Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Why Laban is in the Haggadah

In honor of the upcoming holiday of Passover, it is time to review the important narrative featured in the Haggadah...the story of Laban. Many Jewish Treats readers are, perhaps, scratching their heads and wondering not only what Laban has to do with Passover, but just exactly who he was.

The longest section of the Passover Haggadah is Maggid, the retelling of the Exodus, and the largest section of Maggid, begins with the words:

“Go and learn what Laban the Aramean tried to do to our father Jacob. While Pharaoh decreed death only for the newborn males, Laban tried to uproot all of Israel...”

Laban was Jacob’s father-in-law, the father of both Rachel and Leah. When Jacob left his parents’ household, he went to his Uncle Laban, in Padan-Aram, where he remained for over 20 years -- thus Laban is called an Aramean. Laban was a cheater and a thief  -- accumulating wealth was his obsession. When Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, Laban indentured him for seven years, and then at the wedding switched Rachel for Leah. When Jacob discovered the treachery, Laban allowed Jacob to marry Rachel as well, but at the price of another 7 years of labor. When Jacob and his family decided to leave Padan-Aram twenty years later, his father-in-law was greatly angered, yet feigned being hurt by Jacob’s desire to take away his grandchildren (when all he really wanted was Jacob’s wealth).

The Haggadah mentions Laban before describing the Jewish enslavement and redemption in order to underscore the cycle of history. Laban sought to use Jacob for his own purposes, to keep him in Padan-Aram for his own benefit, with false words. So too, Jacob’s descendants were lulled by kind words into a false sense of security and ultimately, into slavery in Egypt.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.



Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prepare for Seder II

One of the underlying themes of the Seder night is to retell the painful history of subjugation as well as the glorious narrative of redemption. We cannot appreciate freedom without knowing, and even feeling, the pain of servitude.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Seek the Answer

The Four Questions (Mah Nishtana - What makes it different?) is one of the most famous features of the Passover Seder. In Ashkenazi homes, these four lines are recited by the youngest person present, or, quite often, by all the children at the seder.

Before you start scanning your haggadah to discover four answers, wait. The haggadah doesn’t answer any of these questions directly! So why ask them?

The haggadah mimics the style of the Talmud, which is full of rhetorical questions and answers that appear not to match the questions asked. Students of the Talmud, however, learn to understand these type of strange dynamics.

The immediate answer presented in the haggadah is a paragraph known as Avad’im Ha’yee’nu, “We Were Slaves...”:

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord our God took us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Had God not taken our ancestors out of Egypt, then we, our children and our grandchildren would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt. Even if we all were wise and perceptive, experienced and well-versed in Torah, it would still be our duty to tell about the exodus from Egypt. The more one talks about the exodus, the more praise one deserves.

The Four Questions are left unanswered because they are meant to encourage children (and adults) to listen for the answers. In a way, the answers are there. We eat matzah because this was the bread of affliction of our ancestors in Egypt. We eat maror, bitter herbs, to remember the pain of slavery. We dip our vegetables (first the karpas and then the maror) and we recline as we eat (except the maror), because these are the ways of free people. And the answer to all of the questions of the seder truly is...we were slaves and now we are free, all, thanks to God.



This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prepare for Seder I

The Socratic method of asking questions to elicit answers from others has been a worldwide method of pedagogy since the golden days of Ancient Greece. This method is employed on the Seder night, where every Jewish adult becomes a teacher. Make sure you are prepared for your 2020 teaching debut (if you are not a teacher).

Friday, March 27, 2020

“In Every Generation” 1903

This Passover, Jews around the world will recite: “In every generation, our enemies rise up to destroy us.” Passover, Purim, Chanukah, the Inquisition, the Holocaust...we are well aware of the major attempts by our enemies throughout history to try to destroy us.

“In every generation” was all too real for the Jews of Bessarabia, in Imperial Russia, on Passover in 5663 (1903). They had just survived what came to be called the “Kishinev Pogrom,” a two-day riot that left 47 Jews dead, 92 wounded and hundreds of Jewish homes looted and destroyed.

A few months earlier, a young non-Jewish boy had been found beaten and stabbed to death (by, it was latter discovered, a relative). For the next two months, Pavel Krushevan, director of the Bessarabian newspaper Bessarabets, fermented hatred against the Jews, accusing them of murdering the boy for his blood to make matzah (the classic blood libel). Fuel was added to the fire by the suicide of a Christian girl in a Jewish mental institution.

The violent sentiments of the population came to a head on April 6, a day or two after the Russian Easter celebration. The Russian police stood by as the people attacked. According to most opinions, this inaction was deliberate (ordered by the Minister of Interior).

The appearance of state sponsorship for this pogrom resulted in an incredible backlash. Poems were written of the riot (see: Chaim Nachman Bialik’s “On the Slaughter”) and funds were collected for the victims. President Theodore Roosevelt and former President Grover Cleveland both expressed their anger over the incident. Some of the rioters were punished (following international pressure) but were given light sentences for their actions.

When discussing the Kishinev pogrom, history texts also include the riots of October 19-20, 1905, in the same region, in which 19 Jews were killed and 56 injured. These two pogroms had a major impact on Jewish life as it spurred many Russian Jews to leave Russia.


This Treat was originally posted on April 6, 2011. 

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Preparing for Passover V

Jewish history is cyclical. It is highly likely that what our ancestors experienced, we, or the next generations, will experience as well.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

You Are Royalty

Passover is known as the festival of freedom. And who is more free than royalty? At the Seder, all Jews are supposed to consider themselves royalty. Some of the ways we demonstrate this are:  

LEANING - As a sign of royalty, the Sages taught that one must lean to one’s left while drinking the wine and eating the matzah. In the time of the Mishnah, it was customary for royalty to eat in a lounging position. (Think of pictures of Roman nobles eating.) In many Jewish homes, people cover the pillows upon which they lean, with fancy, decorated pillowcases. In fact, decorating Passover pillowcases is a great way to involve the children in preparations for the holiday.

RED WINE - While wine connoisseurs around the world may argue over white versus red, sweet versus dry, etc., Jewish tradition strongly recommends that the wine at the Seder be red. Why red? In ancient times, wine merchants sometimes watered down the white wines, making it cheaper both in price and quality. Thus, since we Jews live as royalty for this evening, red wine is recommended. Additionally, red wine reminds us of the blood of the Jewish people slaughtered by Pharaoh. (However, if you strongly prefer white wine, by all means, drink it.)

