Friday, February 28, 2020

Holy Times and Places

Tonight is the twenty-fourth annual SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA program, sponsored by NJOP (National Jewish Outreach Program). Tonight, SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA is being celebrated in hundreds of locations across the United States and Canada. 

This Shabbat we read the Torah portion known as parashat Terumah, which launches the second half of the book of Exodus. The mystics (Nefesh Ha-Hayyim 1:4; Sefer Habahir) suggest that the construction of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness was meant to mirror God’s creation of the universe. On the first day, God created the heavens, and the Children of Israel were told to construct a “covering” for the Tabernacle. On the second day, God separated the upper waters from the lower waters and the Children of Israel were told to create a partition between the “Holy” and the “Holy of Holies.” On the third day, God “gathered the waters,” while the Children of Israel were told to construct a water basin for washing. On the fourth day God created luminaries to provide light; the Children of Israel were commanded to make the Menorah/candelabra. On day five, God proclaimed “Let there be fowl that fly over the earth,” while the Children of Israel were told to place “cherubs with wings spread upward” upon the Ark of the Covenant. On the sixth day, God created the human being, and with regard to the Tabernacle, God commanded Moses to, “Draw close Aaron your brother.” On the seventh day, the Torah states that “The heaven and the earth were finished.” As the Tabernacle was completed the Torah declares, “All the work of the Tabernacle was finished.”

While Shabbat represents a weekly slice of “sacred time,” the Tabernacle describes “sacred space,” where God’s contracted Presence is manifest in this world. On every Shabbat we celebrate sacred time, and remind ourselves that, just as God ceased creative activity on the seventh night and day, we become Godly when doing the same every seventh day.

In the book of Bereshith (Genesis), God created our world. In the second half of the book of Shemot (Exodus), the Children of Israel are given the task of creating an appropriate place for God’s world in the mortal realm.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate Every Shabbat

Although Shabbat Across America and Canada is a special annual Shabbat reflecting the sense of national unity, every Shabbat is special, as it unifies all of us with the Creator in Heaven.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Most Popular non-Holiday Event on Jewish Calendars

Tomorrow night is the 24th annual Shabbat Across America and Canada. Jewish Treats is proud to present a history of NJOP’s SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA. Jewish Treats is one of NJOP’s popular social media platforms.

SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA was an evolutionary expansion and enhancement of the 1980 program at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, and was then given the name Turn Friday Night Into Shabbos. For many Jews, it was their first taste of Shabbat. For others, it was the first positive, joyous experience that they had in their Jewish lives.

In the mid-1980s, “TFNIS” was taken national across the United States, and from 1987 through 1996, was coordinated nationally and internationally through NJOP. In 1997 it was renamed SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA.

According to Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, NJOP’s founder and director, SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA is “probably the greatest ‘rescue mission’ ever mounted to Jews who are being lost to assimilation… Fortunately, the antidote to this dreaded affliction is at hand. The Almighty has given his children a great gift – it is called Shabbat.”

The initial SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA campaigns featured ads appearing on buses, bus shelters, subway placards and billboards, and in publications such as Time, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, Sports illustrated and 20 major North American daily newspapers. Over the years, NJOP has produced several videos to promote Shabbat, including “I’ve Got a Feeling” from 2010, with over 838,000 hits on YouTube, and another video produced in 2015. In 2016, as the U.S. presidential campaign season began, NJOP announced Rabbi Buchwald’s faux “presidential campaign”, representing the Shabbat Party. Four videos were produced in addition to a Huffington Post op-Ed explaining what the Shabbat party is, and its connection to SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA. A CommUNITY SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA was later developed encouraging various institutions in the same city to run a joint program, as was SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA At Home, for those unwilling or unable to attend the program at a local Jewish synagogue or Jewish organization.

Since its inception, 1,108,600 guests have attended SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA programs in thousands of synagogues of all denominations, college campuses, outreach centers, military bases, JCCs and Jewish Federations and, in Moishe Houses. It has been offered in all 50 U.S. states, eight Canadian provinces, and in Israel, Mexico, South Africa, New Zealand and Qatar.

Rabbi Buchwald proudly notes that there is no “non-holiday” that is on more Jewish calendars than the annual observance of SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA. That makes sense, given the importance of Jewish unity, identity and Shabbat. Join us!

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Support the Critical Work of NJOP

NJOP, is the organization that sponsors Jewish Treats, sponsors SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA AND CANADA, READ HEBREW AMERICA AND CANADA, Beginners Services, the Crash Course in Basic Judaism and so much more. Support the work of NJOP and recommend its programs to those who can benefit.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Jewish Jeaneology

February 26, celebrated as “Levi Strauss Day,” is the day, in 1829, that marked the birth of the blue-jeans icon. Born in Bavaria, Levi Strauss immigrated, along with his mother and two sisters, to the United States when he was 18 years old, reuniting with his brothers who had started a wholesale dry goods business in New York City called J. Strauss Brother & Co. When Levi's sister and brother-in-law moved to St. Louis, Levi moved to Louisville, KY and began selling the supplies from his brothers' store there. The family decided to open a franchise in San Francisco, which had become the center of the California Gold Rush. Levi took a steamship to San Francisco and arrived in March, 1854, to join his sister and brother-in-law from St. Louis, who had relocated there. Levi helped establish Congregation Emanu-El, the first synagogue in San Francisco.

Levi Strauss & Co. imported merchandise from his brothers’ store in New York, offering products such as clothing, bedding, combs, purses and handkerchiefs.

