Thursday, October 31, 2019

Support Jewish organizations that were transplanted from pre-Holocaust Europe and survived

Take pride and support Jewish organizations that have resiliently survived Hitler’s genocide.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Belarus, China, Jerusalem and Brooklyn: The Odyssey of the World’s Largest Yeshiva

For 125 years, from 1814 until 1939, the Mir Yeshiva served as a beacon of elite Torah study on the European continent. Situated in the small town of Mir in Belarus, the yeshiva was founded by Rabbi Shmuel Tiktinsky. Eventually, after a few generations of Tiktinsky Roshei Yeshiva (Deans of Yeshiva), Rabbi Eliyahu Boruch Kamai was appointed Rosh Yeshiva (Dean of Yeshiva) and his daughter married a young scholar named Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah Finkel, the son of the famed Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, known as the Alter of Slabodka, the sagacious, pious and inspiring leader of the Slabodka Yeshiva. Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda eventually was named Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva. With the exception of the World War I years, when the yeshiva was forced to move to Poltava, Ukraine, The Mir Yeshiva educated thousands of students in their building in Belarus.

The story of the Mir Yeshiva’s escape from Hitler’s clutches is legendary, and some would even argue, miraculous. The story how they approached the Japanese consul in Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, for exit visas is one of the few positive stories of Jewish rescue that emerged during World War II. After the Mir Yeshiva’s relocation to Shanghai, China, during the years of World War II, the faculty and students immigrated to Jerusalem, Israel, and New York. Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah served as Rosh Yeshiva of Mir Jerusalem until his death on July 19, 1965. He was succeeded by his brother-in-law, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz. The reins of the yeshiva’s leadership returned to the Finkel family when Rabbi Nahum Partzovitz, Rabbi Shmuelevitz’ son-in-law passed away, and Rabbi Beinish Finkel, son of Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah, was appointed as Rosh Yeshiva. American born and bred Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, Rabbi Beinish’s son-in-law, led Mir Jerusalem until his passing in 2011. Currently, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi’s son, Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah, serves as Rosh Yeshiva.

The other branch of Mir moved to Brooklyn, NY, after the yeshiva’s sojourn in Asia. Mir Brooklyn, known as the Mirrer Yeshiva, was led by Rabbi Avraham Kalmanovitz, and then, Rabbi Kalmanovitz’ son-in-law, Rabbi Shmuel Berenbaum. Rabbi Bernbaum passed away in 2008, and the yeshiva is currently led by Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Nelkenbaum, Rabbi Elya Brudny Rabbi Asher Dov Bernbaum and Rabbi Asher Eliyahu Kalmanovitz.

Mir Jerusalem, with 8,500 students, is the largest yeshiva in the world.

The Mir Yeshiva in Belarus closed in Europe on the second of Cheshvan, 1939.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Month of Mar-Cheshvan

Today is Rosh Chodesh Mar-Cheshvan, the first day of the month of Mar-Cheshvan, which is the eighth month of the Hebrew calendar. (The count of the months begins with Nissan.) Although the month is named Mar-Cheshvan, it is more commonly referred to as Cheshvan.

During Mar-Cheshvan, the Jews celebrate...well, actually nothing. The uniqueness of the month is that it has no festivals, no days set aside for rejoicing, and not even a single fast day. In fact, its lack of holidays is why it is named Mar-Cheshvan; Mar means bitter.

The eighth month was not always called Mar-Cheshvan, which is a word most probably of Babylonian origin (as are many of the names of the months). When mentioned in Biblical sources it is referred to either as “the eighth month” or Bool (see I Kings 6:38), a word closely related to the Hebrew word mabool, meaning flood.

According to tradition, the 17th of Cheshvan was the start of the great flood that took place in the time of Noah and destroyed the world. Just over a year later, on the 27th of Cheshvan, Noah and his family discovered that the waters of the flood had completely receded.

The kabbalists also believe that Cheshvan is the month in which the Messiah will arrive. However, in Talmud Sanhedrin 97a, Rabbi Zeyra tries to discourage such calculations by quoting an earlier teaching that “Three things come from nowhere: Moshiach (the Messiah), a found article and [the bite of] a scorpion.” The mention of the scorpion is interesting because Cheshvan is associated with the zodiacal sign of the scorpion.

This Treat was first published on October 19, 2009.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Month Devoid of Pomp

While everyone likes a party and holidays, there is also holiness in the mundane. Each day brings with it opportunities for Godliness.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Can Hermit Day be Celebrated in a Group?

October 29th is celebrated as Hermit Day, lauding those who prefer to spend time by themselves rather than socializing with others. However, some point to Hermit Day not as a lifestyle, but as a tempting once a year respite from the rat race.

Does Judaism celebrate or condone living as a hermit?

The Nazarite may be the most obvious Biblical concept associated with the hermit. Nazarites, who accept ascetic practices upon themselves, abstain from cutting their hair, do not drink grape products and avoid coming in contact with the dead, all signs of social interaction. Interestingly, upon completion of the term of the Nazarite oath, the Nazir brings a sin offering. While some suggest that the “sin” was ending the Nazarite term, most of the commentaries suggest that the transgression was becoming a Nazarite to begin with, opting to shun all forms of socialization, and refusing to engage in pleasures of life that are permitted in Jewish law!

However, there are elements of asceticism that are considered productive.

Maimonides describes some of these elements when listing the attributes needed to receive Divine prophecy (Laws of the Fundamentals of the Torah, chapter 7). In addition to be fully conversant in all facets of the Torah, and behaving in a saintly and exemplary way, Maimonides writes that all prophets (with the exception of Moses) must prepare themselves for prophecy. In addition to intense concentration, and being in a state of joy, Maimonides writes that in order to attain the spirit of prophecy, one must be in “undisturbed solitude,” mit’bodedim.

