Sunday, September 29, 2019

Symbolic Foods

Since Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment, it is customary to eat simanim,* foods with symbolic meanings that invoke God's blessing. We also recite a short prayer before eating them. While apple with honey is a universal custom, other symbolic foods eaten depend on family custom. Here are some examples:

Apple and Honey: A slice of apple is dipped in honey. After reciting the blessing for apples (Boray p'ree ha’etz) and taking a bite of the apple and honey, the following brief prayer is recited:
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You renew for us a good and sweet year.

Beets: The Hebrew word for beets is selek, related to the Hebrew word l’salek, "to remove."
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our enemies be removed.

Pomegranate: It is said that each pomegranate has 613 seeds, representing the 613 commandments of the Torah.
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our merits be as plentiful as the seeds of a pomegranate.

Head of a Sheep or a Fish: The head of the sheep or fish can be eaten or can be left on the table as a visual symbol. The customary prayer is as follows:
May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that we be like a head (to lead) and not like a tail (to follow).

There is a custom to avoid nuts on Rosh Hashana since the numeric value of the Hebrew word for nut, egoz, is connected to the numeric value for the Hebrew word for sin, chayt.

This is just a sampling of the simanim. For more foods and their associated prayers, click here.

*The simanim are eaten at the beginning of the evening meal.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Annulment of Vows

"I swear that this time I will lose weight"

"I am going to pray every day..."

We make promises all the time. We swear that we are going to do something, and then hope that we will be in a position to fulfill the vow.

But did you know that according to the Torah, words often have binding force and may not be taken lightly? The Jewish legal view on oaths and vows is based on the verse, "He shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that he has uttered" (Numbers 30:3).

When you swear to do something, you’ve made a serious commitment. Words, from a Torah perspective, can be binding. (It is for this reason that many people, after promising to do something, will append the caveat "bli neder" - without intending to vow, to prevent themselves from vowing falsely.)

According to the Torah, vows and oaths, however, can be retroactively nullified, by a "court" of knowledgeable people.

It was considered particularly important by the sages that, as the High Holidays approach, people ensure that they have not violated their previous year’s vows. They therefore created a formal nullification of vows that all are urged to perform before Rosh Hashanah. Known as "Hatarat Nedarim," the traditional "annulment of vows" takes place in front of a Jewish court of at least 3 knowledgeable men. In addition to nullifying past vows made "in error," the Hatarat Nedarim also declares that any such statements made in the coming year should be considered null and void.

(Of course, the nullification only covers those vows that are allowed to be nullified - not vows such as those regarding owing someone money - and vows that are made by one individual to another.)

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.  

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Be Careful What You Promise to Do

The annual annulment of vows reminds us how careful we need to be when we speak. This is especially true before promising to do something.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Holiday Greetings

The standard pre-Rosh Hashana greeting of “K’tiva v’chatima tova” ("May you be written and sealed for good”) is deduced from a Talmudic discussion concerning the three heavenly books that are opened during the High Holidays.

Rabbi Jochanan (as quoted by Rabbi Kruspedai) clarified that on the New Year, three books - a book for the completely wicked, a book for the completely righteous and a book for those in the middle - are opened. According to Rabbi Avin, the existence of these books is alluded to in Psalms 69:29: “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” According to Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac, Moses actually refers to one of these books in Exodus 32:32: “...blot me, I pray You, out of Your book which You have written” (Rosh Hashana 16b).

Both of the proof-texts brought in the Talmud appear to refer only to a Book of the Righteous. Since tradition has it that the world is balancedbetween extremes (prophecy was balanced by idolatry, Moses was balanced by Balaam), a Book of the Wicked must also exist. This, of course, leaves a gap for those who are neither completely righteous nor completely other words, the majority of humanity. Thus it could only be assumed that there was a third book.