POURING THE WINE - Would a king or queen pour their own wine? Not likely. It is therefore customary at the seder that one does not pour his/her own wine. However, since the wine cups must be refilled, and most of us do not have a wait staff at the seder, it is customary that each person fill the glass of the person next to him/her at the table.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.  


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Preparing for Passover IV

The Passover Seder stresses our transformation from slaves to free people. The Seder’s default position is to be thankful for both our physical and spiritual freedom.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Oh My Gosh! Passover Is Coming!

The intensive physical and emotional preparations for Passover come from one seemingly simple commandment: "Seven days you will eat only matzah, but on the first day you shall have put away chametz from your houses..." (Exodus 12:15). Therefore, by the beginning of the holiday of Passover, no chametz whatsoever may be in one's possession.

What is chametz? Chametz is defined as leaven, any product in which wheat, oat, barley, spelt or rye come in contact with water for 18 minutes or longer (without kneading or manipulating). To be considered chametz, the food must be edible (defined as something that a dog would eat).

To eliminate chametz, it is necessary to clean one's home, office and even one's car (any personal place where chametz may have been brought). It is especially important to be particularly thorough when cleaning the kitchen and dining room areas, where food is generally found.

Once the house has been cleaned, it may be "turned over "--the kitchen converted from chametz status to "ready-for-Passover" use. "Turning over the kitchen" includes changing dishes and cookware to those reserved for Passover use and covering counters and table tops, which come in direct contact with chametz.

All food items that are actually chametz must be consumed before Passover, given away, thrown out or otherwise removed. In instances of significant monetary loss (e.g. economy size boxes of cereal or bottles of scotch), it is customary to sell chametz through a rabbi to a non-Jew. For more details, please consult your local rabbi.

Any item that does not contain chametz, but is not specifically labeled Kosher for Passover, should be stored in a cabinet for the duration of the Passover holiday, and the cabinet taped closed.

Please note that this is a very brief overview. For more detailed information on Passover preparations, including the search for and burning of chametz, please visit NJOP's Passover Preparations page.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Preparing for Passover III

Removing leavened items refers to utensils, in addition to food. Passover is all about transformation.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Time of Freedom?

The sages refer to the holiday of Passover as Zman Chay’roo’tay’noo, the time of our freedom. This may seem obvious, since Passover celebrates the redemption of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. But did you know that on several occasions the Israelites demanded to return to Egypt, back to slavery?

Indeed, when they felt trapped at the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea), the Israelites cried out that it would have been better to have stayed in Egypt. While one might justify their actions by stating that they were certain that they faced imminent death, it is important to remember that these were the very same people who had witnessed the miracles of the ten plagues.

Some commentators explain that what the people truly feared, both at the Sea of Reeds and in the Wilderness, was not death, but freedom! Suddenly they were responsible for their own decisions and their own actions.

So what is the “freedom” that we celebrate on Passover?

In Ethics of the Fathers (6:2), Rabbi Joshua ben Levi says: "... And it says (Exodus 32:16): ‘And the tablets are the work of God, and the writing is God's writing, engraved on the tablets.’ Don't read the text as 'chah’rut' (engraved) but rather as 'chay’root' (liberty)--for there is no free individual, except for one who occupies himself with the study of Torah...”

How can Torah learning be equated to freedom--after all, don’t we speak of the “yoke” of Torah and describe Torah as a “burden”?

One certainly might view the mitzvot as restrictive, unless it is understood that without structure and order in the world, without rules and boundaries, there is anarchy and chaos. Only by living by the guidelines of the universe (the Torah), which God gave the Israelites when He gave them the Torah, can one attain true freedom.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.



Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Preparing for Passover II

Naming the holiday “The Time of our Freedom” begs the question, what is true freedom?

Monday, March 23, 2020

How Pharaoh Enslaved the Israelites

While reading the Book of Exodus, one might wonder at the swift descent of the Jewish nation from being the privileged family of the Viceroy, Joseph, to becoming downtrodden and abused slaves. Xenophobia, the fear of foreigners, is a common historical phenomenon. But, one would think that transforming a nation into slaves would take generations or result in rebellion. 
The sages, however, explain in the Midrash that the Egyptians were cunning and enslaved the Jews through artifice. This is understood from Pharaoh, whose name can be broken up to mean peh rah, which means evil mouth, and can be understood as well to relate to peh rach, soft mouth.

Language is a powerful tool, and even Pharaoh understood this. When he decided to enslave the Jews, he declared a national week of labor during which all good citizens of the realm were to come and help in the building of the great store cities of Pithom and Ramses, with Pharaoh himself in the lead. The Jews, wanting to show their great loyalty to their host country, joined in enthusiastically. Within a few days, however, when the Jews arrived at the building sites, the Egyptians did not join them. Shortly thereafter, the Jews found themselves surrounded by taskmasters who demanded that they perform the same amount of work that they had done on their own volition the day before. It was through soft and cunning words that Pharaoh lured the Jewish nation into slavery.

Not only is this Midrash itself interesting, but it is reflective of the importance that Jewish thought and Jewish law places on the use of words. Obviously, what Pharaoh did was wrong. In fact, Jewish law even forbids the use of words to manipulate another person into paying for lunch (let alone to enslave them).

This Treat was last posted on April 14, 2016.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prepare for Passover I

Learning why and how the Children of Israel were enslaved, helps us appreciate the significance of the redemption, even in the year 2020.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Parasha of the Month

This Shabbat is Parashat HaChodesh, the Sabbath of “The Month.”

The Torah portion that is read as the Maftir (additional reading) after the conclusion of the reading of the regular weekly Torah portion, commands that the Jewish people declare Nissan to be the first month of the lunar calendar and instructs the Children of Israel to prepare for the Exodus (Exodus12:1-20). Parashat HaChodesh is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nissan, or on Rosh Chodesh itself. If Parashat HaChodesh falls on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, a third portion is read (Numbers 28:9-15) prior to the reading of Parashat HaChodesh.

The reading begins, “And God spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year” (Exodus12:1-2).

