Monday, September 16, 2019

Jews Don’t Run the World?

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Help Spread Truth

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

Friday, September 13, 2019

Burying The Dead

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on November 19, 2008.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Chevra Kadisha

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

Thursday, September 12, 2019

A History of Religious Freedom in North America

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate Religious Liberties in the United States

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

9/11 and Jewish History

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Reflect on this National Day of Remembrance

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

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Happy Ravenniversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Calendar

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

Monday, September 9, 2019

Happy Birthday Adam

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

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

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

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

Yom Huledet Sameyach, Adam!

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Celebrities

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

Friday, September 6, 2019

Boundary Stones and Unfair Competition in Jewish Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Honest Business Practices

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

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Terror at the Olympics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on July 27, 2012.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Never Forget

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

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Back to School

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

First Day of School

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

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Rav Kook

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on September 2, 2011.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Love Those with Whom You Disagree

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

Monday, September 2, 2019

Labor, Technology and the Torah

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat was last posted on September 4, 2012.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Torah’s Mandate to Treat Laborers Properly

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