josiah, was purposely prevented from learning Jewish theology and practice. On one fortuitous occasion, he found a single uncorrupted Torah scroll and opened it to the portion containing the rebukes that set forth the consequences for shunning God’s word. With his new-found knowledge, he caused a great renaissance in Jewish observance. He died tragically, and so did his outreach movement. As he lay dying, Jeremiah hears the king declare that God is righteous.

The 21st kinnah describes the martyred death of eight of ten leading rabbis during the Hadrianic persecutions of the first century CE. The deaths of the ten, according to the kinnah, was to atone for the sin committed by ten of Joseph’s brothers centuries earlier, who sold Joseph as a slave. Among those killed by the Romans for illicitly teaching Torah are Rabbi Shimon ben GamlielRabbi Akiva, and the other greatest rabbis of that period. The legends surrounding their deaths also stress their piety in accepting this difficult Divine decree.

Finally, the 34th kinnah recounts the untimely death of Zechariah the prophet/High Priest, on Shabbat Yom Kippur in the Holy Temple, as described in the Talmud (Gittin 57b, Sanhedrin 96b). Zechariah reprimanded the Jewish people for bringing an idol to the Temple. In response, a mob summarily murdered, arguably, the holiest man, on the holiest day, in the holiest place on earth. There could not have been a more irreverent crime. After the murder, Zechariah’s blood continued to spew forth; nothing would clot the fountain of flowing blood. Upon seeing this, Nebuzaradan, the chief Babylonian executioner, attempted to kill enough priests and sages to atone for the sin and cause the blood fountain to stop, but nothing would quiet the spewing blood. At one point Nebuzaradan turned to God, calling out, “Is it not sufficient? Shall I continue to kill everyone?” Finally, the blood stopped flowing. The Talmud claims that Nebuzaradan converted to Judaism as a result of this episode.

In order to grasp the enormity of mass tragedy, we must try to perceive the loss of individuals, and only then, when magnifying the tragedy, begin to absorb the scope of this immense calamity.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Tragic Story of Bar Kamtza

According to Jewish tradition, God allowed the Second Temple to be destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, senseless hatred between the people of Israel who were unable to get along with one another. As proof of the destructive force of Sinat Chinam, the Talmud records the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, and connects it to a path that led to the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, a wealthy man was making a large party. The man instructed his servant to bring an invitation to his friend Kamtza. By mistake, however, the servant brought the invitation to a man named Bar Kamtza, who happened to be on bad terms with the host. Bar Kamtza arrived at the party, and the host immediately instructed him to leave. Bar Kamtza, not wanting to be embarrassed, offered to reimburse the host for whatever he consumed. The host continued to refuse, even as Bar Kamtza offered to pay for half, and then all, of the party. Then, in front of all the guests, including many respected sages who made no move to interfere, the host physically removed Bar Kamtza from the party. 

Angry and humiliated, Bar Kamtza took his revenge by telling the Roman Emperor that the Jewish people were rebelling and that they would reject any offering that the Emperor would send to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. When the Emperor sent a fine calf, Bar Kamtza waylaid it and made a tiny, almost unnoticeable blemish, that would make it unacceptable as a sacrifice.   

The sages debated what to do and seemed inclined to offer the calf on the altar of the Temple and avoid antagonizing the already tense relationship with Rome. Rabbi Zecharia ben Abkulas, however, worried that people would come to believe that it was permitted to offer a blemished animal. The calf was not sacrificed. Rabbi Yochanan thus remarked: "Through the scrupulousness of Rabbi Zecharia ben Abkulas, our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land” (Talmud Gittin 56a).