There are ancient Jewish sources that advocate for a practice known as “hitbodedut,” which means self- seclusion. Although rabbis such as Avraham the son of Maimonides, Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as the AriZal, and his student Rabbi Chaim Vital, all encouraged this practice, it is Rabbi Nachman of Breslov who is most identified with the exercise. The Breslover method has the individual communicating with God in an informal and intimate way, in a private or isolated setting. Rabbi Nachman favored natural settings such as fields and forests. He also preferred hitbodedut in the middle of the night, when less activity was taking place around him. The individual experiencing hitbodedut speaks to God as they would speak to another person, or more accurately, like a therapist, describing in the vernacular all of their issues. It is also meant to be a form of introspection.

So, enjoy the annual Hermit Day. Now you know how Judaism relates to various forms of asceticism.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Don’t segregate yourself from the community

Humans are social creatures. It’s important for each individual Jew to be an active member of the Jewish community.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Don’s Commentary

Don Isaac Abrabanel (1437-1508) was one of the greatest statesmen of his time (the second half of the 15th century). He was a financial genius who served in the royal courts of Portugal, Castile (until the expulsion of the Jews in 1492), Naples and Venice. (For more on this aspect of his life, please see last year’s Treat: ”The Great Don”.)

Don Isaac Abrabanel was also one of the greatest Jewish minds of his generation. In fact, he is most commonly referred to among scholars simply as “Abrabanel.” After his arrival in Toledo (Castile) at the age of 46, he dedicated himself to studying and writing commentaries on the Torah. In a six month period he wrote commentaries on the Books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel. Abrabanel’s commentaries, which include works on the Pentatuch and the Prophets, are unique in several ways: (1) before each chapter of commentary, the Abrabanel presented a list of questions/difficulties that would be answered, (2) he integrated socio-cultural and historical information into his commentaries, and (3) he wrote extensively about the concept of the Messiah.

Abrabanel also produced philosophical works, even though he opposed many of the common philosophical viewpoints of his times. For instance, whereas Maimonides attributed some aspects of prophecy to the imagination, Abrabanel believed that they were always complete Divine communications.

Being a wealthy and pious Jew, Abrabanel was dedicated to helping his brethren. When Arzilla, Morocco, was conquered by Arab raiders, Abrabanel raised the money (donating generously himself) to redeem the 250 Jews from slavery. He then resettled them in Portugal and helped support them while they adjusted to their new country. Alas, while he tried, numerous times, to use his wealth to prevent the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, he was unable to counter the influence that Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, had on King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

On this yarhtzeit of Don Isaac Abrabanel, Jewish Treats pays tribute to a man who rose to great power but never relinquished his greatest treasure, the Torah.

This Treat was last posted on October 27, 2011.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Busy People Study Torah

Everyone can study Torah. Even important politicians and business leaders can prioritize the study of Torah despite their very busy schedules.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Ezer K'negdo

Today’s Treat begins with a short, sweet story about the great Tzaddik of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Levine, and his wife, Hannah. One day, Mrs. Levine hurt her foot and needed to see a doctor. Her husband escorted her to the doctor’s office, where they waited patiently for their turn. When they went into the exam room, the doctor asked what was the problem. Rabbi Levine looked up and said, “My wife’s foot hurts us.”
Rabbi Levine truly saw his wife as an extension of himself, and vice-versa. This is the ultimate understanding of the marriage partnership.

When God decided that it was not good for Adam to be alone, He stated: “It is not good that the human being should be alone; I will make a help-meet for him” (Genesis 2:18). What exactly is a help-meet? In Hebrew the term used is ezer-k’negdo, which is literally translated as helper-against him, seemingly a term that contradicts itself.

No one would argue against the formulation that marriage is a partnership. The Jewish perspective on this partnership, however, sheds an important light on just how that partnership works. For most people, the idea of ezer, helper, is obvious. Of course spouses are supposed to assist one another, to be there for each other in times of need.

It is, however, equally important for a spouse to be k’neged--in opposition--when it is in the other person’s best interest. After all, “helping” does not mean always agreeing. Sometimes a spouse has to force an issue, be critical, and push the partner to do the right thing. This may mean simply discouraging a spouse from wasting time/money, or something far more significant, such as confronting substance abuse. This is what a partnership is all about.

This Treat was last posted on June 8, 2009.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Life Partner

Treat your spouse like an extension of yourself. If you are looking for a husband or wife, seek someone to whom you would like to fully give of yourself.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

His Tricks Were Quite A Treat

It is commonly acknowledged that the magician and escape artist Harry Houdini (1874-1926) set the standard for all performing magicians to come. Many people are also aware of the fact that he died on October 31st (on Halloween), 1926.

What many people do not know is that Houdini’s real name was really Ehrich Weisz, and he was the son of a Hungarian rabbi who brought his family to America when Ehrich was a baby. Ehrich became Harry, and he took the stage name Houdini to honor his idol, the French magician Robert Houdin.

Houdini’s interest and passion for magic began when he was in his early teens. By the time he was 20, he was performing throughout New York. One of the frequent ways in which Houdini gained fame was by escaping from police handcuffs and jails, encouraging the police in cities across America and in Europe to test his skill. Harry mastered every type of escape act, from straight jackets to water chambers, at the same time that he became the master of all illusion.