Rabbi Kruspedai further explains that, on Rosh Hashana, the completely righteous and the completely wicked are immediately written into their respective books, but “the judgement of the intermediate group is written but not finalized from the New Year till the Day of Atonement” [when it is sealed].

Because of the “suspended” status of most people between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, after Rosh Hashana the greeting is altered to “G’mar chatima tova” ("May it finish with you being sealed for good").

Jewish Treats wishes all of its readers l’shana tova tikatayhvu v’taychataymu (that’s the plural form).

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Wish Friends Well

Make sure to wish friends and family a “Happy and Healthy New Year,” a year in which they may be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Thursday, September 26, 2019


The Rosh Hashana tashlich ceremony is a tradition that is dear throughout the many diverse Jewish communities. Tashlich literally translates as "You will throw." But what, exactly, is it?

Tashlich is meant to be a symbolic physical representation of casting away one’s sins. Along with a selection of Psalms and supplications, Micah 7:18-20 is repeatedly recited: "Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and forgiving transgression to the remainder of His heritage. He retains not His anger forever, because He delights in kindness. He will again have mercy on us. He will suppress our iniquities; yes, You will cast our sins into the depth of the sea."

The reference in Micah to the depth of the sea appears to be the source for the custom of reciting tashlich next to a body of water, such as a lake or a river (or an ocean, of course) in which fish live. As long as one can see the water, even from a distance (even by climbing to the rooftop of a building), one may recite tashlich.

Tashlich is usually performed in the late afternoon on the first day of Rosh Hashana. However, if one is unable to do tashlich at that time, the ceremony may be performed until Hoshana Rabbah. If the first day of Rosh Hashana is on Shabbat, Ashkenazim wait until the second day.

Although descriptions of tashlich often include the casting of bread crumbs, feeding wild animals is, 
according to many opinions, prohibited on Shabbat and the holidays. The casting of bread is a poetic physical expression of tashlich, but is not necessary to the ceremony. This custom may have evolved from the chassidic custom of intentionally shaking off crumbs to represent casting away sins.

This Treat was reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shofar Shorts

The shofar is one of the most recognizable symbols of Rosh Hashana. Although it is preferable that a shofar be fashioned from a ram’s horn, the horn need only come from a kosher animal.* However, not all the horns of a kosher animal are usable. For instance cows’ horns and deer antlers are solid bone and cannot be fashioned into a shofar, whereas the horns of animals such as rams are made of keratin and can be hollowed out to become a shofar.

Shofars are prepared by applying heat. They are cleaned in boiling water, and heat is applied in order to either straighten or bend the horns. A shofar may be engraved or decorated with metal as long as the weight does not alter the shofar’s sound. However, extra material may not be placed near either end of the shofar.

On Rosh Hashana three distinct sounds are blown on the shofar:

Tekiah - The tekiah is a long, solid blast like the blowing of a trumpet at a king’s coronation. This sound reminds us that God is the King of Kings.

Shevarim - The shevarim are three medium-length blasts, reminiscent of deep sighs or soft crying, (where one is gasping for breath). The shevarim represents the first step in recognizing all that God does for us, and all that we could be doing, thus the sighing sound.

Teruah - The teruah are nine quick staccato blasts which evoke the feeling of short piercing cries of wailing. It represents the recognition that the new year is upon us, and the time for repentance will soon pass.

A combination of Shevarim-Teruah is also sounded during the shofar service.

Tekiah Gedolah - The tekiah gedolah, the final blast, is a long solid note. It is a triumphant shout that reaches out to the hearts of all to assure them that their prayers have been heard.

(*If one has absolutely no other option, one may use the horn of a non-kosher animal, but cannot recite the blessings over hearing the sounds.)

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Arrange to Hear the Shofar on Rosh Hashana

Make arrangements to hear the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana. While ideally one hears the shofar at synagogue, one may fulfill this obligation anywhere.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Remembering the Akeidah

In neither of the two Torah references to the holiday of Rosh Hashana (Leviticus 23:23-25, Numbers 29:1), is there a specific mention of the shofar, the ram's horn. Only the Teruah, the sound made by the shofar, is noted. So why do we only use the shofar on Rosh Hashana when the same sound can be made on another instrument?

