Thursday, April 30, 2020

A Look at Honesty

In honor of Honesty Day (created by M. Hirsh Goldberg in the 1990s), Jewish Treats presents some fascinating insights into the Jewish view on the importance of honesty.

Much of what Jewish law has to say about honesty and its opposite, falsehood, comes by way of commandments that guide a person to living an honest life. For instance, there are prohibitions against bearing false witness and tampering with weights and measures. However, there are also examples in the Torah where it is apparent that a “little white lie” is sometimes appropriate. God doesn’t tell Abraham that Sarah said he was old because He chose to omit the hurtful part (Genesis 18:12 -13). Still and all, the Torah does enjoin that all are to keep themselves far from false matters (Exodus 23:7).

The Hebrew word for falsehood is sheker, spelled with the Hebrew letters shinkuf and reish, which are the three letters (not in consecutive order) before the last letter of the Aleph Bet. This is in contrast to the emet, which means truth and whose letters are alephmem and tav, the first, middle and last letters of the Aleph Bet. The sages stated: Why are the letters of sheker close together, while those of emet are far apart? Falsehood is frequent, truth is rare. And why does falsehood stand on one foot (referring to the pointed base of each of its three letters) while truth has a brick-like foundation? Truth can stand, falsehood cannot” (Talmud Shabbat 104a).

This Treat was originally posted on April 30, 2018.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Best to take the high road and always be honest in our dealings with others.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Yom Ha'atzma'ut - Israel's Independence Day

On the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, in the year 5708, corresponding to May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was born. On that day, the British Mandate was terminated and David Ben-Gurion declared:...This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.

Accordingly, we, members of the people's council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.

Within minutes, U.S. President Harry Truman recognized the new Jewish state. The Soviet Union was the second nation to recognize Israel.

Within hours, five Arab countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq) declared war and launched an attack. Thus began Israel’s War of Independence. Israel had no established army, no central command, no air force of which to speak and not enough weapons to arm its fighting force, which was composed of both sabras (native born Israelis) and refugees.

Miraculously, the Israelis gained the upper-hand in battle and, in 1949, the attacking nations signed armistice agreements with Israel.

The celebration of Israel Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzma’ut, begins at sunset immediately following Yom Ha’zikaron (Memorial Day). Yom Ha’atzma’ut is marked in Israel by a special ceremony on Mount Herzl, a general atmosphere of celebration, and the bestowal of the Israel Prize upon Israeli citizens or organizations who have demonstrated excellence in their field(s) or have made vital contributions to Israeli culture.

This Treat was originally posted on April 28, 2009.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.


Recognize the incredible accomplishments that the Jewish State of Israel has achieved over the past 72 years.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Israel's Memorial Day

The State of Israel's independence, as well as its continued survival, is a modern day miracle. But, it has come at great cost in human lives to its citizens. Therefore, before Israel celebrates Yom Ha'atzma'ut, its Independence Day, Israel honors the memory of those who gave their lives for their country. On the 4th of Iyar,* Yom Ha'zikaron, Memorial Day is observed.

Memorial Day in Israel is not a day of picnics, fairs and fireworks. To honor the fallen soldiers, sirens are sounded simultaneously throughout the entire country, once in the evening and once in the morning. As the alarm pierces the air, all traffic comes to a halt and everyone stands for a moment of silence in honor of those who have fallen.

What is the purpose of silence? Speech is one of humankind’s most powerful tools and is one of the traits that humanity “shares” with God. It was with the power of speech that God created the world. (“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”) People use their power of speech to connect with each other. Observing a minute of silence forces us to disconnect from those around us and to reflect on both the void created by these great losses, and the miracle of our own survival.

This Treat was originally posted on April 27, 2009.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Remember the Heroes

Take a moment to ponder the valiant efforts and supreme sacrifices made by generations' of soldiers who paid the ultimate price while helping to create a safe and secure Israel.

Monday, April 27, 2020

A Math Teacher’s Life

Had Irving (Isaac) Adler not lived during the fervent era of the rise and decline of Communism, his personal story might have been the simple life of a mathematician dedicated to the education of American youth. But for Adler, who was born in Harlem, New York, on April 27, 1913, the impassioned public attitude toward Communism greatly impacted his life.