The wife of a woodcutter mentioned to a local tailor, Jacob Davis, that the pants that the laborers and the “49ers” wore were not lasting. The seams were bursting. Mr. Davis made a pair of jeans from denim purchased from Levi Strauss’ store and used copper rivets to reinforce the seams. The demand for these new jeans outpaced the supply, and Mr. Davis, a customer of Strauss, asked Mr. Strauss to financially back his venture to patent his new tailoring invention and support the construction of a larger tailor shop. The two men became partners in Levi Strauss & Co. The new style of work pants were patented in 1873.

Levi Strauss died on September 26, 1902 and was buried in Colma, CA. He left his company to Jacob, Sigmund, Louis and Abraham Stern, his four nephews. At the time of his death, his estate was worth $6 million dollars, the equivalent of $174 billion in “2018 dollars.” He supported charities for orphans, and the Levi Strauss Foundation made a significant donation to Stanford University.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Owned Companies

Support companies owned by Jews that are charitable, and are governed by Jewish values.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

When Adar Begins

The month of Adar begins today. About Adar, the twelfth month of the Jewish calendar year, the Talmud (Ta’anith 29a) states: “Mee'sheh'nichnas Adar, marbin b'simchah," With the beginning of Adar, rejoicing is increased.

One might think that this increase in joy is because Adar is the first month of spring. While winter is not completely gone, it is certainly on its way out. That may be enough reason for others to rejoice, but the Jews have the wonderful holiday of Purim to make our spirits joyful.

Celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Adar,* Purim is the holiday that commemorates good overcoming evil. In a nutshell, the story of Purim revolves around the plot, launched in the year 518 BCE by Haman (the wicked viceroy of the Persian-Median King Achashverosh), to kill all the Jews in Achashverosh’s kingdom. Haman’s hatred of the Jews reached a psychotic level when Mordechai, the leader of the Jewish community, refused to bow to him. Haman requested and was granted permission by Achashverosh to issue a decree calling for the death of all the Jews. Haman, however, was unaware that Achashverosh’s new queen, Esther, was actually Jewish and was Mordechai’s cousin. With significant courage (and tremendous faith in God), Esther revealed Haman’s wicked plot to the king, thus saving the Jewish people.

In celebration of their salvation, the Jews feasted, gave charity and exchanged gift baskets with each other. They celebrated being alive with tremendous joy and rejoiced at being part of a wonderful nation. It is the energy of their joy that permeates the entire month of Adar so that even now, 2,500 years later, when Adar begins, rejoicing is increased.

* Some ancient walled cities, such as Jerusalem, celebrate on the 15th of Adar.

This Treat was originally posted on Tuesday, February 24, 2009.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Heighten Your Gladness

Find ways to increase your joy during the festive month of Adar.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Impeachment and the Jewish Tradition

On February 24, 1868, a U.S. president was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time. Three months later, the U.S. Senate acquitted President Andrew Johnson. 35 senators voted guilty and 19 voted not guilty (36 guilty votes, representing a 2/3 majority of the 54 senators were needed for removal) on Impeachment Articles 2, 3 and 11. Over a century later, Presidents Clinton and Trump were both impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate. President Nixon resigned before the House had the chance to impeach him.

The Founders and authors of the Constitution made it difficult, by design, to remove a U.S. president. The Founders created a Constitutional mechanism involving all three branches of government, to remove an errant president. The Senate, sitting as a jury, was meant to be a “check” on the House. The Chief Justice of the United States presides over the trial of the head of the Executive Branch. 

Leadership in the Torah is not manifest in a “balance of power” and/or “checks and balances” but rather, is concentrated in the authority of the rabbis of the Sanhedrin, the king, prophets and the High Priest.

A prophet is someone who can receive prophetic transmissions from God, decipher them, and communicate them properly. Were a Jewish prophet to encourage the abrogation of a Torah law or to promote any form of idolatry, that prophet is judged by the Sanhedrin for the capital crime of being a “false prophet,” and if found guilty by a majority, is executed* (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Fundamentals of the Torah, 9:1).

A High Priest is officially appointed by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Temple Vessels 4:15). There is a preference, upon the death of the High Priest, to appoint a worthy son to assume his position (4:20). A High Priest can be judged, and can even be tried for capital cases before the Sanhedrin (5:8), and can receive lashes for malevolent behavior, and still remain as the High Priest (4:22).

A King is anointed with special oil by a prophet with the approval of the Sanhedrin (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 1:3). When a son succeeds his father as king, he is not anointed, unless the succession is challenged. Kings may be brought up on charges and sued in court for monetary disputes.

A well-known Talmudic anecdote confirms that a head of the Sanhedrin can be removed. Rabbi Gamliel II, was appointed the first Nasi (president) of the Sanhedrin after the Destruction of the Second Temple. There are three episodes where Rabbi Gamliel’s opinion came at odds with that of another great sage, Rabbi Joshua ben Chananiah (Bechorot 36a; Rosh Hashana 24b-25a; Berachot 27b-28a). In one of these disputes, Rabbi Gamliel humiliated Rabbi Joshua, and the other sages who had seen enough, voted to remove him. Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah, 18 at the time, was elected president. Eventually Rabbi Gamliel was restored after undergoing a process of introspection and asking forgiveness from Rabbi Joshua.

*Judaism has not supported religious capital punishment since the period of the destruction of the Second Temple almost two millennia ago.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Educated Consumers

While there is value to being an educated consumer, we should also be educated citizens, and hold our leaders to account, if they are not acting for the interest of the public.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Just a Half Shekel

This Shabbat is Parashat Shekalim (shekels). The Torah portion that speaks of Shekalim (Exodus 30:11-16) is read as the Maftir portion after the regular weekly Torah reading has concluded. It refers to God's commandment that a census of the Jewish people be taken by the donation of a half-shekel coin, rather than by a head count.