In the Talmudic discussion, Rabbi Abahu (c. 279-320 C.E., Caeseria, Israel) responded to this question by referring to the oral tradition that God wanted the Jewish people to use a ram's horn to remind Him of the binding of Isaac (known as the Akeidah), which culminated in a ram being offered as a sacrifice in Isaac's stead. The shofar represents that ram.

Why is it important to God that the Jewish people remind Him of the Akeidah on Rosh Hashana? On a simple level, the oral tradition states that the Akeidah took place on the first of Tishrei, which is Rosh Hashana. More importantly, however, is the fact that the Akeidah reminds God of the Jewish people's commitment to the ways of its ancestors.

On Rosh Hashana, humanity is judged...and far too often it is the negative side of the scale that is weighed down. However, when God sees the Jewish people recalling the patriarchs' and matriarchs' devotion and commitment, and demonstrating that we, ourselves, strive toward that devotion, His attribute of mercy can override His attribute of judgment and enable Him to judge us favorably for a good year to come.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Year is Set

Rosh Hashana, the head of the year, is the day on which God determines the fate and fortune of both individuals and communities for the year to come. It is assumed that on this day God determines exactly how much money one will earn in the coming year. As it says, "All of a person's earnings are fixed in the time from Rosh Hashana until (and including ) Yom Kippur, except for his expenses for Shabbat, holidays and expenses incurred in teaching his children Torah" (Beitza 16a).

But if God decides on Rosh Hashana that a person is to earn $80,000 for the year, what need is there for that person to remain "good"? Since judgment has been already rendered, can’t we just relax until next Rosh Hashana?

The Talmud addresses this question on a communal level (Rosh Hashana 17b):

Let's say that on Rosh Hashana the Jewish people were judged to be in the category of the completely righteous, and Heaven decreed abundant rainfall for that year. But, later, they went off the straight and narrow. Reducing the total amount of rainfall is impossible, because the decree has already been issued. Therefore, the Holy One, blessed be He, may make it rain during the wrong season or on land that does not require rain.

On Rosh Hashana a judgment is rendered. How that judgment is executed (whether in a single check, a monthly increase, or random $1 bills that are spent without thought) is up to each of us.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Destiny and Fate

While Jews recognize that God decrees what kind of year we will have, we still have much to contribute, as we can still determine our destiny.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Come My Beloved

The Talmud (Shabbat 116a) describes how the sages would greet Shabbat: “Rabbi Chaninah would wrap himself in his cloak and say: ‘Come, let us go and greet the Shabbat Queen.’ Rabbi Yannai would don his garments and say: ‘Enter, O bride! Enter, O bride!’”
This passage is the basis for Rabbi Shlomo Halevy Alkabetz’s (Israel, c.1500 - 1580) Lecha Dodi, Come My Beloved. This popular liturgical hymn captured the spirit of the Kabbalists in Safed, who would go out into the fields on Friday afternoon to greet Shabbat.

Interestingly, only the first two stanzas and the last stanza of the poem refer directly to Shabbat. (Verse 1: Guarding and Remembering Shabbat. Verse 2: Shabbat as the ancient source of blessing. Verse 9: Greeting Shabbat). The other six verses speak of the Jewish people’s longing for redemption. The connection of Shabbat and redemption is based on the Talmudic dictum (Shabbat 118b) that states: “If all Jews were to observe just two Shabbatot properly, the final redemption would occur.”

It is the refrain, however, that is best-known. Lecha dodi likrat kallah, p’nei Shabbat n’kabbelah - Come my beloved, to greet the bride, let us welcome the arrival of Shabbat. The depiction of Shabbat as a bride is based on a well-known Midrash: “Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai taught: Shabbat pleaded to the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘All [the other days] have a partner, while I have no partner!’ God responded: ‘The Jewish People will be your partner.’”