Adler was an exceptional student who entered high school at the age of 11 and New York’s City College at 14. He went immediately into teaching after he graduated in 1931, and became part of New York’s Teachers Union shortly thereafter. In 1935, Adler joined the American Communist Party, although it does not appear that he was particularly active or that he assumed any sort of leadership role.

The trouble began in 1949, when New York State passed the Feinberg Law, allowing the Board of Regents (overseeing the public school system) to deny a person teaching privileges due to any “subversive” behavior. The Board of Regents began interviewing its teachers, who were asked directly whether they were members of the Communist Party. Adler stated his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, as did many others, and was suspended and later dismissed.

Because his family name began with “A,” Adler became the lead name on a class action suit that was filed shortly thereafter. Adler vs. Board of Education moved quickly through the courts and was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in March 1952. In a 6 - 3 decision, the Court supported the state. (This ruling was overturned in 1967 - Keyishian v. Board of Regents, and Adler later received his pension.) Adler renounced his Communist membership a few years later when the Soviets invaded Hungary.

Adler’s love for teaching math was quickly rechannelled to writing, and, in 1952, his first of many science books for children, “The Secret of Light,” was published. In 1961, shortly after moving to Vermont, Adler completed a doctorate from Columbia University. In addition to his children’s books, Adler published in professional journals, became a civil rights and anti-war activist, and became an advocate for “New Math.”

He passed away on September 22, 2012.

This Treat was originally posted on April 17, 2017.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

A Winning Equation

Add up the many gifts you've been blessed with, and recognize how fortunate you are to be the recipient of God's kindness.

Friday, April 24, 2020

“If These Walls Could Talk”

The cryptic "spiritual" dermatological disease of tza'ra'at differs from a medical malady, in that Jewish tradition teaches that the infection is caused by sin, not pathogens. Furthermore, the infected person goes to the priest, the spiritual leader, for diagnosis and palliation, not a doctor. This week's parashiot, Tazria-Metzorah focus almost exclusively on diagnosing and curing tza'ra'at.

Yet the Torah describes two additional forms of tza'ra'at: infections that appear on clothing (Leviticus 13:47-59) and infections that appear on walls of a home (Leviticus 14:33-57). The Torah describes how these forms of tza'ra'at are identified and removed. Tza'ra'at found on the walls of a house may even require the walls of the home to be razed.

While these two additional forms of the spiritual malady clearly demonstrate that tza'ra'at is not a physiological phenomenon, what purpose can there be to infect a person's clothing or domicile?

Rashi (Leviticus 14:34), based on the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 17:6) suggests that the purpose of tza'ra'at that infects a house actually, in his words, is "good news" for the owner. When the house is declared "impure" and the walls are knocked down, the owners will find the golden treasures that the Amorites (Canaanite inhabitants of homes prior to the Israelite conquest of the land) had hidden in the walls of their homes.

Maimonides, however, in his coda to "The Laws of the Ritual Impurity of Tza'ra'at" (16:10)" states that diseased clothing and homes infected with tza'ra'at clearly point to supernatural phenomena. Maimonides advances that when a person transgresses the laws of proper speech, the consequences appear in a purposeful sequence, to serve as a warning. Tza'ra'at, first appears as an infection on the walls of the home of the illicit speaker. If the person does not resolve to improve his speech, tza'ra'at afflicts their furniture, then his clothing, and only as a last resort, the sinner's body. The infected person is then expelled from the Jewish camp, forcibly separating him from any opportunity to gossip and the socialization that caused the tza'ra'at in the first place.

This Treat was originally posted on April 12, 2019.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Positive Speech

With the advent of Covid-19, we have all learned the meaning of social distancing. Let's use the opportunity to distance ourselves from harmful speech and instead focus our efforts on positive and uplifting speech when interacting with family and friends.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Importance of English Books

In honor of April 23, which the United Nations has declared English Language Day, Jewish Treats presents a history of the Jewish Publication Society (JPS), the oldest not-for-profit, non-denominational Jewish publisher in North America.