When God first commanded that the Israelites mark the new month, they were still in slavery. As slaves, time was something over which they had no control. This command, however, was God’s way of gradually empowering the people to take hold of their own fate.

The command also promises a future. At this point in time, nine out of the ten plagues had already struck Egypt. The land was decimated, almost all the livestock had perished, and the Egyptian people themselves were scared and desperate. The Israelites, who had remained unharmed by the plagues, became increasingly concerned about the pent-up anger of the Egyptians. (Not to mention that Pharaoh was still refusing to let the Israelites leave.) Beginning a new calendar, however, underscored that they would have a future.

Having been reassured and empowered, the Israelites were able to obey Moses’ instructions to take a lamb on the 10th of the month of Nissan and mark their doorposts with the lamb’s blood on the eve of the 15th, when God would strike the Egyptian firstborn and the Children of Israel would finally leave Egypt.

This Treat was originally posted on March 19, 2009. 


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prepare for Passover

With the advent, of the Hebrew month of Nissan next week, Passover is around the corner. It is time to begin preparation such as making plans for seders, purchasing a new Hagaddah or learning about how Jewish homes are properly transformed for Passover.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

When Moses was the High Priest

In Modern Hebrew, mi’lu’im connotes reserve military duty that Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers who complete their compulsory service, are required to fulfil. Mi’lu’im service can accrue to almost a month annually. In the Bible, the days of mi’lu’im, however, refer to the seven-day “training period” prior to the dedication of the Tabernacle.

The Tabernacle the Children of Israel constructed in the Sinai wilderness, was dedicated on the first day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, about a year after the Exodus. Prior to that, a practice week was held, where the priests and Levites became acquainted with the very specific detailed service they would facilitate in God’s mortal habitat, which, eventually would transition into the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. That mi’lu’im week began on the 23rd day of the Hebrew month of Adar.

Since Aaron was to serve as the first High Priest in the Tabernacle, he needed to train before he could properly assume the role. In order to demonstrate to Aaron what to do and how to function, his brother, Moses, served as the temporary High Priest during the Inauguration Week. This week was the only time Moses functioned not only as a priest, but as a High Priest. Moses dressed his brother and the other priests daily in their sacred raiment, demonstrated how to ritually wash themselves and how to offer the animal and grain sacrifices. Moses also anointed the priests with the special oil used to consecrate them.

A description of this service and the command to Moses to prepare the priests for their service is found in the book of Exodus (28:1-43) where the details of the priestly attire were given. A more robust description is offered in the book of Leviticus (8:1-36).

The seven-day inauguration process of the Temple, its personnel and its vessels, took place in front of the nation. On each of the days, Moses sprinkled anointment oil on the Tabernacle, its vessels, the priests and on the priestly vestments. Moses also offered three special animal sacrifices: a bovine sin offering, a ram as a burnt offering and a ram offering, special for the inauguration week.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Practice Makes Perfect

The more you prepare, the better the product.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

President Grover Cleveland

President Grover Cleveland, the only U.S. president to have served in two non-consecutive terms, was one of two Democrats (the other being Woodrow Wilson) to have served as president during a period of Republican domination of the White House.

Stephen Grover Cleveland was born on March 18, 1837 and received an elementary school education, but left high school to support his family when his father died. Although he never completed his formal education, he was admitted to the New York State bar in 1859. Grover’s uncle helped him obtain a clerical job at a Buffalo, NY law firm where he eventually worked as a lawyer. Three years later, Cleveland started his own law firm, and a year after that, he was appointed Assistant District Attorney of Erie County. In 1865, he ran unsuccessfully for Erie County District Attorney, losing to his Republican roommate, Lyman K. Bass. In 1871, he was elected Sheriff of Erie County and over a decade later, in 1882, Cleveland was elected mayor of Buffalo. Months later, the convention nominating the Democratic candidate for Governor of New York became deadlocked, and Cleveland, who was third on the slate, became the compromise candidate. He beat Republican, Charles J. Folger by the largest margin of victory in New York gubernatorial election history.

In 1884, Cleveland emerged among many Democratic candidates as the party’s favorite for the presidency. He won the Democratic nomination on the convention’s second ballot, and beat Republican Speaker of the House James Blaine of Maine in the general election. Cleveland was 47 when he became President. A bachelor, his sister, Rose Cleveland, served as hostess for the first two years of his first term. On June 2, 1886, 49-year old Cleveland married 21-year old Frances Folsom in the Blue Room of the White House. She was the daughter of an old friend, and Cleveland had supervised Frances’ upbringing after her father passed away. They eventually had five children. 

Cleveland was defeated in the 1888 election by Republican Benjamin Harrison of Indiana. However, in 1892, Cleveland was re-nominated as the Democratic nominee for president, and decisively beat the incumbent Harrison.

Throughout his career, Grover Cleveland was known for his high level of integrity. During Cleveland’s first term, he denounced the refusal by the Hapsburg Austrian government to accept the credentials of John Kieley as minister-designate, because Kieley’s wife was Jewish. In his 1895 State of the Union Address, President Cleveland addressed anti-Semitism, and decried “... the practice of Russian consuls ... to interrogate citizens as to their race and religious faith, and upon ascertainment thereof to deny to Jews authentication of passports or legal documents for use in Russia."


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Public Officials

Become familiar with public officials and their interactions with, and work for, Jewish causes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Irish Jews

The exile of the Jewish people has taken them to every corner of the earth. Jews have lived in and built communities in Europe, China, India, Central Asia, Africa, South America, North America, Australia, etc. Today, Jewish Treats presents highlights of the Jews of Ireland:

The first royal recognition of a Jewish presence in Ireland was in 1232, when King Henry III gave Peter de Rivall the office of Treasurer and Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer, the king's ports and coast, and also "the custody of the King's Judaism in Ireland." However, in 1290, all Jews were expelled from the English kingdom, which included Ireland.

By the end of the 15th century “Anousim” (Jews forced to hide their Judaism because of the Spanish Inquisition) began to settle on the Emerald Isle. In 1555, William Annyas, a Jew, was elected mayor of Youghal, County Cork.