Depicting Shabbat as bride to the Jewish people is a beautiful way of describing the people’s relationship to the Seventh Day. Just as a groom goes to great lengths to make his bride feel special, so too, Jews constantly seek to enhance and beautify the celebration of Shabbat.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

I Am To My Beloved

The Torah verse that epitomizes the emotion of love is: “Anee l’dodi v’dodi lee” - I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me (Song of Songs 6:3). The ideal love relationship according to the Torah is one in which both parties are willing to give themselves to their chosen partner. The Hebrew acronym for the verse Anee l’dodi v’dodi lee is “Elul,” the name of the Hebrew month that precedes Rosh Hashana. 

When speaking of Rosh Hashana, the sages discuss the great sense of awe that one must feel. They do not, however, mean awe as in fear. Rather, they mean awe as in a sense of reverence, of being overwhelmed by the greatness of God. The purpose of Rosh Hashana is not simply to make people feel guilty for their mistakes or promise to do better (although that too is important), but, as with much of Jewish life, it is to help develop each individual’s relationship with God.

To have a relationship with God, a person must recognize all of God’s roles--including King and Judge, as is the focus of Rosh Hashana. During Elul, however, we focus on God as the Beloved of the Jewish people.

In many rabbinic allegories, the Jewish people are likened to a bride while God is portrayed as the waiting groom. The Jewish people (both as individuals and as a nation) can gain the most by recognizing that God loves His people and wishes to bring blessing upon their homes.

"I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me." When “I” (meaning the Jewish people) can truly give to “my beloved” (meaning God), then God will become ours in a beautiful and Divine partnership. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Reach Out

God makes Himself close to us during the month of Elul. Make sure to reach back!

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Dictionary for the Days of Awe

In Maimonides’ Laws of Repentance, he invokes five important and pertinent terms in his first paragraph, that are worth defining.

Teshuva – means return, but connotes repentance or personal transformation and change. 

Cheyt – usually defined as “sin,” really means to miss the mark (see Judges 20:17). According to Jewish thought, Cheyt is not a permanent stain; it connotes missing a target, which can be rectified by trying again (i.e. teshuva). 

Aveirah - this term means the opposite of a mitzvah, a commandment. It literally means to pass, or to avoid doing something. It is basically synonymous with chet. It too implies something that was passed over, which ultimately can be repaired. 

Viduy – means confession. Maimonides writes that a verbal confession is required in order to achieve proper teshuva. 

 – atonement or forgiveness, (i.e. Yom Kippur means Day of Atonement). It is important to note that the first four terms are human actions directed toward God, while kapparah, the goal of Yom Kippur, is the one action that emanates from God toward humankind. With these terms, we now have the tools to understand the first halacha (law) of Hilchot Teshuva (the Laws of Teshuva), which follows.

If one transgressed (aveirah) any commandment of the Torah, whether a positive or a negative one, whether deliberately or accidentally, then when one repents (does teshuva) one has to confess verbally (viduy) to God... This means verbal confession, which is commanded positively to do, and is performed by saying, `O Lord, I have sinned, transgressed and rebelled before You, and have done such-and-such, and I am ashamed by my actions and will never do it again.' This is the main part of verbal confession, and expanding on it is praiseworthy… Capital and corporal punishment do not atone (kapparah) unless the recipient repents and confesses verbally. Likewise, if one does financial damage to someone, one is not forgiven unless one repents and resolves never to do it again, even if one paid back the money, for it is written, "...any sin that people commit".

English translation of Immanuel O'Levy, courtesy of Jonathan Baker:

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Forgiveness: An Elul Treat

Many feel that the three hardest words to say are: “I am sorry.” Yet, we all know how very important those words are. Indeed, saying one is sorry, or at least admitting one’s guilt, is a critical part of the process of teshuvah, repentance.