The most significant aspect of this half-shekel census was that it was blind to wealth. Rich or poor, each man* above the age of 20 was required to give a half-shekel coin. Exodus 30:15 states: "The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less..."

The half-shekel collection was specifically designed to be egalitarian, so that no person would stand out as an individual. Every person was (and still is) an equal part of the whole.

Parashat Shekalim is always read on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Adar (the first day of the month of Adar) or on the Shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Chodesh. (This year, Rosh Chodesh is celebrated on Tuesday and Wednesday.) In the time of the Temple, the half-shekel was contributed by the people during the month of Adar, and the reading of Shekalim served as an announcement of the upcoming obligation.

Additionally, the section of Shekalim reminds us that Purim is soon at hand (14 Adar - this year, March 9/10). The wicked Haman offered Achashverosh 10,000 silver pieces for the right to destroy the Jews, assuming that his silver pieces would off-set the sum total of the Jews' half-shekel donations in the wilderness. Thankfully, he was wrong!

*The census counted every male over the age of 20, under the assumption that every male over the age of 20 had already established a household. Thus, the census, in effect, counted all Jewish households.

This Treat was last published on February 24, 2017.

Related Treats:

Parashat Parah
Parashat Zachor
Parashat HaChodesh

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Associate with Groups

The half-shekel annual tax assured that everyone was counted together with others. Identify worthy groups with whom you can affiliate, join and support.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement

The Mussar movement, the formal study and program of ethical improvement, was developed in the mid-nineteenth century by Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1883, his family name was Lipkin but he is known as Salanter in honor of the many years he studied in Salant, Lithuania).

Throughout his years of study, Rabbi Salanter felt that there was far too much cold intellectualism in the Jewish community and too little emphasis on ethics and self-improvement. While some Mussar texts already existed, such as the writings of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, Rabbi Salanter developed the study and practice of ethics into a true school of thought. The focus of the Mussar movement was the communal study of these existing texts, incorporated with constant self-examination of one's actions.

After serving as the head of the Vilna Yeshiva, Rabbi Lipkin moved to Kovno in the 1840s in order to open his own yeshiva. At the same time he also ran a special center dedicated to the study of ethical works and a kollel (an advanced study institute) for married men. After leaving Kovno in 1856, Rabbi Salanter took positions in several towns of Germany and France.  
The most renowned work of Rabbi Salanter is Iggeret ha-Mussar (The Ethical Letter), which was first published in 1858.

While the Mussar movement was successful within the world of the scholars, it was not generally a popular movement. (After all, how popular could it be to sit for an hour each day and criticize yourself?!) Following Rabbi Salanter's death on 25 Shevat in 1883, his disciples worked diligently to integrate Mussar into mainstream traditional education. Eventually it became part of the curriculum in most Lithuanian schools, where students would not only study Mussar, but would regularly hear Mussar Shmoozin (Mussar talks) from the school's mashgiach ruchani (moral supervisor).

This Treat was last posted on January 31, 2019.  

 Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Seek Opportunities to Improve Character

One of the most valuable life endeavors is to devote time to character building and improvement.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Jews and the Crimea

In 2014, the Russian army seized control of the Crimea. This occurred after Russia claimed a referendum of Crimean citizens, many of whom are Russian nationals, overwhelmingly favored joining Russia and seceding from the Ukraine, which had controlled the Black Sea peninsula since February 19, 1954. One of the justifications for Russian occupation, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, was to combat the anti-Semitic ultra-nationalists.

The Crimea has a long history of Jewish settlement, featuring the “krymchaks” (Crimeans in Russian), who were adherents to traditional rabbinic Judaism, and the Crimean Karaites, who rejected rabbinic Judaism. Excavated inscriptions found in the Crimea have dated a Jewish presence there to the first century BCE. Some argue that those Jews who survived the Hadrianic persecutions after the Bar Kochba revolt were exiled to the Crimea. In the late 7th century C.E., most of the Crimea fell to the Khazars, who ruled the Crimea through the tenth century. Legend claims that the Khazars converted to rabbinic Judaism, as recounted in R. Judah HaLevi’s Kuzari.

Around the year 1240, The Tatars (Mongols) conquered the Crimea along with much of Eastern Europe, and centuries later, formed an alliance with infamous Cossack Bogdan Chmielnicki who massacred tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews in 1648-1649. Many Jews who survived the pogroms were relocated to Tatar territory in the Crimea, while other ransomed Jews were redeemed by Crimean Jews and relocated there with them. The Russians annexed the Crimea in 1783, at which time 469 Jewish families lived on the peninsula. As Russia continued its hegemony over the Crimea, Jews from the Ukraine and Lithuania moved to the Crimea, adding about 60,000 Ashkenazic Jews to the peninsula’s Jewish population. The native Krymchaks numbered about 6,000 at that time. Rabbi Chaim Chizkiya Medini (1834-1904), author of the famed S’dei Chemed halachic encyclopedia, relocated to the Crimea from Istanbul and the Krymchaks soon became disciples of his. It is believed that Rabbi Medini married a Krymchak.

The 1917 Russian Revolution impacted on the Crimea, as civil war ripped apart its population. Many Krymchaks were killed in the fighting, and many moved to British Mandatory Palestine, the United States and Turkey. The Germans, who invaded the Crimea in June, 1941, targeted as Jews the Crimean Krymchaks, but not the Crimean Karaites. 6,000 Krymchaks perished in the Holocaust, amounting to about 75% of their remaining population. After the Red Army expelled the Germans from the Crimean Peninsula, tens of thousands of Jews returned.