One of the most famous Jews of Ireland was Robert Briscoe (1894-1969), who became the Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1956. Active in the IRA and Sinn Féin during the Irish War of Independence, Briscoe was a nationalist who was adamant that being a "Hebrew" did not lessen his Irishness. Since 1993, the New York based Emerald Isle Immigration Center sponsors the annual Briscoe Awards, which honors Jewish leaders for their work in bettering the lives of Irish immigrants to the U.S. 
An Irish Jew who became a leader to the Jewish people through his distinguished career in the Israel Defense Force (and previously in the British army) was Chaim Herzog (1918-1997). The sixth president of the State of Israel was born in Belfast and raised in Dublin, where his father, Rabbi Isaac Herzog, who later became the second Chief Rabbi of Israel, was Chief Rabbi of Ireland.

This Treat was last posted on March 17, 2015.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Diaspora

Jews have lived in practically all habitable areas on earth. We owe a debt of gratitude to those countries who have hosted Jews peacefully.

Navy Man

Jewish Treats presents a biography of Uriah P. Levy, the U.S.’s first Jewish commodore. Today is Levy’s yahrtzeit on the Jewish Calendar.  

Born in Philadelphia in 1792, Levy took to the seas early (some sources report that he was 10 and that he returned home for his Bar Mitzvah, others indicate that he was 14) when he signed on as a cabin boy. Levy joined the navy when he was barely 20. His military skills were immediately put to the test as the United States entered the War of 1812 against England.  While Levy’s early assignments kept him on the Atlantic seaboard, he joined the crew of the Europe-bound U.S.S. Argus in 1813. When the Argus captured the British “Betty,” Levy was made Acting Lieutenant and put in charge of the valuable prize ship. Unfortunately, in August 1813, the Betty was captured by the British, and Levy remained a prisoner until December 1814.

Not surprisingly for the era, Levy’s career was sometimes jeopardized by fellow officers who disliked him because he was Jewish. Additionally, Levy faced animosity due to his outspoken opinion against flogging. (He is considered the father of the anti-flogging bill that was passed in 1850.) In 1857, Levy was “downsized” along with 48 other officers but, after appealing his dismissal, was reinstated. Shortly thereafter he was given command of the Mediterranean fleet.
 "I am an American, a sailor and a Jew."

Outside of the navy, Levy made many successful New York real estate investments and was well-known for having purchased and restored Thomas Jefferson’s historic Monticello estate. Levy was also a philanthropist who took particular interest in Jewish causes.

Levy was the first president of the Washington Hebrew Congregation and an active member of New York’s Shearith Israel Congregation. He passed away on March 26, 1862.

This Treat was originally posted on March 26, 2014.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Patriotic Americans

Endeavor to learn about Jews who have acted heroically in the defense of our country.

Friday, March 13, 2020

How Now, Red Cow

Every year, on the first or second Shabbat following Purim, a special reading from Numbers 19, is added to the regular Shabbat Torah reading. Known as Parashat Parah, the Torah reading concerns the special purification ceremony of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer), one of the most intricate and mysterious laws found in the Torah.

The process of purification via the Parah Adumah is complex and difficult to understand even for those who have spent years studying the Torah. A simple explanation is that a pure red heifer (cow) is sacrificed, and its ashes are mixed with holy water. The mixture is then sprinkled on those who seek spiritual purification. Most famously, the ashes of the Parah Adumah “cleanse” a person from the ritual impurity of coming in contact with a dead body. The precise process is described in Numbers 19 and in Mishnah Parah.


Since Jews would be required to come to the Temple to offer their paschal offerings in just a few weeks, this Torah portion is reviewed at this particular point. Only those cleansed of ritual impurity could enter the precincts of the Temple and offer their paschal sacrifices. While some forms of spiritual impurity can be cleansed with water, and others by immersion in a mikveh, coming in contact with human remains requires seven days of purification and sprinkling with the water of the ashes of the red heifer.

For the Parah Adumah, however, any-old red cow just won’t do. The animal must be a cow that is preferably three or four years old (but older than two years) and has never been mounted by a bull. Additionally, it should never have been yoked or have been engaged in any physical labor like most other domestic animals normally do.

Physically, like all sacrifices, the red heifer must be blemish free, both internally and externally. The most critical factor, however, is the definition of “red.” In order to be considered an actual Red Heifer, the animal may not have more than two hairs of a different color on its entire body!

Finding the exact specimen was so difficult that the sages recorded only eight red heifers from the time of Moses to the end of the Second Temple period: “Moses prepared the first, Ezra prepared the second,... Simon the Just and Yochanan the High Priest each prepared two, and El'y'ho'aynai ben Hakkoph and Cha'nam'ayl the Egyptian each prepared one” (Mishnah Parah 3:5).


This Treat was originally posted on March 17, 2017.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Attend Synagogue to hear the Special Torah Reading

Since the Torah can only be read in the presence of a minyan (quorum), make sure to go to synagogue in order to hear this special Torah reading.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Countdown To Freedom

Americans begin preparing for Thanksgiving days or perhaps a week in advance. But when it comes to Jews and Passover, much more preparation time is needed.

Jewish Tradition teaches that we begin preparing for Passover 30 days in advance, by making both physical and spiritual arrangements. Taken literally, this means that on Shushan Purim (which is Purim in Jerusalem and other specific walled cities) we already turn our eyes to the “Festival of Redemption.” The Shulchan Aruch devotes the very first words of the laws of Passover (Orach Chaim 429), the first of 65 very complicated chapters on the laws of Passover, to remind people to prepare funds to donate in order to assure that all Jews have the wherewithal to purchase the necessary ingredients to fulfill the Passover seder. The traditional term for these contributions is ma’ot chittim, literally “funds for wheat, which enables the more indigent to acquire wine, matzahbitter herbs, and haroset, so they can have a festive meal with one’s family, to celebrate the freedom of our people.

The second chronological point in the countdown to Passover occurs with the advent of the Hebrew month of Nissan, the month in which Passover is celebrated. During this month, we do not recite certain petitional prayers that are omitted on festive days. The sages taught that this is due to the general joyful nature of the entire month, not just the seven (or eight outside of Israel) days of Passover.