The "JPS" that is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year, is actually the third organization of that name in America. The first was founded in 1845, but in 1851, its building, with all of its stock, burned down. The second was established in 1873, but only lasted until 1875.

The modern JPS was established in 1888, at the behest of Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf, the new rabbi of Philadelphia's Congregation Keneseth Israel. He called a meeting of 100 rabbis and presented to them the great need of the American Jewish community for Jewish books in English. The Jewish Publication Society of America was thus re-established with a start-up budget of $5,000 from Jacob Schiff, $5,000 from Meyer Guggenheim, and money raised through the offer of a subscription service. At its helm, as editor-in-chief, was Henrietta Szold. Its first publication was Outlines of Jewish History by Lady Katie Magnus.

The foremost project of the JPS was an English translation of the Bible. It was completed in 1917, and copies were distributed to Jewish soldiers heading to battle in the Great War. In 1965, it was re-issued with a more modern translation. In 1985, the JPS Tanakh was published as a three volume set: Torah (Five Books of Moses), N'viim (Prophets) and K'tuvim (Writings).

In 2012, JPS reached a collaborative publishing arrangement with the University of Nebraska Press.

Since its founding, Jewish Publication Society books have received numerous awards. It has worked with such well-known writers and scholars as Chaim Potok and Marcus Jastrow and was responsible for such well-known publications as The Jewish Catalogue, The American Jewish Yearbook and The Legend of the Jews.

This Treat was originally posted on April 23, 2018.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

It’s Been Translated

Appreciate how fortunate we are to live in a generation when much of the classical biblical texts and considerable commentary have been translated into English so that we can fully explore the richness of our Jewish heritage.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Precious Creation

While there are many appropriate themes with which the Torah in Genesis 1 could have begun (Abraham, Mt. Sinai, etc.), it begins instead with a day-by-day description of the creation of the world, commencing with the creation of heaven and earth on Day One and concluding with the creation of humankind on Day Six.

In fact, the description of creation is lengthened by extensive repetition, as much of the action is first declared by God, and then described again as it actually happens. For instance: "And God said: 'Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after its kind; and God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:11-12).

Why the repetition?

"When God created the first human, He showed him all the trees in the Garden of Eden..and said to him, 'See My handiwork, how beautiful and choice they are... be careful not to ruin and destroy my world, for if you do, there is no one to repair it'" (Midrash Rabba - Ecclesiastes 7:13). God began the Torah with a thorough description of creation to underscore not only the work that went into the world's creation, but the love and care as well.

Alas, it was not until the late twentieth century that a significant portion of humanity took the time to take stock of how carelessly humanity was performing its job as the earth's guardian.

As people around the world today observe Earth Day (April 22), the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis is an excellent reminder that we must view every part of this world as a precious gift to be fervently treasured and protected.

This Treat was originally posted on April 22, 2010.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Preserve Your Surroundings

Take a moment to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings and consider what steps we can take to preserve it in its most pristine condition so it will be enjoyed for generations to come.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day

Today, the 27th of Nisan, Jews around the world are marking Yom Ha'shoah (Officially Yom Ha'zikaron La'shoah V'la'g'vurah, which translates to The Day of Memorial for the Holocaust and the Heroism, generally shortened to Yom Ha'shoah). In Israel, the day is marked by official ceremonies, flags at half mast and, most famously, by a siren marking a moment of silence during which all traffic comes to a standstill.

When World War II ended and the world was finally clearly aware of the incredible devastation wrought upon the Jews of Europe, there were no words or actions that could adequately respond to the staggering losses. While mourning for their own nation's soldiers, the world was faced with accepting the fact that the Nazis had purposefully and systematically murdered six million Jewish men, women and children as well as several million others whom they classified as lesser human beings.

The term "Holocaust" is a word of Greek origin used to describe massacres. As it came to be applied to the events in Europe in the 1940s, the term emerged as the name for this highly specific genocide. This was strengthened by the release of the 1978 NBC mini-series of the same title.