Under Stalin’s regime, the remaining Krymchaks were forbidden to write in Hebrew letters, and synagogues and yeshivas were closed. There was brief discussion in the Kremlin about offering the Crimea to serve as a Jewish homeland, but those talks stalled with the U.N. vote to partition the British Mandate, creating a Jewish homeland. In 1954, the Soviet Union transferred the Crimea from the Russian republic to that of Ukraine.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Crimea

When traveling, try to learn the Jewish history of the places you plan to visit.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Israel’s First Spy

While religious Jews acknowledge that the creation and continued existence of the State of Israel is a Divine gift, God appoints his messengers to facilitate His work, including diplomats, generals, politicians, and everyone who has contributed to the welfare of the State over the past seven decades. 

One of the most critical tools to Israel’s survival has been its intelligence services. The father of Israel’s spies is Isser Harel.

Isser Halperin was born in 1912 in Vitebsk, Russia (current day Belarus) to a wealthy family. Isser was five when the Russian Revolution broke out and the Soviet regime confiscated his family’s property. In 1922, the family moved to Daugavpils, Latvia, which was not yet under the Soviet orbit. Isser was educated in Daugavpils and joined a Zionist youth organization, and hoped to soon immigrate to British mandatory Palestine. In 1930, he boarded a ship in Genoa, Italy, with fake papers, claiming that he was 18 years old and eligible for a British visa. He brought a pistol that he concealed in a loaf of bread.

After the establishment of the State of Israel, Harel founded and served as the first director of Israel’s internal security agency, the “Shin Bet.” In 1951, Israel’s famed external security agency, “the Mossad,” was founded and Harel became its leader a year later, in 1952.

In 1959, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion received intelligence reports that the infamous Nazi killer, Adolph Eichmann, was living in Argentina under the pseudonym “Ricardo Klement.” Ben Gurion knew diplomatic maneuverings would not succeed to extradite Eichmann to Israel, so he asked Harel to devise a strategy to kidnap Eichmann and secretly bring him to Israel to stand trial for his war crimes. In April, 1960, Israeli agents, including Harel, arrived in Buenos Aires, knowing that Klement was living in the San Fernando neighborhood. On May 11, 1960, Eichmann was seized as he walked from a bus stop to his home. He was drugged, disguised as a crewmember and placed on an Israeli diplomatic airplane, which delivered him to Tel Aviv. Harel’s account of the operation was detailed in his book, “The House on Garibaldi Street.”

In March, 1963, Ben Gurion demanded Harel’s resignation due to the unintended injury of individuals in an operation intended to dissuade German rocket scientists from working for Egyptian president Nasser.

Harel entered politics in 1969 as a Knesset member in David ben Gurion’s newly created party. Ben Gurion soon resigned from the party, which led to its collapse. Harel lost his seat in the 1973 Knesset elections.

Isser Harel died on February 18, 2003, leaving a wife, daughter, two grandsons and one granddaughter. He very likely took many heroic acts and state secrets with him to the grave.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn About the Storied History of the Mossad

Take pride in the accomplishments of all of the State of Israel’s security forces.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Celebrating Chanukah at the White House

When the Founding Fathers of the United States created the role of President, they created a chief executive who functions as both head of state and commander of the armed forces. In the role of head of state, the president invites foreign leaders and visitors to the White House. On this Presidents Day, Jewish Treats presents a brief history of the celebration of Chanukah among U.S. presidents, and in the White House.

During the bitter winter in Valley Forge, PA, General George Washington saw a soldier huddling over two tiny flames. The soldier explained to Washington that Chanukah commemorates how a small band of Jews fought for their freedoms against tyranny. The following winter, General Washington visited Michael Hart, a Jewish merchant in Easton, PA. When the Harts lit Chanukah candles in the presence of their august guest, Washington informed them that a Polish Jewish immigrant soldier had already enlightened him about Chanukah. Michael Hart’s daughter Louisa wrote the first-hand story down in her diary.

In 1951, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, during an official visit to the United States, presented a Chanukah Menorah to President Truman and the people of the United States. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter lit the new National Menorah in Lafayette Park, erected by Chabad. In 1983, President Reagan visited a local JCC in the DC suburbs on Chanukah and a year later, he invited a delegation from American Friends of Lubavitch to celebrate Chanukah in the White House. President George H.W. Bush proudly displayed the chanukiah he received from the Synagogue Council of America and, in 1991, attended a Chanukah party for White House staff held at the Old Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton became the first sitting president to host a menorah-lighting ceremony in the Oval Office. The event became newsworthy when 6-year old Ilana Kattan’s ponytail began smoking, and the president snuffed out the smoke with his hand.

The first official White House Chanukah party was convened and hosted by President George W. Bush in 2001. President Bush noted that while there had been candle-lightings in the White House previously, this was the first official celebration in the White House, and the first time a Chanukiah was lit in the president’s private residence at the White House. The official Chanukah party in 2005 began the tradition of “kashering” the White House kitchen, so all food would be under rabbinic supervision. In that year, President Bush became the first president to actually light a flame on the Chanukiah. Prior to that, members of the Jewish faith lit in the presence of the president.

Presidents Obama and Trump have continued the practice. In 2017, President Donald Trump became the first president with Jewish grandchildren who lit the Chanukiah.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Study U.S. Presidents and their Relationship to American Jews

The United States has been a beacon of kindness for Jews. It behooves American Jews to appreciate the country and its presidents who ensure religious rights and the freedom of religious practice.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Ignominy in Italy

During the long course of Jewish history, one of the multiple tools used to harass and persecute Jews was public humiliation. One such disgraceful public humiliation was the practice of “Black Monday” in Rome, which was also called the “Jews Race” or palio degli Ebrei, “the Jews’ competition” in Latin.