During the first twelve days of Nissan, the twelve tribal princes offered lavish gifts at the dedication of the Tabernacle, which took place on the first day of Nissan. The twelve daily gifts represented all tribes except for the tribe of Levi. The tribe of Joseph was therefore split into the two tribes of Ephraim and Menashe, to make 12 tribes. Since each day was a celebration for a particular Tribal prince, the first 12 days of the month of Nissan, unrelated to Passover, express an ongoing sense of joy. Add to those days the 7 or 8 joyous days of Passover, and we find that the majority of the days of the month are festive days. It is a custom for people to read about the gift of the particular prince on the particular day of Nissan that the tribal leader brought his gift. The details of the gifts are described in chapter 7 of the book of Numbers.

Establishing the entire month of Nissan as a month of joy, precludes observing certain public components of grief such as offering eulogies and related memorial prayers. Some have a custom not to visit a cemetery during the entire month of Nissan.

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


This Treat was originally posted on Wednesday, March 27, 2019.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Help Others Prepare for Passover

Donate to a Ma’ot Chittim campaign, to assure that those who may not be able to afford celebrating the festive Passover holiday, will have the ability to feel and re-experience the freedom of Passover.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Purim, Again?

Unique to the Jewish calendar, Purim is actually observed on different days depending on location.

The majority of the Jewish people celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar (yesterday). However, Jews living in the city of Shushan (now the city of Shush, Iran, which is also sometimes referred to as Susa), Jerusalem and all the cities that had walls at the time of Joshua's conquest of Canaan, celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar (today).

The delay in the Purim celebration is based on Esther 9:16-17.

"And the rest of the Jews in the states [not Shushan] of the king grouped together, protecting their lives, and were relieved of their enemies...on the 13th of the month of Adar, and they rested on the 14th, making it a day of feasting and joy. But the Jews in Shushan grouped together on the 13th and 14th, and rested on the 15th, making it a day of feasting and joy."

The majority of the Jews were able to stop defending themselves on the 13th, and so rested on the 14th. In the capital city, however, where Haman's evil plot had aroused greater hatred, the Jews were forced to defend themselves through the 14th as well, and rested on the 15th.

Mordechai and the great sages of the time felt that it was important to separate Shushan's celebration from that of the rest of the people. Because they were still in exile, however, the sages wanted to make certain that the people remembered the holy city of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. It was therefore declared that, in addition to Shushan, any city that was surrounded by a wall at the time of Joshua's conquest of Canaan would celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar.


This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shushan Purim.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

If I Forget Thee…

While we celebrated Purim yesterday, Jerusalem celebrates Purim today. Shushan Purim needs to be a global Jewish celebration, since Jerusalem, the eternal capital city of the Jewish people, must always be in the forefront of our minds.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Purim Commitment

What does the holiday of Purim have to do with Jews reconnecting to their Jewish heritage? Purim is more than a celebration of the victory of the Jews over an enemy who wished to annihilate them. At the end of the Book of Esther, one verse subtly informs us of a most significant event of the Purim holiday: "And the Jews took upon themselves to do as they had begun" (Esther 9:23). This verse perhaps refers to the customs of Purim, but it is also understood to be a statement of rededication to tradition by the Jewish people.

In the Persian-Medean empire, the Jews were a scattered minority. The eldest of the Jews had witnessed the destruction of the Temple, the sacking of Jerusalem and the oppressive reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. In the era of Achashverosh, however, Jews were finally starting to feel settled and secure. In fact, they were starting to feel so welcome that the Jews of Shushan the Capital even “enjoyed the banquet of that wicked man” (Megillah 12b) when Achashverosh threw a week long party for the citizens of the city.

It is nice to feel accepted. The sages, however, do not speak favorably of the Jews of Shushan. It appears that they were so emotionally unattached to their Jewish identity that they did not care that Achashverosh’s great party was celebrating what the king believed was the passing of the 70th year, by which Israel’s prophets had foretold that the Temple would be rebuilt. (Achashverosh had miscalculated).

When Mordechai donned sack-cloth and ashes, however, the Jews of Persia-Medea realized how far they had deviated from the ways of their ancestors. According to tradition, as noted by Raba, the Jews “re-accepted [the Torah] in the days of Achashverosh...[meaning that] they confirmed what they had accepted long before” at Mount Sinai.


This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Purim.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Purim Story in Under 300 Words

At the end of a 180-day feast, the King of Persia-Medea, Achashverosh, banished (some say executed) his wife, Vashti, for refusing to appear at his banquet. He then staged an elaborate beauty contest to find a new queen.

Esther lived with her cousin, Mordechai, in Shushan, the capital city. She was chosen for the contest because she was particularly beautiful and was selected to be queen. Mordechai instructed her not to reveal her Jewish identity.

Achashverosh’s new Prime Minister, Haman, asked for and received permission to destroy the Jews. A royal edict was issued saying that on the 13th of Adar (a date chosen by lottery), the Jews in all 127 provinces were to be killed and their property kept as plunder.

Mordechai told Esther of the plot and asked her to seek mercy from the king. Esther agreed, but requested that all the Jews fast for three days and repent for their sins while praying for the heavenly decree against them to be reversed.

Esther, welcomed by Achashverosh, simply requested that Achashverosh and Haman join her for a private feast--at which she requested that the three of them return for a second feast on the next day.

After the first feast, Haman went home and built a gallows on which to hang Mordechai.

That night, Achashverosh instructed Haman to reward Mordechai for revealing an assassination plot by immediately leading him through town, dressed in royal robes, on the royal steed.

At her second feast, Esther explained to the king that Haman’s evil plan for the Jews included her.

Haman and his 10 sons were hanged and Mordechai became Prime Minister.

The Jews celebrated with great feasts, and Esther and Mordechai codified all the practices of Purim for future generations: the reading of the Megillah, the festive meal, gifts of food and charity to the poor.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Purim.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Happy Purim!

Enjoy and rejoice on this very special day. Fulfill the four mitzvot (commandments) of Purim: hear the Megillah, give charity so impoverished people can eat a meal on Purim, deliver mishloach manot food gift baskets, and partake of a festive meal.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Four Mitzvot of Purim

This year, Purim will be celebrated on Tuesday, March 10th (beginning Monday evening, March 9th, after sunset). Four mitzvot are associated with the holiday:

Megillah Reading - Book of Esther - The Megillah is read twice on Purim, once at night and once during the day. In order to properly fulfill the mitzvah of Megillah, it is necessary to hear every word during the reading. For this reason it is imperative that people not speak during the Megillah reading.