In addition to his magic, Houdini starred in several motion pictures (featuring excellent action and not-such-good acting), two of which he produced in his own studio. He was also fascinated by aviation and was the first person to fly over Australia. He was an avid book collector and authored a book of his own, “A Magician Among the Spirits,” which chronicled his investigation and debunking of “spiritualism” (mediums connecting to the world of spirits).

In October 1926, while on tour in Montreal, Houdini allowed a young man to punch him in the abdomen to prove his boast that he could withstand any blow to his body above the waist. Unfortunately, what Houdini did not know was that his appendix was infected. Due to the blow, his appendix burst, and Houdini died several days later of peritonitis.

Harry Houdini’s final performance occurred on October 24, 1926.

This Treat was last posted on October 31, 2011.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Follow the Artistic Accomplishments of Jewish Performers

Many Jews have been trailblazers in the entertainment industry. Take pride in their accomplishments.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

What Is Isru Chag?

The day after vacation is often a time of distraction and disorientation. The same is true of the day following a religious holiday, especially after one of the week-long holidays (Passover and Sukkot) during which one focuses for an entire week on spiritual, rather than mundane, matters. 

In recognition of the challenge of transitioning from a religious festival to everyday life, a semi-holiday known as Isru Chag follows each of the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.) Translated literally as "bind the festival," the term Isru Chag comes from Psalms 118:27, which reads "Bind the festival offering with boughs to the corners of the altar." From this verse, the sages determined that, "Whoever makes an addition to the festival by eating and drinking is regarded by scripture as though he had built an altar and offered a sacrifice" (Talmud Sukkah 45b).

In truth, the celebration of Isru Chag has little effect on the day-to-day conduct of most people...unless one is a parent of a child in a religious school (which may be closed for Isru Chag). Isru Chag also affects some aspects of the daily prayer service, in that tachanun (a supplicatory prayer) as well as memorial prayers are omitted, and private fasts are generally not permitted. (Example of a private fast: an Ashkenazi couple who is to wed on Isru Chag will not observe the custom of fasting before the chuppah). 

The idea of Isru Chag is that one draws some of the holiness of the festival celebration into the less spiritually elevated reality of everyday life. Since feasting is one of the ways in which Jews celebrate festivals, it became customary to eat and drink a little something extra on Isru Chag to continue the feeling of celebration.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Isru Chag following Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Find Ways to Memorialize All Important Events

In addition to photos, videos and souvenirs, think of other ways to memorialize important life events and occasions.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Beating the Willows

During Sukkot, there is a mitzvah to wave the four species (lulav, hadassim, aravot and etrog - palm, myrtle, willow and citron) every day except on Shabbat. In addition to this mitzvah, the four species are grasped together while special prayers are recited as congregants march around the Bimah (central platform) of the synagogue during the daily Sukkot Hoshanot service and during Hallel (with the exception of Shabbat). On the seventh and final day of Sukkot, the day known as Hoshana Rabbah, there is an additional ceremony performed known as the Beating of the Willows.

The history of this mitzvah is less clear than the other mitzvot of Sukkot, but its performance is described in the Talmud (Tractate Sukkot 44a). Actually, it is written therein that "the [beating of] the willow branch and the water libation [ceremony] were given to Moses at Mount Sinai.” The fact that the ceremony continued after the destruction of the Temple and outside the land of Israel is considered to be of Prophetic origin.

The performance of the seven hakafot (circles around the bimah) and the beating of the willows is universal, whether one is Ashkenazi or Sephardi - although there are different customs as to when in the service they are performed.  Following the hakafot of the hoshanot, a bundle (although a single branch may be used) of willow branches* is taken and beaten five times on the floor.

Because the origins of this ceremony are so cryptic, the meaning of beating the willow branches is the source of great conjecture, ranging from a connection to the Sukkot prayers for rain to an association with humility. The bunch of willow branches is also referred to as hoshanot.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot and Hoshana Rabbah.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah

Tonight starts the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, literally the Gathering of the Eighth, a connected, yet independent holiday, that immediately follows Sukkot.

During the seven days of Sukkot, when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, 70 oxen were sacrificed representing the original 70 nations of the world. The priests offered sin offerings for the nations, invoking a desire for universal atonement, peace and harmony.

Because of Sukkot’s focus on all nations, God ordained Shemini Atzeret to demonstrate God’s special love for the Jewish people--comparable to a host asking his/her best friend to stay after everyone else has left, in order to share a private moment and relish the time spent together.

Shemini Atzeret also doubles as the holiday of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah), which marks the conclusion of the yearly cycle of the reading of the Torah. On the same day that the Torah is completed, it is begun again, to show that Torah is always new and fresh and that our mitzvah to study Torah is never-ending.

On the night of Simchat Torah, all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark. The bimah (platform or table on which Torah is read) is circled seven times by those holding the Torah scrolls with the congregation dancing joyously with them. Each encirclement, called hakafa, begins with a responsive prayer.

During the morning service, all the Torahs are again taken from the ark and the hakafot, the joyous circling of the night before, are repeated. The final parasha (weekly portion) of the Torah, V’zot Ha’bracha (And this is the blessing...) is read. The final parasha is read over and over until everyone has been called to the Torah. In some congregations, several Torah readings take place simultaneously.

For more information on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, click here.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Torah is Proud!

Some have pointed out that Simchat Torah, can be translated into English as “the Torah’s joy.” After celebrating Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Hoshana Rabba with fealty, awe and joy, the Torah itself rejoices in the loyalty and faith of the Jewish people.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Great Hoshana (Hoshana Rabbah)

Rosh Hashana is known as the Day of Judgment (Yom Hadin), the day on which God judges the world. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day on which God finalizes His verdict on the judgments of Rosh Hashana.