This Treat was last posted on July 24, 2015.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Stand Up

When an injustice takes place in one’s presence, one ought to stand up and do the right thing.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Saddest Day

When ten of the twelve scouts who were dispatched by Moses to survey the Promised Land returned with a negative report, God’s anger was kindled. The Almighty decreed that the adults of that generation would die in the wilderness without entering the Promised Land. God told the believers of that evil report that their tears on that day, as described in the Torah (Numbers 14:1), would be manifest in history in multiple tragedies. “Rabbi Yohanan said: That night was the night of the ninth of Av. God said to them: ‘You wept needlessly that night, and I will therefore establish for you a true tragedy over which there will be weeping in future generations’” (Talmud Ta’anit 29a).

Indeed, as our sages have taught, on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, the First and Second Temples were destroyed, the city of Betar was conquered, quashing the Bar Kochba revolt, and the Roman General Turnus Rufus plowed the City of Jerusalem. These were the events that the rabbis of the Talmud, who lived prior to the year 500 CE, could identify, that occurred on Tisha B’Av.

But, God’s promise did not end a millennia-and-a-half ago. Prior to the Spanish expulsion of its Jews, King Edward I expelled the Jews from England on July 18, 1290, an edict that stood, un-repealed, until 1656. July 18, 1290, the pre-cursor of all European expulsions, corresponded to the 9th of Av, 5050. Two centuries later, the Golden Age of Spain came to an end. On March 31, 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain officially banished the Jews from Spain, giving them exactly four months to leave. The deadline, four months later, July 31, 1492, also corresponded to the 9th of Av.

Five hundred years later, on August 1, 1914, the 9th of Av on the Jewish calendar, World War I began, which really set in motion a thirty-year European tailspin, culminating with the allied invasion of Europe and the end of World War II. Those 30 years, which destroyed much of what Europe had been, led ultimately to the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust, according to most, by far, the worst tragedy the Jews have ever experienced.

Even closer to home, on July 18th 1994, corresponding to the tenth of Av, a bomb destroyed the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, killing 87 and injuring 100.

Jews worldwide are more cautious during the days leading up to Tisha B’Av, given the promised “crying” ascribed to that specific time period. It behooves us to learn our history, and to take great strides to improve, and repair our relationship with God.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Elegies (Kinnot)

An elegy is defined as a mournful poem or a lament. In Hebrew, an elegy is known as a kinna. On Tisha B’Av, when the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, it is customary for kinnot to be read at both the evening and morning services. Kinnot traditions may vary according to one’s community, specifically as to which kinnot are recited, by whom and using which type of chant or tune. 

The majority of the kinnot are lamentations over the loss of the Temple - odes to that which was lost and to the horrors that occurred in Jerusalem at the time of the destruction. Some kinnot are poetic reiterations of chapters from the Book of Lamentations and the Book of Ezekiel, and others express a longing to return from exile to the Promised Land. Although the majority of the kinnot focus on the loss of the Temple, later authors added elegies for other tragic events such as the First Crusade (1096), the burning of the Talmud in Paris (1242) and the expulsion from Spain (1492). More recently, several kinnot lamenting the tragedy of the Holocaust have been included in the Tisha B’Av service. 

Of the kinnot whose authorship is known, many were written by Rabbi Elazar Hakalir (c. 600 C.E.), whose poems often include complex patterns of acrostics, rhyme and repetition. Other well-known authors of kinnot are Rabbi Yehuda Halevi (1075-1141), Rabbi Meir ben Baruch (Maharam of Rothenberg 1220-1293) and Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam

(Bobover Rebbe 1908-2000).

This Treat was last posted on August 5, 2014.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prepare for Tisha B’Av

There is great benefit to studying and preparing for the Tisha B’Av kinnot, (elegies, mourning the destruction of the Temples and other great Jewish tragedies) so they can be absorbed and experienced more meaningfully on Tisha B’Av day.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Reunited and It Feels So Good!

Have you missed the unity with our Israeli brothers and sisters these past three-and-a- half months? Has our non-alignment bothered you?