Mishloach Manot/Shalach Manos - Sending Gifts - On Purim day, every Jew should give at least one Mishloach Manot gift containing at least two different types of ready-to-eat food items.

Matanot La'evyonim - Gifts to the Poor - Giving to the poor is a mitzvah all year round. However, the mitzvah to do so on Purim is in addition to the general mitzvah of tzedakah (charity). To properly fulfill the mitzvah of Matanot La'evyonim one must give to two poor individuals. Although one may fulfill this mitzvah by giving a minimal amount of money to each person, the sages noted that the highest form of fulfilling this mitzvah is by giving enough money for a meal, or the equivalent in food. This mitzvah may be fulfilled by donating beforehand to an organization that will distribute the money or food on Purim day.

Seudah Festive Meal - One should partake in a festive meal on Purim day. The minimum to fulfill this mitzvah requires that one ritually wash one's hands (netillat yadayim),
 eat bread and then recite the Birkat Hamazon, the Grace after Meals.

The Purim seudah is often associated with drinking, and people cite the reason for this as the Talmudic quote: "A person should drink on Purim up to the point where they cannot tell the difference between 'Blessed is Mordechai' and 'Cursed is Haman.'" (Megillah 7a and Shulchan Aruch--Code of Jewish Law) - which is sometimes interpreted as drinking more than one usually does or enough to make one sleepy.

(While drinking on Purim is often seen as a mitzvah, risking one's life is never permitted. Whether host or guest, it is important to be responsible:
1-Do not drink and drive.
2-Beware of underage drinking. While Purim is a religious holiday, and underage alcohol consumption is allowed for religious occasions, adults are still responsible for minors. Please do not give young people any alcohol beyond the bare minimum of wine, if at all.)


This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Purim.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fast of Esther

"Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I and my maidens will also fast in like manner; and so will I go into the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16). So responded Esther to her cousin Mordechai when he requested that she present herself, unbidden, before King Achashverosh.

According to tradition, a second fast occurred on the 13th of Adar, the day Haman's supporters were allowed to attack, Jews traditionally fast when at war. In commemoration of this fast, and in honor of Esther's fast, Jews around the world observe Ta'anit Esther, the Fast of Esther, on the 13th of Adar, the day before Purim. If the 13th of Adar occurs on Shabbat, the fast is observed on the Thursday prior.

The fast begins at dawn (aloht hashachar)* and ends after nightfall, during which time eating and drinking are prohibited. (Pregnant and nursing women, and others with health restrictions may be exempt from fasting--please consult your rabbi).

On Ta'anit Esther, as on other fast days, special prayers are added to the synagogue

services: 1. Selichot (Penitential Prayers) and Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) are recited during the morning and afternoon service. When Ta'anit Esther is observed on the eve of Purim, Avinu Malkeinu is not recited in the afternoon.

2. At the morning and afternoon service, excerpts from Exodus 32 and 34 are read from the Torah. These include the 13 attributes of God's mercy. At the afternoon service only, the Torah reading is followed by a special haftarah for fast days.

3. The Ah'nay'noo prayer, which asks for special forgiveness, is added to the morning and afternoon services by the prayer leader. An individual who is fasting includes Ah'nay'noo in the blessing of Sh'ma Koh'laynu (Hear Our Voices) when saying the afternoon service.

*Some people will get up before dawn and have an early morning breakfast (but this is permitted only if a decision to do so is verbally expressed the night before).

This Treat is reposted annually on the Fast of Esther. 


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Purpose of Fasting

Fasting is meant to help people focus on important issues when tragedy strikes, or on days that commemorate calamities.

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Sabbath of Remembering

This Shabbat is Shabbat Parashat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembering.

The Torah portion that is read as the Maftir (additional) portion, after the conclusion of the regular weekly Torah reading, commands the Jewish people to remember that the nation of Amalek attacked our weak, tired and elderly shortly after the Jews crossed the Red Sea (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Therefore, there is a mitzvah to destroy Amalek. Parashat Zachor is always read on the Shabbat before Purim.

The Amalekites traveled many miles in order to attack the Jewish people from behind, attacking the weak and the stragglers. Miraculously, the Jewish people defeated the Amalekites in a one day war. This attack underscored the evil character of the Amalekites. God had just performed great miracles for the Israelites and no nation dared attack them, except Amalek, who hit them from the rear.

The nation of Amalek is known for its all-consuming love of self, and reliance on violence to prove its superiority. The Midrash (Sifrei 296) tells us that the wording in Deuteronomy 25:18, "Asher kar'cha ba'derech," literally means that Amalek "happened" upon the Jews. This, the rabbis explain, is a description of the personality of Amalek: Amalek represents the belief in chance, of the haphazard dictates of "fate," which opposes the Jewish belief in Divine providence. Amalek's philosophy negates the concept that there is a purpose to humanity or to creation itself--again the antithesis of Jewish philosophy.

Parashat Zachor is read on the Shabbat before Purim because Haman was a direct descendant of Amalek. Like his forefathers, Haman was the archenemy of the Jews. He wanted to wipe them out. Neither begging, bribery nor debate would have changed Haman's mind because the Jewish nation represented a spiritual force which he abhorred. 


This Treat is reposted annually on the Friday of Parashat Zachor


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Remember

Whether stated in English, “Remember,” in Hebrew, “Zachor” or in Yiddish, “G’denk,” it is a sacred obligation of all Jews to remember our past in order to move forward meaningfully into any Jewish future.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Costume Time

Those who first hear about the custom of wearing Purim costumes might assume that the tradition began as an imitation of Halloween. Research, however, places the origin of Halloween costumes in the 18th century, while Purim disguises are mentioned in rabbinic texts as far back as the 13th century.

Masks and disguises are a popular means of expressing some of the most important themes of Purim. For instance, “Ve'na'haphoch Hoo," "and it was reversed" (Esther 9:1)--on Purim we celebrate the idea that what one perceives as reality can easily be reversed. This theme is also one of the sources for the custom of drinking on Purim. The Talmud states that “One must drink [on Purim] until one does not know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai’” (Megillah 7b); disguising oneself is another means of creating this same effect.