“Carnival” is celebrated in Catholic cities and countries, as a period of levity prior to the onset of “Lent,” which is a time of “penitential austerities” prior to the solemn Christian observances of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In Rome, Carnival dates back to the mid-15th century, where races were conducted during the eight days leading up to Lent. Lent begins on “Ash Wednesday.” Many are familiar with “Mardi Gras,” which means “Fat Tuesday,” a carnival that occurs on the day prior to Ash Wednesday.

The Carnival in Rome was popularized under the papacy of Paul II (who served as Pope from 1464-1471). Pope Paul II organized a different race each day with the palio degli Ebrei, the Jews’ competition, also called Black Monday. Subsequent days featured races of children, young Christians, the elderly, donkeys and buffalos. By the time the practice of “Black Monday” was terminated, the path of the Jews’ run took place in central Rome, on what today is known as the Corso, beginning at Piazza San Marco (today’s Piazza Venezia) and ended at the Santa Maria del Popolo church, a distance of about 1 mile.

Contemporaneous testimony about the palio degli Ebrei describes the events. On Monday, four trumpeters arrived at the synagogue in Rome to summon the Jews to the contest. Eight, or by some accounts 12, contestants, were forced to run through Rome, wearing only a loincloth with the letters “SPQR, a Latin acronym for the official title of the municipality in Rome, painted on their foreheads. Some accounts claim that at one point in the history of Black Monday, Christian jockeys rode the Jews as they would horses. The race was held in February when the climate in Rome was cold, and often, wet and muddy. The contestants were forced to stuff themselves with food prior to the Race, which resulted in contestants vomiting and collapsing – sometimes even dying - which was a source of great entertainment for the spectators, who were permitted to throw rotten oranges and mud at the runners.

In 1668, Pope Clement IX, (who served as pope from 1667-1669) discontinued the palio degli Ebrei, but not on moral grounds. He stopped it because of the “little convenience that comes from seeing these Jews run.” The Pope substituted a tax on the Jewish community to pay 300 scudi (Papal currency) toward the expenses of Carnival.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fight Against the Humiliation of Others

Causing humiliation to others can be worse than inflicting bodily harm. Make sure to stand up for anyone who is being degraded or abused, physically or mentally.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

On the Wings of Eagles

In Exodus 19, God instructs Moses to address the Children of Israel and to say to them: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.” (19:4). “On eagles’ wings” is a beautifully descriptive phrase, but nowhere in the Torah text concerning the exodus from Egypt is there a description of flying or eagles. So why did God choose this language?

The great biblical commentator Rashi (France 1040-1105) cites a fascinating Midrash from the Mechilta of Rabbi Ishmael to explain this phrase:

Like an eagle, which carries its young on its wings - whereas all other birds place their young between their feet because they fear other birds that are flying above them. The eagle is afraid of none except humankind, who might shoot an arrow at it, because there is no other bird that flies higher than it [the eagle]. Therefore, it places [its young] on its wings, saying “Better that an arrow pierces me and not my offspring.”

In other words, the idea of bearing the Israelites on eagles’ wings is meant to reflect how God protects the Jewish people. The Midrash continues to explain how, like the eagle, God shielded His children by placing a barrier between the Israelites and the Egyptians (a column of smoke by day, a pillar of fire at night), which absorbed all of the arrows that the Egyptians shot at them. 

This Treat was last posted on February 6, 2015. 

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

“Taking a Bullet”

Convene a discussion concerning the topic for whom you would “take a bullet?” For whom or for what values would you be willing to sacrifice?

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Penny Lane

While the well-known adage requests, “A penny for your thoughts,” perhaps those coins should be sought, instead, in between the cushions of sofas and car seats, in washing machines, and in decorative fountains in shopping malls.

“Lost Penny Day” coincides with the February 12th birthday of President Abraham Lincoln, whose image has adorned the U.S. penny since its institution in the U.S. currency on February 12, 1909, the centennial of the birth of “Honest Abe.” “Eventologist” Adrienne Sioux Koopersmith founded “Lost Penny Day” to demonstrate that petty change can make a big difference, especially when donated to a worthy charity. Other “coin” activities include flipping a coin to make a decision, giving someone “a penny for their thoughts” and throwing pennies into a fountain as a wish is made.

So, for “two cents,” here are two pertinent Torah thoughts that are relevant to pennies.

Jewish marriage is facilitated when the groom gives the bride an object worth a “perutah” with an implied matrimonial intent. One is obliged Biblically to return a lost object that is worth a perutah. One ought to provide a minimum of a perutah to a legitimately impoverished individual when they ask for alms. There are other rituals, which use the value of a perutah as a legal criterion. So how much is a perutah actually worth? Halacha deemed a perutah to be the smallest denomination in one’s currency (see Talmud Bava Metzia 55a and Kiddushin 12a). In the United States and Canada, that would be a penny. (Please note that while a Jewish wedding can be considered valid with the transfer of an object worth only a single penny from the groom to the bride, long-standing Jewish tradition has the groom give the bride a simple ring to legally effect a Jewish marriage).