But actually the days of judgment are not quite over.

According to tradition, as stated in the Zohar (3:31b): "This [Hoshana Rabbah] is the final day of judgment for water, source of all blessings. On the seventh day of Sukkot the judgment of the world is finalized and the edicts are sent forth from the King."

The days of judgment are not, it seems, truly over until the seventh day of Sukkot, which is why  the tashlich ceremony may be performed until Hoshana Rabbah. What is the connection?

On Rosh Hashana, God determines the fate and fortune of both individuals and communities for the year to come, including exactly how much one will earn in the coming year. Material endowments are one form of sustenance. On the holiday of Sukkot, however, God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come.

Since God is still sitting in His heavenly courtroom deciding the fate of the world, there is time to slip in a final appeal or to do an extra act of kindness in the hope of altering the scales of justice in one’s favor.

On Hoshana Rabba, extra hakafot (circles around the bimah) are added to the service, as well as the beating of the willows). In some communities, it is customary to stay up all night studying Torah. Additionally, many people eat a light, festive meal in the afternoon.

Hoshana Rabba 5780 begins Saturday night.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Some people have a custom to eat kreplach, 
meat dumplings, on Hoshana Rabba.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Everyone Does the Wave

One of the main mitzvot of the holiday of Sukkot is the waving of the four species: citron (etrog), palm, myrtle and willow. Trying to understand this mitzvah metaphorically, our sages compared the four species to four different types of Jews:

The fruit of a "beautiful tree" (etrog) has both taste and scent, and is symbolic of those Jews who are well-versed in Torah and who have performed many good deeds.

The branch of the palm tree (lulav) has taste but no scent, and is symbolic of those Jews who are well-versed in Torah but have not performed good deeds.

The boughs of myrtle (hadassim) have scent but no taste, and are symbolic of those Jews who have performed many good deeds, but have not studied Torah.

The willows of the stream (aravot) have no taste and no scent, and are symbolic of those Jews who have neither studied Torah nor performed good deeds.

When the four species are brought together, they represent the complete spectrum of the Jewish people. Acknowledging our different strengths and weaknesses is critical not only in creating harmony among people, but in creating a unified nation.

Creating a unified nation represents the ideal state of the Jewish people. It was in a state of true unity that the Jewish people camped at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, and it can only be as a unified whole that we can reach our full potential once again.

For more information on the four species (lulav and etrog) of Sukkot.  Please click here.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

You Are So Beautiful

On Sukkot, enhancing and beautifying the mitzvot (commandments) of the Sukkah and the Four Species, is a virtue.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Singing Praises

“...The prophets of the Jewish people ordained that the Hallel be recited on special occasions and celebrations [like Yom Tov], and at times of national deliverance from peril, in gratitude for their redemption” (Talmud Pesachim 117a).

The prayer of Hallel, which is recited before the Torah reading on the holidays of Sukkot, Chanukah, Passover and Shavuot,* is actually the recitation of Psalms 113-118. According to tradition, the Book of Psalms, which contains 150 poetic expressions of devotion to God, were mostly authored by King David. The six Psalms of Hallel were selected for holidays and days of redemption because, as it says in Pesachim 118a, they contain fundamental Jewish beliefs: the Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah, the resurrection of the dead and the coming of the Messiah.

While the Book of Psalms is attributed to King David, who was a known scholar, pietist and musician, it is understood that a handful of the psalms are actually much older. These psalms had been passed down through the generations until David included them, along with his own writings, in The Book of Psalms. An excellent example of psalms that pre-dated King David are those psalms that open with a dedication (authorial note) of the sons of Korach.

Similarly, it was argued by the sages that Psalms 113-118 were actually written by Moses. Rabbi Jose said, “My son Elazar is of the opinion that Moses and Israel said it [Hallel] when they came out of the Red Sea, but his colleagues disagree with him. They contend that David composed Hallel. But I prefer my son's opinion to that of his colleagues: Is it possible that the Jewish people slaughtered their Passover sacrifices and took their lulav bundles without singing a hymn to God?” (Pesachim 117a).

*During Chol Hamoed Passover and on the last days of Passover (as well as on Rosh Chodesh - the new month) an abridged form of Hallel, known as Half-Hallel, is recited.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover and Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Water, Water Everywhere

Sukkot is considered the holiday on which God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come. During the time of the Temple, the week of Sukkot was highlighted by the Water Libation ceremony, during which the priests ceremoniously drew water from the spring of Shiloach and poured it into the designated bowl attached to the altar. The ceremony actually lasted all night and was known as the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah, the Celebration of the Water Drawing.

The Simchat Beit Hasho'evah was such a joyous and wonderful event that the sages wrote of it in the Talmud (Sukkah 51a), "Whoever did not see this celebration [the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah] never saw a real celebration in his days."

Here is a description of how it was celebrated in the Temple: The Temple was set up for the Simchat Beit Hasho'evah. Three balconies were erected in the women’s section and the men would stand in a courtyard below, allowing more people to attend. Golden lamps were placed in the courtyard that gave off enough light to illuminate the entire city. In the courtyard, men would dance as the Levites played instruments and sang praises to God. The kohanim, the priests, would then go to the spring of Shiloach and draw the water to be used.

It is customary today, during the week of Sukkot, to attend or host a Simchat Beit Hasho'evah party, which generally takes place in the sukkah.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Holiday Music

One of the ways to celebrate the Jewish holidays, especially Sukkot -- the Festival of Joy, is through music. The Jewish music industry has exploded in recent decades, and many upbeat and lively songs can be purchased, downloaded or listened to for free online.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Chol Hamoed

Most holidays in Western society last for a single day, which is often extended into the weekend. And while most people are aware that Chanukah is celebrated for 8 days, many people are surprised to learn that both Sukkot and Passover are also week-long holidays. The Torah explicitly states (in Leviticus 23) that these two holidays shall be observed for seven days. (Note: The holiday[s] following Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, are independent of Sukkot.)