A second important theme of Purim related to the custom of wearing masks/costumes is hester panimHester panim refers to the idea that God conceals His involvement in human affairs. God is not mentioned even once in the Book of Esther, yet it is clearly Divine providence that determines events. This is hester panim, when God “hides” Himself from the world so that we can only see hints of His Divine plan. So too, on Purim, our true selves are hidden behind masks.


Although some people wear Halloween left-overs (Purim shopping begins November 1!), the characters of the Purim story are perennial favorites. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there are two queens--Esther and Vashti).


This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Purim.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Demise of Villains

Purim is a day on the Jewish calendar throughout Jewish history that has brought much joy to the Jewish people. A few years ago, a Jewish Soviet immigrant to the United States shared that he recalled hearing from his parents that Joseph Stalin had died on Purim. In general, when an arch anti-Semite dies, a wicked man who killed thousands of Jews and spiritually suffocated all of the USSR’s Jews, it is truly a modern day version of Purim.

To be more precise, Joseph Stalin died on March 5, 1953, which corresponds to the 18th of Adar, 5713, four days after Purim. But, the stroke that debilitated him and ultimately claimed Stalin’s life, did occur four days before his demise on March 1, 1953, corresponding to the 14th of Adar, which is Purim day.

Stalin gave orders not to be disturbed in the mornings. On the morning of March 1, 1953, the Soviet dictator did not emerge from his bedroom, and was discovered on the floor of his bedroom at 10:00 pm. A few days earlier, Stalin was rumored to have taken a steam bath, a practice that was expressly forbidden to him by his physician due to his very significant hypertension. Ironically, his physician was in prison as part of the “Doctor’s Plot,” an anti-Semitic campaign by Stalin against mostly Jewish doctors, which was terminated a few weeks after Stalin’s death by the new leadership of the Soviet Union, citing lack of evidence. It was later demonstrated that the “evidence” was fabricated. 

Thirty-seven years later, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August, 1990, and U.S. President George H.W. Bush amassed an international coalition which, through the U.N., insisted that Iraqi forces retreat. Coalition bombing of Iraq began on January 17th, which also led to the Iraqis launching Scud missiles against the center of Israel. Coalition bombers flew over 2,000 sorties daily. On February 24, 1991, ground forces invaded Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s military left Kuwait on February 28th, 1991. President Bush declared victory on the same day. February 28, 1991 was also the 14th of Adar, Purim.

Haman, the villain of the Purim story whose plot against the Jews blew up in his face, also represents all such paradigmatic anti-Semitic autocrats. Purim is a celebration of the victory over those who tried to obliterate us and our ancestors from off the face of the earth. Joseph Stalin and Saddam Hussein are two such individuals.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Fight against Leaders Who Attempt Genocide

Any tyrant who seeks to kill indiscriminately, especially those who target a specific group, or those who are vulnerable need to be stopped. While only governments, and not individuals, possess armies, prayers, political activism and financial support are great ways to support deposing despots.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Who Was Mordechai?

There are some people in this world who always seem to be right in the thick of the action. As described in the Book of Esther, this was Mordechai. It is Mordechai’s cousin who is chosen to serve as the new queen. It is Mordechai who overhears a royal assassination plot. It is Mordechai who is the object of Haman’s anger, and it is Mordechai whom the king publicly honors for saving his life. And, finally, it is Mordechai who hears of Haman’s evil decree and protests it publicly.

It is obvious from his actions that Mordechai was a brave man, and thus it is not surprising that assorted midrashim (legendary explanations) reveal that even before the events described in the Book of Esther, Mordechai was one of the leaders of the Jewish people in exile. The Book of Esther itself tells us that Mordechai was “a Benjaminite who had been exiled from Jerusalem with the exile that was exiled [by Nebuchadnezzar] with Jeconiah, King of Judah” (Esther 2:6). According to the Talmudic sage Rava, however, Mordechai actually joined the exile voluntarily so that he could remain with the scholars (Megilla 13a).

One could assume that Mordechai was a youth at the time of the exile, as the events of the Purim story take place at the end of the exile. In the interim, traditional sources record that Mordechai was one of those who joined Ezra and Nechemia in returning to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding the Temple. When the nations who had moved into Judea’s territory quarreled with the Jews, it was Mordechai who was sent back to Shushan to negotiate with the king.

It appears that Mordechai remained in Shushan and became one of the members of the Sanhedrin (for which he was required to know 70 languages and was thus able to understand the whispered plotting of Bigthan and Teresh against the king.

There are two other interesting biographical facts about Mordechai. He was a descendant of King Saul, the first king of Israel, and, after Haman’s overthrow, he was appointed Prime Minister of Achashverosh’s kingdom.


To learn more about other Purim characters, please click the hyperlinks below:

King Achashverosh of Persia/Media 
Haman, Prime Minister of Persia/Media
Queen Vashti 
Zeresh, wife of Haman

This Treat is reposted in honor of Purim.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The History Around Purim

The story of Purim takes place at the very end of the era known in Jewish history as the Babylonian Exile.

Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian empire destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem and exiled the Jews from the Land of Israel. Fifty years later, however, the Babylonian Empire was itself crushed by the combined armies of King Darius of Media and King Cyrus of Persia (both part of current day Iran), and the new Persian Empire was formed under the rule of Cyrus. Unlike his Babylonian predecessors, Cyrus was not interested in destroying the individual cultures of his subjects, unless they were in direct opposition to him. Known as Cyrus the Great, he issued an edict allowing the Jews to return to the land of Israel. Shortly afterwards, the first group of Jewish exiles returned to Israel under the leadership of Nechemiah and began laying the foundations for rebuilding of the Holy Temple. The enemies of the Jews, however, convinced Cyrus to stop the Temple’s rebuilding.