Second, relating to the insignificance of pennies that “Lost Penny Day” attempts to rectify, an observation in Rashi’s commentary of the Bible is particularly pertinent. When Jacob returned from the house of Laban with his large family, he is told that his estranged brother Esau was approaching with a large army. The Torah then relates: “Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn” (Genesis 32:25). Why was Jacob “left alone?” Citing a Talmudic passage (Chulin 91a), Rashi relates that Jacob returned to cross the Yabok river in order to retrieve small jugs that he had left on the other side. Rashi concludes that the lesson taught by this action is that the righteous are judicious regarding even the most insignificant items of their personal belongings, even disposable jugs. This too pertains to the limited value of pennies.

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

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Find Value in Everything

Everything, living and inanimate, has inherent worth. Acknowledging and celebrating that value goes a long way.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Samurai Who Saved Thousands of Jews from the Nazis

Often, when tragedy strikes, many seek to uncover a silver lining by searching for heroes and their selflessness. On the pantheon of such heroes during the Shoah (the Holocaust) is Chiune Sugihara, who served as Japanese Consul-General to the Lithuanian city of Kaunas (also known as Kovno). Sugihara assumed his post in March 1939, six months prior to the German invasion of neighboring Poland. Polish and German Jews flooded into Lithuania. But Lithuania’s status as a haven ended abruptly on June 15, 1940, when the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania. The Soviets did allow Polish Jews to leave Lithuania through the Soviet Union. However, in July, 1940, with the Germans advancing on Lithuania, the Soviets ordered all foreign diplomatic posts to leave Kaunas. Sugihara requested and received an extension. The only other diplomat left in Kaunas was Jan Zwartendijk, the acting consul of the Netherlands.

Some astute Jewish refugees noticed that two Dutch islands in the Caribbean, Curacao and Dutch Guiana (now known as Suriname), did not require formal entrance visas. Consul Zwartendijk was authorized to stamp passports with entrance permits. In order to get to the Caribbean, however, passage through the U.S.S.R. was required. As a condition to obtain Soviet exit visas, the Soviet consul required Japanese transit visas, since passage through Japan would be required in order to arrive in the Dutch Islands a world away.

Upon learning this news, desperate Jewish refugees arrived at the gate of Kaunas’ Japanese consulate. Chiune Sugihara’s request to the Japanese foreign ministry to dispatch transit visas was unconditionally rejected. Sugihara had to make a gut-wrenching decision. He had to balance his disciplined traditional Japanese obedience with his Samurai calling to help those in need. Sugihara and his family chose to defy their government and help as many people as humanly possible.

For the next 29 days, from July 31 to August 28, 1940, the Sugiharas spent all their waking hours writing visas by hand, averaging 300 visas per day, which equaled the monthly average for the Kaunas consulate. Chiune himself refused to take lunch breaks, subsisting on sandwiches, and Yukiko, Mrs. Sugihara, would massage her husband’s aching hands each evening. Even during his last moments as Japanese consul in Kaunas, while aboard the Berlin-bound train on September 1, 1940, Chiune was writing visas and handing them to those pleading for them outside his train window. As the train was pulling away, he threw the consul visa stamp to a refugee who was able to “write” even more transit visas. As a direct result of Sugihara’s heroism, 6,000 refugees’ lives were spared from Nazi barbarism, as they were able to board the Trans-Siberian railroad bound for Kobe, Japan.

After World War II, Sugihara was fired from the Japanese diplomatic corps for his insubordination. He attempted to support his family by functioning as a translator, or an interpreter, and eventually worked as a businessman. It was not until 1969 that Sugihara’s incredible heroism and sacrifice was discovered by a survivor whom he saved. Chiune never spoke of his selfless actions. Chiune Sugihara died on July 31, 1986, at the age of 86.

According to tradition, Japan was founded in 660 BCE on February 11. How appropriate to learn about one of its greatest sons, one who was acclaimed as “Righteous Among the Gentiles” by Yad Vashem.

This Treat was last posted on February 11, 2019. 

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Attitude of Gratitude

When anyone does anything for your personal benefit, your loved ones, your ancestors, or your outer social circle, no matter when it occurred, it is always appropriate to offer gratitude.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Tu B'Shevat is Coming

While it may seem as if winter has just begun, it may be time to look beyond the turbulent weather and see that spring is just around the corner. You might wonder how one can possibly think of spring at the present time, but, according to Jewish wisdom, now is precisely the time because Tu B'Shevat is the New Year for trees.

Tu B'Shevat, literally, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, marks the official (halachic) start of spring in Israel, even though the weather is still cold. According to Jewish tradition, this is the day on which the long dormant sap in the trees begins to flow again.

Why is Tu B'Shevat celebrated as a holiday and elevated to the status of being one of the four New Years on the Jewish calendar? In Judaism, a holiday usually marks a day on which there is a unique connection between the spiritual and physical worlds and signals an event from which we can learn and grow.

Because of Tu B'Shevat, Jews around the world are given a moment to stop and think about the trees and the greenery around them. Spiritually, there is much that one can learn from a tree. For instance, almost every person goes through a “spiritual winter,” a time in which it is hard to connect to God or to follow religious beliefs. According to tradition, deep within each Jew there is a pintele yid (Yiddish for a "little bit of Jewish spirit"). Like the frozen sap that is thawed by the coming of spring and brings new life to the tree, the pintele yid can be ignited by a spark of inspiration and revitalize the Jewish soul.

Some people follow the custom of eating special Israeli foods and conduct a special Tu B'Shevat Seder. For more information on Tu B'Shevat or for an outline of a Tu B'Shevat Seder, please click here.