Equally important, however, is the ability to hear someone else’s apology and to accept it. Even greater is the ability to forgo an apology altogether and simply forgive the person for hurting you.

Jewish tradition teaches that one is only obligated to ask for forgiveness three times. After three refusals, the person is no longer held accountable for their misconduct, as he/she has demonstrated true regret. The one who will not accept a sincere apology after three requests for forgiveness is now guilty of bearing a grudge.

What is wrong with bearing a grudge against a person who really hurt you? Beyond the fact that it is a violation of a Torah prohibition (Leviticus 19:18), bearing a grudge affects the person psychologically. A person bearing a grudge is, in general, less happy with the world and with other people because he/she cannot get past the feeling that he/she was wronged.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is rather easy to bestow. And when it is done with sincerity, it is as much a gift to ourselves as it is to the person we forgive.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Develop a Strategy for Asking Forgiveness

Come up with a plan how to approach those with whom you need to mend your relationship.

Friday, September 20, 2019


In addition to the unique prayer services of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays are known for one other service: selichot. A collection of religious poems and verses, selichot are penitential prayers that help one focus on the mood of the season.

An integral part of the selichot service is the repetition of the "Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy" (Exodus 34:5-7). After the incident with the Golden Calf, Moses returned to Mount Sinai and assuaged God’s anger at the Israelites. According to the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 17b), God, appearing as a prayer leader wrapped in a prayer shawl, instructed Moses that the Jewish people should recite the following "Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy" and they would be granted forgiveness:

Hashem: He is merciful (to one before he/she sins).

Hashem: He is merciful (to the sinner who repents).

Ayl: He is powerful.

Rachum: He is compassionate.

V’chanun: He grants even undeserved favors.

Erech Ah'payim: He is slow to anger, allowing the sinner time to repent by not exacting immediate punishment.

V’rav Chesed: He abounds in lovingkindness and leniency.

V’emet: He abounds in truth and keeps His promises.

Notzer Chesed La’alafim: He maintains loving kindness for thousands of generations.

Nosay Avon: He forgives sins that result from temptation.

Va’fesha: He forgives sins of rebellion against Him.

V’chata’ah: He forgives sins committed carelessly or unknowingly.

V’nah'kay: He completely forgives the sinner who returns to Him in sincere repentance.*

In Sephardi communities, the recitation of selichot begins on Rosh Chodesh Elul and continues through Yom Kippur. In Ashkenazi communities, the recitation of selichot begins on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana (unless Rosh Hashana begins on a Monday or Tuesday, in which case it begins the previous Saturday night). The first communal recitation of selichot in the Ashkenazi community usually takes place after midnight. On all other days until Yom Kippur, selichot are usually recited prior to the morning service.

Selichot begin this Saturday night. Check with your local synagogue for the start time. 

--Explanations of the 13 Attributes are from The Companion Guide to the Yom Kippur Prayer Service by Moshe Sorscher, printed by Judaica Press. 

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Phoenix in B’nai Brak

Fifty years ago, on September 3, 1969, corresponding to the 20th of Elul, Rabbi Joseph S. Kahaneman, known to the world as the “Ponevezher Rav,” passed away.

Who was this man, and what is Ponevezh (pronounced Ponivetch)?