When the first day of Passover falls on Shabbat, as it did this year, the seventh day of Passover falls on Friday. In Israel, that Friday is observed as the final day of Passover. Only in the diaspora, where an additional day is added to the festivals, do we celebrate an eighth day of Passover. This means that while Jews in the diaspora observe the 8th day of Passover in the diaspora, Israelis observe a regular Shabbat, and read the next Torah portion in the series. In the diaspora, the Torah portion reserved for the last day of Passover is read.

This being the case, one would assume that on a Shabbat immediately after Passover, the diaspora communities would read two Torah portions, while only one Torah portion would be read in Israel, enabling the diaspora to catch up. According to Rabbi David Abudraham (14th century Spain), there are 7 specific pairs of parashiyot (plural of parasha) of the 54 Torah portions that can be doubled up. A lunar year has 354 days, or 50 Shabbats. When a leap year is added, there need to be an additional 4 parashiyot.

Yet, this year, it will take fifteen weeks to synchronize the Israeli and diaspora Torah readings, passing over 3 of those 7 possible double-portion scenarios (Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, Behar-Bechukotai, Chukat-Balak.) Why the wait?

In the current form of completing the Torah reading annually (as opposed to the ancient triennial cycle where all 54 Torah portions were read over a 3-year period), the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 428:4) mandates that certain portions must be read adjacent to certain observances:
1. Parashat Tzav (Metzorah in a leap year) must be read on the Shabbat prior to Passover;
2. Parashat Bamidbar must be read on the Shabbat prior to Shavuot;
3. Parashat Va’etchanan must be read on the Shabbat following Tisha B’av;
4. Parashat Nitzavim must be read on the Shabbat prior to Rosh Hashana.

If this week’s two Torah portions, Mattot and Massei, were not doubled up in the diaspora, parashat Va’etchanan would not be read the week after Tisha B’av. But, why did we not double-up on one of the other 3 weeks where reading two parashiyot would have made sense?

If any of the other natural combined parashiyot were to be doubled up, Mattot and Massei would be separated in the diaspora. Mattot and Massei are generally considered to be one of the most natural combinations (it also represents the longest Torah reading when combined). Therefore, we only separate them when necessary, as was done in Israel this year.

So now, this minor separation anxiety between Israel and the diaspora is cured.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Unite with Israel

One way to show unity with Israel is to keep a clock in your home on Israel time. One can actually purchase a watch with two faces, one for local time and the other for Israel time.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Month of Av

The months of the Jewish year are called in the Torah by number only (the first month, second month, etc.) Over time, during the exile, the months assumed the names given to them by host cultures and thus “Jewish” months as we know them today are actually Babylonian in origin. These names were so common, that 8 out of 12 are mentioned in the later books of the prophets. 

Even though the name Av is Babylonian in origin, one cannot help but take note of the subtle nuance of the name. Av means father, and in the fifth month of the Hebrew year, God’s persona of Father is truly demonstrated. 

It is stated in the Book of Proverbs (13:24): “One who spares his rod hates his child, but he who loves him, disciplines him in his youth.” God warned the Jewish people that their misguided behavior would result in disaster, but they ignored His warnings. Thus the beginning of the month of Av was the time of the destruction of both Holy Temples, disasters which the Jewish community commemorate with an annual day of mourning on the ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av). When He allowed the Babylonians (and then the Romans) to conquer Jerusalem, destroy the Holy Temple(s) and drive the Jewish people into exile, God had one fatherly goal in mind--that the Jewish people should see the error of their ways and correct themselves. 

A parent who punishes a child still loves the child and still wishes to share in the child’s happiness. Rejoicing is also an important facet of the month of Av. Tu B’Av (literally 15th of Av) is a day of tremendous rejoicing in Israel when, traditionally, unmarried maidens would go out to the field to find a husband. Thus in Av, after God completes the role of disciplinarian, He comes forward to watch, and enjoy, as His children rejoice. 

This Treat was last posted on July 17, 2015. 

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Imagine God as a Parent

Parents dispatch discipline with unconditional love. If we treat each other similarly, all will benefit.