In Hebrew, the Holocaust is referred to as Ha'shoahShoah means calamity. Similar to the term Holocaust, the term shoah gained further usage after the release of the 1985 French documentary entitled "Shoah." The film condensed over 300 hours worth of interviews into 9.5 hours and made the hard-hitting facts of the Holocaust real and palpable.

In traditional communities, the events of the Holocaust are referred to as "Churban Europe" or "the Churban," a term which parallels the destruction of the Torah learning centers in Europe with the destruction of the Holy Temple. Many traditional communities also mark a day of mourning for the victims of the Holocaust on an already established day of universal mourning, either the Tenth of Tevet or the Ninth of Av.

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

In Their Memory

Perpetuate the memory and the accomplishments of those who tragically perished during the Shoah by strengthening our commitment to Jewish learning and our connection to Jewish life.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Legal to Take?

With all the discussion during the last few years, about the legalization of marijuana, one might have wondered what is the traditional Jewish perspective regarding its use. It is, not surprisingly, a rather complicated topic about which Jewish Treats can only provide the most basic insights.

Until recently, the question of marijuana use was infrequently discussed since it was clearly defined as an illegal substance by the government. The Jewish perspective regarding civil law is dina d'malchut dina, the law of the land is the law, as long as it does not conflict with Jewish law.

When Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the leading halachic 
(Jewish legal) decider in the United States in the mid to late 20th century, was asked about the use of marijuana as a recreational drug in 1973, he ruled that it was prohibited. His legal argument referred to "the rebellious son," (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) as defined by the oral Torah, who robs and steals from his parents in order to fulfill his cravings for physical gratification. A rebellious son may even be liable to the death penalty, thus one must not place oneself into a potentially addictive situation, resulting in harsh punishment. He also argued about the inability of a person to study Torah or recite prayers properly while under the influence of any type mind altering substance.**

With the expanded access to medicinal uses of marijuana and the changing attitude, both culturally and legally, to its recreational use, the question has resurfaced with a new nuance. Since Jewish law places a tremendous importance on making a sick person comfortable, the new research that indicates that marijuana may relieve pain in certain instances more effectively than other "drugs," raises new questions and considerations. Because each case is individual, all questions regarding marijuana use should be presented to an expert rabbi.

**This includes being drunk.

This Treat was originally posted on April 20, 2017.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Stay Healthy

The Torah teaches "V'nishmartem m'od l'nafshoteichem"(Deuteronomy 4:15), that we should be exceedingly careful to protect ourselves, something to always keep in mind, especially when considering how best to care for ourselves.

Friday, April 17, 2020

What is Isru Chag?

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Isru Chag Passover.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Chag Ha'matzot

The name of the holiday “Passover,” is an allusion to God’s passing over the Israelite households during the plague of the firstborn, a critical element in the events of the Exodus. The name "Passover," however, may be derived from an English convolution of the Hebrew Pesach, the Torah’s term for the Pascal lamb sacrificed on the holiday.

The Torah refers to Chag Ha’pesach, the Holiday of the Pascal Lamb, only as the actual seder feast. In almost all other cases,* the Torah refers to this springtime holiday as Chag Ha’matzot, the Holiday of the Unleavened Bread: "The feast of unleavened bread shall you keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread" (Exodus 34:18).

In honor of Chag Ha’matzot, Jewish Treats presents a little bit of information on matzah:

To guarantee that matzah is Kosher for Passover, no more than 18 minutes may pass from the moment the water and flour come in contact with each other, until it is removed, fully baked, from the oven. The entire working area (and the workers’ hands) is scrubbed between each 18 minute process.

Special Matzot
Many Jews will only eat shmura matzah (especially during the Seder). Literally "guarded matzah," shmura matzah has been carefully supervised from the time the wheat was cut until it was baked so that it remained perfectly dry until being deliberately mixed with water (lest it become chametz). This practice is based on the verse in Exodus 12:17, "And you shall guard the matzot..."