The first two days of Sukkot and Passover (only the first day in Israel) and the last two days of Passover (only the seventh in Israel) and the Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah festival that immediately follows Sukkot (observed as one day in Israel, two days elsewhere) are observed as Yamim Tovim, Festival Days. Yamim Tovim are observed in the same manner as Shabbat except that one may cook (using a pre-existing flame) and carry in public areas. The remaining days in between are known as Chol Hamoed--weekday of the festival.

During Chol Hamoed, it is customary to continue the holiday spirit and avoid unnecessary work. Mundane chores such as laundry are postponed. If possible, people do not work and avoid shopping except for essentials for the holiday. In synagogue, the Torah is read and Hallel (festive Psalms of praise) and Mussaf (the additional service) are recited.

On Sukkot, the requirements to dwell in the sukkah and the mitzvah of the four species continue throughout Chol Hamoed. On Chol Hamoed of Passover, one maintains the prohibition against eating chametz (leaven) but is not required to eat matzah.

During Chol Hamoed, people offer special greetings to each other by saying either “Gut Moed,” which is Yiddish for “Good Festival,” or “Moadim L’Simcha,” which is “Holidays for Happiness,” or “Chag Sameach,” which is Hebrew for “Happy Holiday.”

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover and Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Ushpeezin (Oo'shpee'zin)

During the festival of Sukkot, the sukkah is intended to be our home. For example, since one would normally dine in the house, on Sukkot one dines in the sukkah. Because the sukkah is temporary, however, moving into the sukkah requires leaving behind some of our material comforts and settling for rather basic necessities, thus creating a more spiritual environment.

In our spiritually enhanced “mini-homes,” the Jewish tradition of hospitality and inviting guests takes on an entirely new dimension! Not only do we invite friends and neighbors to join us, but there is also the custom of inviting the great historic Jewish personages who shaped our people.

This custom is known as Ushpeezin (the Aramaic word for guests).

According to the kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, the Shechina (Divine Presence) accompanies every Jew into the sukkah. The Shechina is accompanied by the seven shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.

Each evening, the host welcomes the seven ushpeezin (guests) into the sukkah by saying: “I invite to my meal the exalted guests: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. May it please you, Abraham, my exalted guest, that all the other exalted guests dwell here with me and with you - Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.*”

Each night, another one of the ushpeezin is welcomed, in a specific order. Thus on the second night, one says: "May it please you, Isaac, my exalted..." On the third night: "May it please you, Jacob, my exalted..." and so on throughout the week.

*The order of the Ushpeezin may vary depending on community. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Value of Hosting

Even in a temporary dwelling, endeavor to welcome guests.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Rejoicing For The World

Among the unique rituals performed on the holiday of Sukkot were the additional offerings that were sacrificed in the ancient Temple. On the first day of the holiday, 13 young bulls were sacrificed, on the second day 12, on the third day 11, on the fourth day 10, on the fifth day 9, on the sixth day 8 and on the seventh day 7. In total, 70 bulls were offered. Sukkot is the only holiday on which the number of the sacrifices varies from day to day.

In the Talmud (Sukkah 55b) Rabbi Eliezer explains that these 70 offerings are brought "For the [merit of the] 70 nations of the world." Rashi, the famous 11th century commentator, explained that this was, "To bring a forgiveness [offering] for them [the 70 nations], so that rain shall fall all over the world."

One of the reasons that Sukkot is known as "Z’man Sim’chah’tay’nu," the time of our rejoicing, is that it follows immediately after the Yamim No’ra’im, the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur). The Jewish people are especially joyful knowing that the world has just been judged and, please God, their prayers for atonement have been accepted. Most people, when they are happy and feeling confident, wish to share their joy with those around them. So too, at Sukkot, the Jewish people wish to share their happiness with the rest of the world.

Why does Rashi specify "so that rain shall fall all over the world"? Rain is the ultimate sign of blessing (when it falls in a timely manner and in proper proportion). Without rain, nothing can live. Additionally, when all nations are sufficiently endowed with their needs (water, food, etc.) peace prevails, and peace is the greatest blessing of all. 

This Treat was reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Four Species

The waving of the four species is one of the most beautiful and symbolic mitzvot of the year.

Indeed, there is a special commandment (Leviticus 23:40) that one make a specific effort to enhance and beautify this mitzvah.

The mitzvah of taking the four species is performed by taking a frond of a palm branch (lulav), 3 myrtle stems (hadassim) and 2 willow branches (aravot) in one's right hand and the citron (etrog)--held upside down--in one's left hand [lefties should reverse hands] and reciting the blessing:

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech Ha’o’lam, ah’sher kidishanu b'mitz’vo’tav v'tzee’va’nu al n'tee’laht lulav.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the world, who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us to take the four species.

(Those performing the mitzvah for the first time this year should recite the blessing of Sheh'heh'cheh'yanu.)

The etrog is then turned upward and the four species are waved together three times in each of the 6 directions: forward, right, backward (toward oneself ), left, up, and down. (The order may differ depending on custom.)

Waving the four species is a symbolic recognition of God’s omnipresent kingship over the world and everything in it. As it says in the Talmud, in Sukkah 37b: "It is as if one is taking the species and bringing them to God who possesses the four directions. One raises them and lowers them to God who owns the heavens and the earth."