Ponevezh is the fifth largest city in Lithuania, about 60 miles north of Kovno. It was there that Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Rabinovich (known as Reb Itzele Ponevezher) founded a yeshiva in 1908. Reb Itzele had been a study partner to the famed Chaim Soloveitchik, when both were youths. Rabbi Rabinovich had secured a teaching position at the Slabodka Yeshiva, but after five years, parted ways over some ideological matters. He accepted the position of rabbi of the city of Ponevezh, succeeding Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Te’omim (no relation), known as the Aderet, and father in law of Rabbi Abraham I. Kook. Rabbi Rabinovich secured a grant from the daughter of the Russian tea magnate, Kalonymus Wissotzky, to open a kollel (academy for advanced Torah scholarship) in Ponevezh. That kollel became the Ponevezh Yeshiva. Reb Itzele passed away in 1919 and was succeeded by Rabbi Kahaneman, an alumnus of the Telz Yeshiva. Rabbi Kahaneman, a gifted solicitor, was known as a prodigious fund-raiser. His travels within Lithuania and the United States enabled him to build a whole network of Ponevetzh institutions.

Rabbi Kahaneman moved to British Mandatory Palestine in 1940 and ran the Yeshiva from abroad. When the Soviet Red Army entered, the yeshiva students were able to study while moving from place to place. But, within three days of the German army’s entry in June, 1941, all the students were murdered. Rabbi Kahaneman vowed to rebuild the Ponevezh Yeshiva in B’nai Brak (a suburb of Tel Aviv). Indeed, Rabbi Kahaneman’s dreams were realized and he built Ponevezh to be one of Israel’s foremost Torah institutions, with a beautiful and recognizable gold-laden Holy Ark. Some of Jewry’s most brilliant Torah minds (including former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel and Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, Yisrael Meir Lau) are proud graduates of Ponevezh.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Yet Another Asset of the State of Israel

The State of Israel has enabled that which was destroyed during the Holocaust to be given new life. Appreciate this vital aspect of the State of Israel.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Potential Energy

Parashat Ki Tavo begins by juxtaposing two important agricultural laws. First (Deuteronomy 26:1-11), the Torah instructs the Israelites to bring bikkurim, the first fruits from among the special fruits of the Land of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates). When bringing the bikkurim to the Temple in Jerusalem, the farmer is to read a text invoking the bitter Egyptian enslavement of the farmer’s ancestors, the Israelites’ prayers for redemption, and a declaration acknowledging God heeding those prayers by delivering the former slaves to a land flowing with milk and honey. The bikkurim were brought in beautiful containers and the farmers were accompanied to the Temple amid great joy and pageantry.

Immediately following the paragraph of bikkurim, is a passage about Ma’aser, tithes (Deuteronomy 26:12-16). The Bible commands the Jews to give 1/10th of their produce to the Levites, the tribe sanctified to minister in the Temple who were not given a portion of land in the Land of Israel. This tithe is called Ma’aser Rishon, the First Tithe.

The Torah also required additional tithes, based on the seven year agricultural cycle. In years 3 and 6, Jews gave Ma’aser Ani, a tithe to the poor, which is the subject of these verses. In years 1,2,4 and 5, the Jews took the tithe, known as Ma’aser Sheini, the Second Tithe, which was to be eaten in Jerusalem (or its value spent in Jerusalem).

The farmer who brought his tithes, asks God to bless the people of Israel, God’s chosen nation, to fulfill its special mission.

Why are Bikkurim, which celebrate the first fruits at the very beginning of the harvest, commemorated with such fanfare and public celebration, yet bringing the ma’aser, which offers gratitude after the harvest is complete, seems to be done privately and without any festivity? Would it not make more sense to celebrate the conclusion of an entire planting cycle, which potentially provides sustenance for an entire family, rather than make much ado about some individual figs and grapes that have matured? The same question may be asked, regarding why we expend so much effort to make big and joyous weddings, while 25th or 50th anniversary celebrations – clearly greater accomplishments – are much more subdued and smaller occasions.

The answer to all these questions may be that while Judaism believes in rejoicing in “results and outcomes,” it celebrates potential even more, because the goals are limitless.

This Treat was last posted on August 27, 2018.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Brides and Grooms

Go out of your way to gladden brides and grooms at their weddings and the subsequent celebratory week of Sheva Brachot.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Maharal of Prague

To the Jewish community and general population at large, the Maharal of Prague is the revered, mystical medieval rabbi who created the Golem to protect the Jews in the Prague ghetto. But the Maharal’s true contribution to Jewish life has little to do with the legend of the Golem.