Egg matzah is "enriched matzah." Since it is more extravagant, it fails to fulfill the requirement of "lechem oh’nee," bread of affliction (poverty). According to Jewish law, egg matzah may only be eaten on Passover by someone who is physically infirm, very young or very old, and has difficulty digesting regular matzah.

Depending on how they are prepared, flavored matzot (such as garlic and onion or grape) may or may not be Kosher for Passover. Please check the box for proper Kosher for Passover supervision.

*It is also referred to as Chag Ha’aviv, the Holiday of the Spring.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Chol Hamoed

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

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

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

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

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

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Can You Count to 49?

There is a commandment (Leviticus 23:15) to count the 49 days that immediately follow the first night of Passover and, on the 50th night, to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. This period of time is called Sefirat Ha'omer, the Counting of the Omer, because the counting begins on the night before the barley offering (omer) was brought to the Temple, which was on the second day of Passover.

The connection between Passover and Shavuot: The departure of the Jews from Egypt was only the beginning of the redemption. The Exodus actually culminated with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is commemorated by the holiday of Shavuot. This connection is clearly marked by Sefirat Ha'omer, the Counting of the Omer.

How to Count the Omer: Each night, starting with the 
second night of Passover (the second Seder outside of Israel), a blessing is recited and the new day is counted. The blessing is as follows:
Baruch Ah'tah Ah'doh'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu Melech Ha'olam, asher kideshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzeevanu al sefirat ha'omer.

Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world, Who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us, regarding the Counting of the Omer.

The blessing is followed by the actual counting of the day. For example: "Today is day one of the Omer"...."Today is eight days, which are one week and one day of the Omer." The formal counting of the day is followed by a prayer for the restoration of the Temple: "May the Compassionate One return to us the service of the Temple to its place, speedily in our days. Amen, Selah!"

If a person misses the counting of a complete day, counting may be resumed on subsequent nights, however, the blessing is no longer recited.

This year, the Counting of the Omer begins on Thursday night, April 9. There is a commandment (Leviticus 23:15) to count the 49 days that immediately follow the first night of Passover and, on the 50th night, to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. This period of time is called Sefirat Ha'omer, the Counting of the Omer, because the counting begins on the night before the barley offering (omer) was brought to the Temple, which was on the second day of Passover.

This year, the Counting of the Omer begins on Thursday night, April 9.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover. 

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Four Cups of Wine

Like almost all festival meals, the Passover Seder begins with Kiddush, the sanctification of the day. On Passover, however, the first cup of wine is followed by three more mandatory cups. The requirement of four cups of wine at the Seder is derived from the four stages through which God promised to redeem the Jews from the Egyptian slavery (Exodus 6:6-7): “Therefore say to the Children of Israel: ‘I am God and 1) I will take you out (v’ho’tzay’tee) from beneath the burdens of Egypt, and 2) I will save you (v’hee’tzal’tee) from their servitude, and 3) I will redeem you (v’ga’ahl’tee) with an outstretched arm and great judgments, and 4) I will take you (v’la’kach’tee) for Me for a people...’”

While the four cups of wine remind us of the four phrases of redemption, each of the four cups has an independent function at the Seder:

The First Cup is designated for Kiddush.

The Second Cup is consumed after the section of the Haggadah known as Maggid, in which we tell the story of the Exodus, as a way of praising God. The blessing on wine is made a second time, because significant time has passed since the first cup was blessed.

The Third Cup is blessed after Birkat Hamazon, the Grace After Meals. It is customary that after reciting Birkat Hamazon as a group, a single cup of wine or grape juice is blessed, and consumed by the person who leads the prayer. At the seder, however, all present bless and drink their own cup of wine.

The Fourth Cup is consumed at the conclusion of Hallel, the section of Psalms praising God, and marks the conclusion of the food part of the seder.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover. 

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Fast of the Firstborn

There has always been a lot of pressure on firstborn children, as they were often expected to care for the family property or business in order to ensure stability within the family and community. Even in contemporary times, the firstborn often receive the most attention, are given the most responsibility and makes the most mistakes.