This Treat is posted annually in honor of Tu B'Shevat.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Demonstrate Your Respect for the Environment

Tu B’shevat, the Jewish new year for trees, is a great opportunity for Jews to devote themselves to environmental causes.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Jews and Bubble Gum

The first Friday in February is celebrated as “Bubble Gum Day.” Ruth Spiro, an author of children’s books who chews gum as an avocation, proposed the day in 2006 to enable children to bring money to school and donate the funds to pre-selected causes. In exchange, the students would be permitted to chew gum in school. Ms. Spiro also hoped that libraries, clubs and community groups could participate as well. “Bubble Gum Day” is fixed on a Friday, so it would always fall on a school day. People have chewed “gum” for thousands of years. In ancient Greece, people chewed a gummy substance called mastiche, which came from the mastic tree. “Mastik” is the Hebrew word for chewing gum and the word “masticate” in the Romance languages denotes chewing. Others chewed on resins from trees, leaves and waxes. Native Americans were known to chew on the sap from spruce trees. Today the chewing gum industry is estimated to be a 19 billion dollar-a-year business. 

Because bubble gum is meant to be chewed only, and not swallowed, the question is asked whether a blessing is required prior to chewing the gum. After all, it’s not “eaten.”

The Code of Jewish Law rules that one would recite the she’ha’kol blessing when eating sugar or sweet sticks (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 202:15). Most contemporary halachic authorities agree that gum would fall under this category. However, a minority view argues that the taste of the gum is absorbed into one’s saliva, and one does not utter a blessing over spittle, even when flavored. One rabbi even differentiated between gum with a hard shell, for which he would require a blessing, and soft gum, which would not. Others claim that since sugar-free gum contains very little caloric intake, it would also not require a blessing. Some also suggest that since gum is not meant to be swallowed, it would fall under the rule that no blessing is recited for tasting without swallowing (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 210:2). Furthermore, Rabbi Moshe Isserlis concludes that no blessing is recited over cinnamon sticks, which are sucked.

Please note that bubble gum requires kosher certification. One should not chew gum on a fast day. Rabbinic authorities prohibit chewing gum while walking outdoors on Shabbat, in a situation where carrying would be forbidden. This would only apply to “Bubble Gum Day” after sunset.

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

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

All Human Benefit Must Be Appreciated

Any benefit we receive in this world, even the tiniest amount, must be acknowledged and we must thank God for it.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Royal Family and the Jews

On February 6, 1952, Queen Elizabeth II assumed the throne of “the United Kingdom and her other realms and Territories” upon the death of her father, King George VI. While the Queen is much beloved by all of her subjects, Jewish Treats presents some data specifically connecting England’s long-serving monarch with the Jews and the Jewish state.

In an article by journalist Anshel Pfeffer, he quotes writer Simon Sebag Montefiore, scion of Sir Moses Montefiore, stating that, “historically the British royal family has had a very friendly relationship with the Jewish community…. This tradition endures ever since the 19th century, and right up to Britain today. Members of the royal family routinely attend many, many Jewish events and support Jewish causes and charities. Something regarded as totally normal here. And rightly so.” Prince Charles even has his own blue velvet yarmulke with a silver royal crest on it, that he wears when he attends Jewish ritual events.

On the 60th anniversary of the Allied liberation of Auschwitz, Queen Elizabeth met with Holocaust survivors at St. James’ Palace in London. While Queen Elizabeth II is very punctual and rarely diverts from her precise schedule, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the U.K. noted, at that time, that the queen stood with each survivor “until they had finished telling their personal story. It was an act of kindness that almost had me in tears.” One survivor quipped, “I did not know whether I would be alive tomorrow, and here I am today talking to the Queen.”

Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth’s oldest son, and heir to the throne, despite not being Jewish, was circumcised by Rabbi Dr. Jacob Snowman, the leading mohel in London. Male babies, born to the House of Windsor, have been circumcised by a mohel dating back to George I (1660-1727), who brought this tradition from his native Hanover, Germany.

The Queen has a pro-Jewish family history to rely on. Queen Victoria (1819-1901) was known to be partial to many Jews and Victoria’s son Edward VII (1841-1910) was also known to have a very warm relationship with Jews. Queen Elizabeth’s mother-in-law, Princess Alice of Battenberg is buried on the Mountain of Olives, in Jerusalem, and sheltered Jews in her home in Greece during the Holocaust. She was recognized by Yad Vashem as a “Righteous Among the Nations.”

While Queen Elizabeth II has never made an official visit to the State of Israel (remember that prior to Israeli statehood, mandatory Palestine was under the British Crown), Prince William made an official visit in June of 2018, and Prince Charles, attended in an official state capacity, the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem in January 2020. Prince Charles attended the funerals of Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres as private visits.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Pray for the Welfare of the Head of State

Jewish tradition teaches that one ought to pray for the welfare of the head of their state, whether that individual is a king or queen, Prime Minister or president.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Does God Experience Difficulty?

In the middle of parashat B’shalach, we encounter the great miracle of God splitting the Red Sea. The sages in the Talmud (Sotah 2a) used this great supernatural phenomenon to declare that matching men and women for the purpose of matrimony is as difficult “as splitting the Red Sea.” The Talmud states that God Himself is the ultimate shadchan (matchmaker)!

This begs the question: Why, from a theological perspective, is anything difficult for God? Would not a component of Divine omnipotence be that no task is too difficult for the Almighty?

This very question is often posed in the presence of a bride and groom, whether at the wedding, or during the subsequent festive week of Sheva Berachot. The Maharal of Prague understands this “difficulty” as altering the laws of nature, which were put into place during Creation. What was difficult was not facilitating the miracle, but justifying it in a world God set up governed by the laws of nature and physics.