Acknowledging God’s ownership of the world is particularly appropriate during the harvest season, when people might be tempted to rejoice exclusively about their own personal success. Surely, people are entitled to celebrate their own achievements, but always with the understanding that behind it all is God.

For more about the lulav and etrog, please read Jewish Treats The Perfect Species.

This Treat was reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Wave the Species

Make an effort to either obtain a set of the four species, which can be purchased at synagogues and at Jewish bookstores, or find a place where a set will be available for waving and reciting the blessing.

Friday, October 11, 2019

More Than A Harvest Festival

Few people refer to Sukkot by the name Chag Ha'Asif, Feast of the Ingathering, but the Torah specifically states: "And you shall observe...the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year" (Exodus 34:22). Perhaps this term is avoided lest the holiday be mistaken as a simple agricultural celebration. But, Sukkot is indeed an agricultural festival celebrated at the time of the harvest, when farmers bring in the fruits of their labor, and everyone prepares for the onset of winter. There is no question that, as a result of witnessing the miracle of harvest in the field, people are moved to be thankful to the Creator of all things. 

Sukkot, however, is more than a harvest festival, because it isn’t actually about the crop. It is a festival meant to help Jews focus on the Source of those crops. This is why Jews move out of their comfortable homes and into their temporary dwellings (the sukkah) just as the weather grows chilly. It is a striking reminder that there is a more powerful Force in charge of one’s success. One can plant and sow and fertilize at all the right times, but one can only reap if God provides all of the right natural factors (good soil, proper amounts of rain at the right time, the farmer’s health, etc.).

While we today may not live in agricultural settings, that does not mean that we are not constantly dependent on a force greater than ourselves. No matter what profession one practices, one’s success is affected by thousands of different factors each day. While we may not personally gather our crops, we must always celebrate and be grateful for, and aware of, the Source of our sustenance.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Build Your Own Sukkah

Webster's Dictionary defines a tabernacle as a temporary dwelling, which is why the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is known as the Feast of the Tabernacles. A sukkah, however, is a lot more specific than simply a temporary dwelling--which is often taken to mean something like a tent or a recreational vehicle.

THE WALLS of the sukkah may be made out of any material--wood, plastic, even canvas--as long as they can withstand normal gusts of wind without swaying noticeably. A sukkah must have a minimum of 2 ½ walls and have a doorway. The sukkah walls may actually be walls from a pre-existing structure. The sages set the minimum length and width of a sukkah at seven handbreadths (approx 28") and the minimum height at 10 handbreadths (approx 40") tall. The maximum height is 20 amot (approx 30’).

THE ROOF of the sukkah, known as s’chach, is a critical factor in determining the sukkah’s halachic acceptability. S’chach is defined as anything of plant origin that is now detached from the ground but has not undergone any manufacturing process nor had a previous use (such as a wooden post designed to hold up a sapling) nor may it be edible. Additionally, the s’chach pieces should be less than four handbreadths wide.

For the sukkah to be "kosher," there must be enough s’chach so that there is more shadow than sunlight. It should not, however, be so dense that one is unable to see the larger stars at night or that the rain cannot penetrate. 

PLACEMENT of the sukkah is important because to meet the s’chach requirements, the area above the sukkah must be clear (no building overhangs or branches from a tree). If there is a small area within the sukkah that is covered by something overhead, one should avoid sitting beneath it.

The holiday of Sukkot begins this Sunday night at sunset. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

If You Don’t Have your own Sukkah

If you do not have your own sukkah, make the effort to find a sukkah in which you can eat. To help you celebrate Sukkot, NJOP encourages you to join a “Sukkot Across America” celebration that is being hosted throughout the United States, Canada and beyond. Click here to find a location near you.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Is Sukkot Part of the High Holidays?

It is clear that during the Ten Days of Penitence, we are meant to be on a higher spiritual realm. We recite Psalm 47 seven times prior to blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashana, symbolizing our piercing the seven levels of heaven to approach God in a unique way. At the end of the Ne’ilah service, with a few fleeting moments of Yom Kippur left, we cry out, “God is our Lord” seven times, which represents a return back through the seven levels of heaven back to normalcy. 

Yet there are sources which view Sukkot as a continuum of that which was achieved on Yom Kippur. Psalm 27, which is recited twice daily in the liturgy from a month prior to Rosh Hashana until Shemini Atzeret, references both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. “A psalm of David. The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? (Psalms 27:1)” “My light” refers to Rosh Hashanah and “I fear” refers to Yom Kippur. Yet, later on the psalm, King David wrote, “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in his Sukkah; under the cover of his tent shall He hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock” (Psalms 27:5).

Rabbi Meir Goldwicht, professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University, also notes this link in the liturgy around the Shema prayer. Prior to the Shema prayer we bless God “who selects His nation Israel with love.” This he says, refers to Rosh Hashana. After the three Biblical paragraphs of the Shema, we then bless God as the “redeemer of Israel.” This represents Yom Kippur. Afterwards we ask God to “spread over us the shelter (Sukkah) of his peace.” Rabbi Goldwicht suggests that Rosh Hashana is a festival where we declare our love for the Almighty, Yom Kippur is when He forgives us and redeems us. What does one do when they have just won a windfall, such as Divine atonement? We protect it, so we don’t lose it. Sukkot, he advanced, is that protection. Sukkot is a way of protecting the redemption of Yom Kippur. We exit the home and demonstrate our faith in His protection.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Sukkot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Building on Yom Kippur’s Momentum

With Yom Kippur in the rear view mirror, we find ourselves confronting the festival of Sukkot, beginning a mere five days after Yom Kippur. While we must transition quickly from the intensity of Yom Kippur to the unbridled joy of Sukkot, our sages understood that we cannot just merely run away from Yom Kippur, as if school ended and we run to our summer vacations. Yom Kippur is meant to spiritually enrich and inspire us for the entire year.