For all those reasons (and more, we're sure), the final plague, the Death of the Firstborn, was the most devastating (even though people had died in, or as a result of, the other plagues). The Death of the Firstborn was also the first plague during which the Israelites needed to take an active role in order not to be affected (staying indoors marking their doorposts with blood).

While Passover is a commemoration of the story of the Exodus, there is also a special Fast of the Firstborn, which is observed on the 14th of Nisan, the day before the first seder unless it coincides with Shabbat in which case it is moved up to Thursday. It is usually observed only by firstborn male children. This includes minors--except that, halachically, minors (under the age of bar mitzvah) are not required to fast. Therefore, it has become the accepted practice that the firstborn's father fasts instead of his minor son.

It is interesting to note that the Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 18:3) infers that Egyptian women/girls also died during the Death of the Firstborn, and therefore there are different opinions as to whether firstborn women/girls should fast as well (one should follow the custom of the community).

The Fast of the Firstborn begins at sunrise and ends at nightfall (with the start of the seder). It is customary, however, for those obligated to fast to attend a seudat mitzvah (the feast of a mitzvah)* such as a brit milah 
(circumcision) or, most often, a siyyum (celebration
of the completion of studying a section of Torah or Talmud), which cancels the fast.

*Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many communal gatherings, such as siyyums, have been canceled for this year. One should consult their local rabbi for guidance on this issue. 

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover and to help us understand the holiday.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Searching For Chametz

On Passover, Jews are commanded to get rid of all "chametz" (leaven) which may be in their possession. It is not unusual to begin cleaning and scrubbing the home weeks before the holiday.   To confirm the effectiveness of these efforts, a special search for chametz, called Bedikat Chametz, is conducted on the night before the seder. (The first Seder this year on Wednesday night April 9th, so the Bedikat Chametz is performed on the previous Tuesday night.)

Bedikat Chametz begins shortly after nightfall. Before beginning the search, a blessing is recited (see below), after which no talking is permitted with the exception of conversation pertaining to the search itself. The search is conducted by the light of a candle, in order to enable a thorough inspection of all the nooks and crannies (if the candle might cause danger, for instance when searching near draperies, one may use a flashlight). Ashkenazic Jews customarily use a feather to carefully "sweep" any chametz crumbs into a paper bag.

Sometimes getting into the right  frame of mind for the search may be difficult, especially if the house has already been thoroughly cleaned for Passover. There is a custom, therefore, to carefully "hide" ten pieces of chametz (for instance 10 pieces of pretzel) around the house in the rooms which will be searched. The search will thus be more diligent, and will not conclude until all the rooms have been checked and the 10 pieces found.

All chametz that is found should be placed safely in a bag for disposal the next morning. One may, however, put aside chametz to eat for breakfast (and Shabbat meals when applicable), making sure to clean up any leftovers and to add them to the collection of chametz

When the search is over, one makes a general declaration stating that any unknown chametz is hereby declared ownerless. The collected chametz in the bag is set aside to be burned or properly disposed of on the following morning.*

Please note that there may be situations where a dwelling is not properly cleaned and checked for chametz, for example, someone who is renting a room in a house that is not being cleaned for Passover, where it would be best to consult with a rabbi to determine how to proceed. 

*Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many communal chametz burnings have been canceled for this year. It is recommended that a small sample of chametz be flushed down the toilet.  The rest should be placed in the garbage that is removed from the house. As in all such situations, it is good to consult the local rabbi for guidance for how to properly fulfill this mitzvah. 

The Prayers of "Bedikat Chametz"

Blessing before the search:
Ba'ruch ah'tah Ah'do'nai, Eh'lo'hay'nu melech ha'o'lam, ah'sher kidishanu b'mitz'vo'tav v'tzee'vanu ahl Bee'oor chametz.

Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world, Who sanctifies us through His commandments and commanded us concerning the removal of chametz.

Annulment of Ownership of Unknown Chametz:
Kol chameera va'chamee'ah, d'eeka veer'shootee, d'lah cha'zee'tay, ood'la vee'ar'tay, ood'lah y'dah'nah lay. lee'bah'tayl v'leh'heh'vay hef'ker k'aphra d'arah.