Others suggest that the “difficulty” described is not splitting the Sea, per se, but keeping it split so the timing worked out. When God split the Red Sea, He did so for the sake of the Jews who passed through it on dry land. God waited until only Egyptian soldiers were in the dry land within the sea, before returning the waters to their rightful place. Knowing when to split and when to return the waters was the “difficulty.” The lesson imparted to the bride and groom is that while the wedding itself is magical, the “challenges” will come afterwards, and often, they are about properly managing timing.

Others point to a different “difficulty,” offering another message for brides and grooms. The Midrash (Yalkut Reuveni, B’shalach 82: 89) relates that when God prepared to cross the Jews through dry land and drown the Egyptian militia, the angels challenged God: “These (the Egyptians) are idolaters and these (the Children of Israel) are idolaters. Why are you saving these (the Children of Israel) and drowning these (the Egyptians)? There is no difference between them!” After all, Jewish tradition teaches that the Jews had almost totally assimilated into Egyptian society, as reflected in this Midrash. The “difficulty” of splitting the sea was not the breach of the natural order, but the justification. God responded that he saved the Children of Israel solely because of the covenant He forged with the forefathers. The salvation of the Jews was not merit-based. In the context of a marriage, the support and fidelity husbands and wives have for one another is not earned or even justified logically. It’s part of the covenantal nature of marriage, where love and support must be unconditional.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Be Godly: Help Jews Get Married!

Enabling Jewish men and women to marry is a great and Godly effort. Anything that can be done to facilitate Jewish marriage is laudable and commendable.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Rabbi Eliezer Silver

Historians have noted the seemingly underwhelming response of the American Jewish community to the Holocaust as it unfolded in Europe. Among the few who were prominent activists was Rabbi Eliezer Silver (1882-1968).

Born in Lithuania, Rabbi Silver came to the United States in 1907, shortly after receiving rabbinic ordination. After a brief period in New York, the Silvers moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where Rabbi Silver accepted a rabbinical position.

An early political activist, Rabbi Silver helped circulate a petition against a U.S. treaty with Russia (as a protest against persecution of the Jews) and was active in World War I relief efforts. Between the two World Wars, Rabbi Silver first took a position in Springfield, Massachusetts, and then Cincinnati, Ohio, where he remained for the rest of his life.

In the 1930s, Rabbi Silver started the first American branch of the Agudath Israel, a non-Zionist, Orthodox political organization founded in 1912 in Europe. Agudath Israel became the organization through which Rabbi Silver attempted to organize rescue efforts for European Jewry. In 1939, he formed the Vaad Hatzalah (Rescue Committee). The Vaad Hatzalah raised over $5 million for rescue efforts and organized synagogues to secure 2,000 contracts for rabbinic positions, resulting in numerous emergency visas being issued. The Vaad Hatzalah used all means (preferably legal but if necessary, illegal) to rescue Jews.

One poignant story frequently repeated about Rabbi Silver describes how he and Dayan Grunfeld of England came to a Christian orphanage in Europe after the war looking for hidden Jewish children. The head priest denied knowing whether any of the children were actually Jewish. The rabbis decided to return at bedtime, and, when all the children were gathered together to recite their bedtime prayers, the rabbis loudly recited the Shema in front of the children. Remembering the prayer that had once been part of their bedtime ritual, many children in the room started crying and calling out for their mothers.

Rabbi Silver passed away on February 7, 1968, corresponding to the 9th of Shevat.

This Treat was last posted on January 15, 2019. 

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Support Survivors

There are still survivors of the Holocaust alive, many of whom are in need of assistance. While those still in Europe received help in Europe immediately after the war, let us not forget that many still need aid, whether in the United States, Israel or in Europe. We must do what we can to help this very special group of people.

Monday, February 3, 2020

A Jewish Income Tax?

On February 3, 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

Prior to the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment, the U.S. government received revenue only from tariffs and excise taxes, but not from income. Congress had imposed a temporary income tax to fund the Civil War when it passed the Revenue Act of 1861, which was a flat 3% tax on incomes over $800 annually. A year later, the “Revenue Act of 1862” levied a 3% - 5% tax on incomes above $600 and included a sunset provision that the levy would end in 1866. In 1894, an amendment attached to the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act provided for a 2% tax on annual incomes over $4,000 (equal to about $119,000 in 2019 dollars). The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down the income tax component of the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act as an un-apportioned direct tax (Pollock vs. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Company, 157 U.S. 429 (1895)). The Sixteenth Amendment established a Federal income tax as the law of the land.

Maimonides (Laws of Kings 4:4-6) rules that a king has the right to levy a tax upon the nation for his needs, or for a war, and the king alone can set the rate of the tax. The king can also establish a punishment for non-compliance, which may even include execution.

While the king has the power to tax, there is a debate if the Jews are required to appoint a king, or if a king is merely permitted to serve with conditions. When the Jews entered the Land of Israel, they were led by Joshua, the Judges, and then the prophet Samuel. When Samuel grew old and it became clear that his sons were not going to follow in his footsteps, the nation approached Samuel with the request for a king. Although Samuel was distressed by the request, God instructed Samuel to listen to the people (Samuel I 8:6-7) and comforted him that the nation’s desire was a rejection not of Samuel, but rather, of God Himself. Samuel even warns the nation of the unbridled and capricious power their requested king would have. He warns the people about the future king commandeering their sons and taking their fields, yet the nation doubled down and insisted on a king.

Although there is currently no king of Israel, for thousands of years Jews have prayed for the Messiah (anointed one – i.e. king) to reign over the nation of Israel.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Income Tax Pays for Vital Services

No one likes paying their taxes, but if we recognize that taxes pay for vital services and patriotic endeavors, perhaps it will be easier to part with our hard-earned money.