We reluctantly depart from Yom Kippur, absorbing its lessons. A comment by Rabbi Zev Shandalov may be apt: “While it’s important to act properly between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it is perhaps more important to act properly between Yom Kippur and (the next) Rosh Hashana.

Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin in his book "Moadim b'Halacha" notes that if we follow along the Torah’s narrative of the High Priest’s immersions in the mikveh on Yom Kippur, it appears that at the end of the day, the High Priest immerses in the mikveh after he exits the Holy of Holies. Isn’t the mikveh used to prepare for a holy event? Why would he immerse after exiting the Holy of Holies? He answers that there is great holiness in entering the “real world.” The challenge is to build on the momentum of the spiritual high achieved on Yom Kippur so it continues far after the fast ends.

Many have the custom to begin morning prayers a little earlier than usual on the morning following Yom Kippur. This makes a strong statement that we are not running away from the closeness that we felt to God during the Ten Days of Penitence. We want to sustain all that was gained during the Days of Awe. As such, some show eagerness and love through their actions by coming early to the synagogue. Others have a custom to begin building the Sukkah a mere hours after the Yom Kippur fasts are broken and “the gates” were sealed. Aside from transitioning to Sukkot, we begin our post Yom Kippur life in the performance of a mitzvah, a Torah commandment.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Yom Kippur Must Spill Over

Endeavor to bring your Rosh Hashana’s resolutions to fruition.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Neilah: The Final Service

While one may make requests of God or atone for transgressions at any time of the year, the first ten days of Tishrei (from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur) are considered particularly propitious for repentance. In fact, it is said of this time period that the heavenly Gates of Mercy are cast open to more readily receive the prayers of penitents.

Although the “gates of heaven” are a poetic metaphor, it is one that makes a metaphysical process easier to comprehend. Indeed, in many ways, this imagery reflects the process and urgency of the Yom Kippur Neilah service. The final service of the Day of Atonement, Neilah means “closing,” an allusion to the fact that, as Yom Kippur draws to a close, the Gates of Mercy are closing.  With this in mind, it is not surprising that many people find the Neilah service to be incredibly emotional and inspiring.

In the days of the Temple, a Neilah service was added to other fast days. Today, Neilah is a service unique to Yom Kippur. But, even in Talmudic times, the Yom Kippur Neilah had its own special instructions: “On Yom Kippur, as it becomes dark, one reads the seven benedictions (the holiday Amidah) and makes confession and concludes with confession” (Yoma 87b).

Following the conclusion of the Neilah Amidah, is a series of powerful call-and-response declarations that include the words of Shema, the pronouncement “Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity” (three times), and the proclamation “The Lord - Only He is God” (seven times). Then the shofar is sounded, and the congregation joyfully declares “Next year in Jerusalem!”

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Five Prohibitions of Yom Kippur

"...on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all...for on that day God will forgive you and cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before God" (Leviticus 16:29-30).

How does one "afflict one's soul"? The oral law enumerates the following five restrictions:

Fasting (No eating or drinking) - From sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur until nightfall the next day, it is forbidden to eat or drink. However, those who are ill should and, in some cases, must, eat on Yom Kippur. If a doctor instructs a person not to fast, that person should discuss the situation with their rabbi, who should also be consulted about specific details of eating on Yom Kippur. Additionally, girls below the age of 12 and boys below the age of 13 are not required to fast.

Washing - During the fast, one may not wash for pleasure, but one may wash to get rid of dirt or when preparing food (e.g. for children). One may also bathe a baby.

Anointing - It is forbidden to anoint oneself with oil. Thus, the use of perfumes, liquid or cream make-up, suntan lotion, and other such items is prohibited.

Wearing Leather Shoes - During the fast, it is forbidden to wear leather shoes. Some people wear only socks, but others wear shoes of canvas or other non-leather materials (i.e. Crocs).

Marital Relations - It is forbidden to have marital relations.

It may seem that refraining from the above actions would make one focus on the body, due to hunger or thirst, or the discomfort of not washing. However such discomforts are temporary and, in fact, turn one’s attention back to the importance of the day and the fact that we can transcend physical discomfort in order to connect with the spirit of the day. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Two for One

While Yom Kippur is a very serious day of introspection, it is also regarded as a joyous day, since God annually forgives the Jewish people. As fasting is not conducive to celebration, the day prior to Yom Kippur is considered a festive day, where we are commanded to eat and rejoice. Apparently, it takes two days to fully absorb the power of Yom Kippur.

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Food of Yom Kippur

Food on Yom Kippur? Isn’t Yom Kippur the most famous fast day on the Jewish calendar?

"One who eats and drinks on the ninth, is considered by the Torah to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth" (Talmud Yoma 81b).

This principle is derived from a strange allusion to afflicting one’s self on the ninth of the month in Leviticus 23:32 ("... and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month in the evening ..."), even though only 5 verses earlier the Torah commanded that we must afflict ourselves on the tenth (Leviticus 23:27).

As on all holidays and on Shabbat, it is a mitzvah to eat festive meals. Yom Kippur is also a holiday. Since one may not eat on Yom Kippur, the festival meals are advanced to the preceding day. The first meal should be eaten early in the afternoon so that one may later have the special seudah hamafseket, the final meal before the fast.