And then came Achashverosh, the king of the Purim story. There is much debate as to the exact identity of Achashverosh. Some sources maintain that Achashverosh was actually Cambys, the son of Cyrus, and some assert that he was the son of Darius the Mede. Still others argue that he was a mercenary of common birth who usurped the throne through cunning and by marrying Vashti, the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar, to give him legitimacy. Regardless of how Achashverosh achieved power, the empire he controlled stretched across the Far East. As king of the Persian Empire, Achashverosh continued the ban on the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

While the story seems to happen quickly, it actually took place over many years. Following the defeat of the enemies of the Jews, Achashverosh remained in power with Mordechai as his Prime Minister. According to tradition, Achashverosh and Esther had one son, who grew up to be Darius II, the Persian Emperor who permitted the completion of the rebuilding of the Second Temple, ending the Babylonian exile.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Purim.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Study the History of Persian/Iranian Jews

Jews have had a strong and enduring relationship with the Persian Empire, a good part of which is found in modern day Iran. Make the effort to study the history of the Jewish presence in Persia and the rich traditions of Persian Jews today (mostly in exile).

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

A Light Unto the Sunshine State

What U.S. cities enjoy the largest Jewish populations? You probably included New York, Los Angeles and Miami, which are indeed the three cities, in order, with the largest Jewish populations. Since it was on March 3, 1845, that Florida was admitted to the Union as the 27th state, Jewish Treats would like to examine the history of Jews in the Sunshine state. (See the end of the Treat for a list of U.S. cities with Jewish populations over 100,000).

Although southeast Florida is usually identified by most as the main locus of Floridian Jews (i.e. the greater Miami area and north), the first known Jews moved to Pensacola in 1763, in the state’s panhandle section. Some even believe Ponce de Leon came to Florida in 1513 with some conversos. By 1821, a few dozen Jews resided in northern Florida. Moses Levy was a lumber dealer from Morocco who built a Jewish colony in Micanopy. Despite living in the south, Levy famously announced his opposition to slavery during the Civil War. Levy’s son, David Levy Yulee, served as the first U.S. Senator from Florida. The Key West Jewish community was established in 1884 due to the shipwreck of the family of Joseph Wolfson, who were Hungarian Jews in the cigar business. Key West’s first synagogue opened in 1907.

When Florida was granted statehood, fewer than 100 Jews lived in the state, which had an overall population of 66,000. In 1857, a Jewish cemetery was consecrated in Jacksonville, in the northern sector of the state, and twenty years later, Beth El of Jacksonville became the first synagogue in Florida. By the turn of the 20th century, six congregations served the Jacksonville Jewish community.

Miami’s first synagogue, Bnai Zion, was established in 1912 as Jews began settling there. The “Great Depression” of the 1930s reduced Miami’s growing Jewish population to 12 families. But, luckily, In the 1940s, people began identifying Miami Beach as a center for night life and economic opportunity. Of the 25,000 Jews living in Florida in the 1940s, 5,000 resided in Miami. During World War II, the military took over many Florida hotels, and granted access to Jewish customers. When air conditioning became common in Florida, more people migrated there, including many Jews. By 1960, over 175,000 Jews lived in Florida.

As of 2018, Florida’s Jewish population was recorded at 621,460.

1. New York City metro area (2,151,600) – 10.6% of general population
2. Los Angeles/Long Beach/Anaheim (617,480) – 4.6% of general population
3. Miami/Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach (527,750) – 8.6% of general population
4. Washington DC metro area (297,290) – 4.8% of general population
5. Chicago metro area (294,280) – 3.1% of general population
6. Philadelphia metro area (292,450) - 4.8% of general population
7. Boston metro area (257,460) – 5.3% of general population
8. San Francisco metro area (247,500) – 5.2% of general population
9. Atlanta metro area (119,800) – 2% of general population
10. Baltimore metro area (115,800) – 4.1% of general population
11. San Diego metro area (100,000) – 3% of general population

Source: “American Jewish Year Book, 2018”

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Florida

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

Monday, March 2, 2020

The Birth and Death of Moses

One of the 13 principles of faith according to Maimonides is believing that Moses was the greatest of all the Jewish prophets. He was so great, that God feared he would be worshipped after his death, and consequently did not disclose the location of his burial crypt. According to tradition, the 7th of Adar represents both Moses’ date of birth and date of death. This date has had an impact on Jewish tradition in different ways.

The Talmud (Sotah 12b) teaches that Moses was both born and died on the 7th of Adar. The Torah records (Exodus 2:2) that Moses’ mother hid him for three months prior to placing him in a basket on the Nile river. The sages suggest that Moses was placed in the basket by his mother Yocheved on the 6th day of Sivan, which years later, would be the day, according to the consensus of most, of Revelation at Sinai. Therefore, the Talmud concludes (based on Tosefta Sotah 11:7) that Moses was both born and died on the seventh of Adar (another Talmudical opinion suggests Moses was placed in the basket on the 21st of Nissan, which was the day the Sea Split, and the rabbis still maintained that the 7th of Adar was 3 months prior).

The rabbis teach that the righteous die on their birthdays, as did Moses. Our sages claim that the three patriarchs and King David also passed away on their birthdays. The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 11a) claims that the reason for this is that God sits and “completes the years of the righteous from day to day and from month to month” based on a Biblical verse, “the number of your days I will fulfil” (Exodus 23:26).

There is a part of the Shabbat liturgy that is linked to the death of Moses. The prayer Tzidkatcha Tzedek, “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,” is comprised of three verses in Psalms: 119:142, 71:19 and 36:7 (the Sephardic tradition reverses the order of the verses). Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (Tur Orach Chaim 292) claims that this prayer of accepting Divine justice, is timed for the Shabbat afternoon service, in order to function as a tziduk hadin (the acceptance of Divine judgment prayer said at a burial) for the death of Moses (and David and Joseph), which occurred in the afternoon of a Shabbat. Some suggest Moses died on the eve of Shabbat and God buried him on Shabbat – see R. Joel Sirkis and Mishnah Brurah 292:6.

Finally, the custom is for the local Jewish burial society, Chevra Kadisha, to schedule their annual dinners on or around the 7th of Adar. The annual dinners serve to fundraise, raise awareness of the holy work of the Chevra Kadisha and to honor those selfless men and women who volunteer. Customs differ when this dinner occurs, when there are two Adars.


This Treat was originally posted on March 14, 2019.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Moses’ Impact on Jewish Life

Whether one observes the 7th of Adar as Moses’ yahrzeit (anniversary of his death) or not, there is no question that Moses was the greatest of the prophets and that his impact as lawgiver, receiver of the Torah and the most-humble of men makes his life worthy of admiration and emulation.