The acronym, MaHaRaL, stands for Moreinu HaRav Loew,* whose full name was Rabbi Yehuda ben Betzalel Loew (1520 - 1609). The Maharal is also known by the title of his most distinguished publication, Gur Aryeh (Ahl HaTorah) - “The Little Lion on the Torah.” His use of the title Gur Aryeh is a reference to Jacob’s Biblical blessing of his son Yehuda (Judah) and is significant either by reason of the fact that Loew is a derivitive of the German word for lion or an allusion to the Maharal’s ability to trace his lineage back to King David, a direct descendant of Judah.

While the Maharal is credited with being well-versed in kabbalah (hence his assumed ability to create a Golem), his studies and commentaries in Torah and Talmud are highly regarded. The Maharal stressed the importance of understanding the p‘shat, mainly the simple, literal meaning of the words. He was also well-versed in Aggadah, the non-halachic, homiletic passages of the Talmud.

The genius of the Maharal is acknowledged by Jews from many walks of life. His work had a significant influence on the Vilna Gaon (Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman, 1720 - 1797), and he was the great-grandfather of the founder of Chabad Chassidim, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (“Baal HaTanya,” 1745 - 1812). The Maharal was also well-known and respected outside of the Jewish community. He communicated with the astronomer Tycho Brahe and had a memorable audience with the Emperor Rudolf II of Austria.

The Maharal passed away on September 17, 1609, corresponding to the 18th of Elul. 

*alternatively spelled Lowe

This Treat was last posted on August 27, 2010.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Honor the Yahrzeit

When a close relative, a great person, or a loved one passes away, the anniversary of their death (yahrzeit) is an opportunity to remember their life and re-commit to their values.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Locate Your Friend and Ask for Forgiveness

Whether the creation of the wheel, and tools to create and advance civilization, or the discovery of penicillin or the polio vaccine, our lives have changed profoundly because of such discoveries. Productive societies invest in scientists and inventors who dedicate their lives to helping advance society through such innovation. While history has marked certain inventions and discoveries as changing the way we live, few have had as much impact as the development of the internet and the proliferation of social media.

With the advent of the internet and the ability to mass-communicate in a way never known previously, we are also able to be in contact with friends, relatives and acquaintances in a way that was previously unimaginable. Mental Health professionals note that while many in society may be in touch, today, with more people using social media, they are nevertheless, likely lonelier than ever before. Although, on its face, one would think that with so many more “friends” one would be happier, in truth, interacting online and via social media is not at all similar to a traditional relationship.

Today, September 17th has been designated as “Locate an Old Friend Day.” Try to do this the old-fashioned way, not via social media. The timing is also important, since at this time of year, prior to the High Holidays, Jews have traditionally endeavored to mend personal relationships and to seek out opportunities to rebuild friendships.

At the end of the second chapter (paragraphs 9-11) of his famed “Laws of Repentance,“ Maimonides makes this case quite strongly. With regard to interpersonal sins, two actions must be taken for the relationship to be repaired: financial restitution must be made, if necessary, and the sinner should seek appeasement from the victim, and personally request forgiveness. If the harmed individual refuses to forgive, which is his or her option, the one asking for forgiveness is to sincerely ask a total of three times, even invoking a committee of friends of the aggrieved, to help the aggrieved accept the petition for penance. Ultimately, if a serious attempt at forgiveness is rejected or offered thrice, there is no need to pursue the matter further, unless the victim was their rabbi, in which case he or she must continue until forgiveness is accepted. Maimonides adds that one must not be cruel when they are being asked to forgive.

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Cherish Your Relationships

Make sure to schedule time to talk to those people who are most important in your life. Emailing and social media contact will not sustain the relationship without one-on-one communication.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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