To be considered a festive meal, challah (or bread) must be served. Many people serve kreplach, dumplings, because the hidden bits of meat in dough are symbolic of our desire that God will hide our sins.

The seudah hamafseket is usually eaten after the afternoon service, closer to evening, but while it is still daytime. It is recommended that one eat only light foods which are not too salty (therefore it is customary not to eat fish at this meal) and to avoid intoxicating beverages.

Different families have their own customs how to best celebrate the successful conclusion of Yom Kippur with a festive meal and "break fast." Many Ashkenazi families have dairy meals, while Sephardi families will eat a meat meal.

An Interesting Recipe: Pepitada is a traditional Sephardi post-fast drink made by steeping crushed melon seeds in cold water, straining them and adding a little sugar and perhaps a few drops of orange flower essence, rosewater or honey.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

For The Sin We Committed

One of the main steps in the process of teshuva (repentance) is confessing one’s sins and verbalizing one’s errors. In so doing, a person admits committing a sin, not so much to anyone who happens to hear, but, more importantly, to one’s self.

On Yom Kippur, there is a special service of confession, known as Vidui, that is an integral part of each of the five prayer services that are recited during the day. The great sages recognized how difficult it is for people to recall all of their actions over the past year, so they created a formula to help people understand the consequences of some of their actions.

The most prominent section of the Vidui is the section known as Ahl Chayt. Each verse begins with the phrase Ahl chayt sheh’chah’tah’noo l’fah’neh’chah... “For the sin we committed before You...” and then enumerates a general transgression. While reciting the Vidui service, it is customary to stand in a humbled position, with one’s head lowered. Upon reciting each Ahl Chayt, the supplicant strikes the left side of his/her chest with his/her right hand.

Due to space, Jewish Treats can provide you with only a sampling of some of the confessions from the Vidui service:

For the sin we committed before You without knowledge, and for the sin we committed before You with an utterance of the lips.

For the sin we committed before You with wicked speech, and for the sin we committed before You by scoffing.

For the sin we committed before You in business dealings, and for the sin we committed before You in eating and drinking.

When the prayer leader repeats the confessional service out loud, the Ahl Chayt section of the Vidui is divided into three sections. Between each section the prayer leader, and then the congregation, sing: “And for all of these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, grant us atonement.”

This Treat is reposted in honor of Yom Kippur.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Recite Viduy in Your Vernacular

When confessing sins before God, it is critical to understand what is being said. If you do not understand the Hebrew liturgy, make sure to obtain a translation of the Viduy in your vernacular.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Avinu Malkeinu

No prayer so thoroughly captures the Jewish people’s dual relationship with God as Avinu Malkeinu, "Our Father, Our King."

The exact formulation of this prayer is based on a prayer that Rabbi Akiva (c. 50 - c. 135 C.E.), one of the greatest Talmudic sages, recited during a drought. After the community’s prayers had brought no relief, Rabbi Akiva went forward and called out to God, "Our Father, Our King, we have no king but You. Our Father, Our King, for Your sake have mercy on us!" Immediately, rain began to fall.

The prayer of Avinu Malkeinu, which is recited on Rosh Hashana* includes 44 lines, the most famous of which is the statement: "Our Father, Our King, be gracious with us and answer us, even though we have no worthy deeds, act with us in righteousness and goodness and save us."

By addressing God as both "our Father" and "our King," we direct our prayers through two different avenues. From a father, one expects mercy, love and forgiveness. A father looks at his child and sees only that child, that special individual, and instinctively feels mercy for the child, a product of his own flesh and blood. That is why, on the Day of Judgment we wish to address our petitions particularly to God’s fatherly aspect of mercy.

On the other hand, a king controls the fate of his subjects. He rules with judgment and justice. Hence, we must also address our prayers to that aspect of God during Rosh Hashana and throughout the days that follow (up through and including Yom Kippur). After all, this is the time that God sits with His Books of Judgment open before Him. By referring to God as our King, we remind ourselves that while He loves us as a father, we must also be in awe of God’s greatness and majesty.

*It is also recited during the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and on fast days. When Rosh Hashana occurs on Shabbat, Avinu Malkeinu is not recited.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make the Effort to Improve, and be Sure to Sustain that Improvement

Think seriously about your Jewish New Year’s resolutions and how you will be able to make them really happen.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Will I Forgive You for What!?

An ancient Jewish proverb declares: “Loose tongues are worse than wicked hands.”

Truth is, people do the most damage to each other with their mouths. Things done with our hands, such as injuries, thefts, etc, can be repaired. Words, however, are like feathers in the wind – they fly too fast to catch them and can never be taken back. Jewish law regards loshon harah, wicked speech such as gossip and slander, as the worst of the transgressions that one commits against fellow humans.

Here is the dilemma: During the months of Elul and Tishrei (before and during the High Holidays), repentance must be our top priority. Repentance for hurting another person requires that we personally ask that person’s forgiveness. What do I do if I spoke badly about someone, in a fit of anger? Now that we are friends once again, how do I ask properly for forgiveness for talking about them?

The answer to this dilemma depends on the extent of the “damage.” If the gossip itself created negative consequences, then the person must be asked directly for forgiveness. If no harm was done, and it is known that the person will be understanding about the incident, then forgiveness should still be asked.

However, if informing a person that you spoke about them would result in embarrassment or hurt, it is acceptable to ask for general forgiveness, without going into detail. Indeed, causing additional embarrassment to the person would actually necessitate asking for mechila (forgiveness) once again. Need to ask someone's forgiveness and not sure how?

This Treat is reposted in honor of the Aseret Y'mei Teshuva.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.