"Any chametz or leaven that is in my possession which I have not seen, have not removed and do not know about, should be annulled and become ownerless, like the dust of the earth."

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Development of the Haggadah

On Passover night we are commanded "v'hee'ga'd'ta l'vincha" and you shall tell, the story of the Exodus to your children. (Notice the shared root of hee'ga'd'ta and Haggadah.) The Passover Haggadah serves as a step-by-step guidebook for telling the story of Passover.

Before the destruction of the Holy Temple, most Jews traveled to Jerusalem before Passover to offer the Pascal lamb. Because the entire lamb had to be eaten before midnight, it was the common practice for several families to purchase a single lamb and partake of the festive meal together while retelling the Exodus story, discussing the Midrashim (legendary commentary on the Torah) describing the Exodus, and reciting the ten plagues. These early Seders also incorporated the other basic mitzvot of the Seder: eating matzah and maror (bitter herbs) and drinking four cups of wine.

After the Second Temple was destroyed (70 C.E.) and the Jews dispersed, the oral law was written down (Mishna and Talmud) in order not to be lost to future generations. By the year 200 C.E., the basic outline of the Passover Haggadah had been set, including the order of questions and discussion (Mah Nishtana - the Four Questions).

The oldest existing Haggadah that we have today is from 8th or 9th century Palestine. While there have been modifications and additions over time (as people have added prayers of devotion and songs of praise), the basic form of the Haggadah has not changed. With the advent of the printing press in the Middle Ages, the Haggadah text was set, based on the text of Rav Amram Gaon, who headed the Babylonian Yeshiva of Sura between 856-876 C.E. While certain parts of the Haggadah, such as Chahd Gad'ya ("One Kid"), were not added until much later, the basic text of the Haggadah has remained the same to this day.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover and to help us understand the holiday.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 3, 2020

The Great Shabbat

The Shabbat immediately preceding Passover is known as Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat. It is best known for being the Shabbat on which the rabbi of the community (or another leading scholar) gives a detailed sermon that is often a review of the laws of Passover. While it has been suggested that these sermons are the source of the title "HaGadol" (gadol means both great and large), there is an actual historical significance to this Shabbat.

In the year that the Israelites were redeemed from slavery, God commanded the Jewish people that on the 10th of Nisan, each Israelite household (or combination of households) must take a lamb to use for a sacrifice (Exodus 12:3). Choosing a lamb for a sacrifice might not seem like a big deal, but the Egyptians viewed sheep as holy animals. (Having lived among the Egyptians for so long, many Israelites had assumed the false belief that sheep have special spiritual significance.) By taking the sheep and preparing it for slaughter, the people displayed defiance of their Egyptian masters and rejected any religious significance for the sheep itself.

Shabbat HaGadol is marked in synagogue by the reading of a special haftarah from the book of Malachi (3:3-24). Some people connect the concluding line of this reading to the term Shabbat HaGadol: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great (hagadol) and awesome day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers..." (3:23-24).

Passover is the holiday on which Jews celebrate redemption, and Elijah the prophet will be the harbinger of the final redemption, the coming of the Messiah. The ultimate redemption cannot come, however, until the Jewish people do teshuva (repent). Some scholars, such as the
 Chatam Sofer, have commented that this is the true meaning of Shabbat HaGadol - that when the Israelites began their preparations for the exodus by taking a lamb into their house, they were doing teshuva for having followed the ways of their Egyptian neighbors.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prepare for the Seder V

The words “Passover offering” refers to the lamb or goat that was offered and eaten the night of the first Seder in Egypt. That offering had to be prepared for 4 days before Passover and checked for blemishes. This lesson of spending significant time preparing, is critical for a successful Seder and really, for life in general.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Setting the Seder Table

Before beginning the Seder, it is important to make certain that everything necessary is available. No Seder table is complete without the following:

1) Three Unbroken Matzot (Kosher for Passover) -- Many have the custom to use shmura (specially supervised) matzah for the Seders.

2) Wine/Grape Juice (Kosher for Passover) and Wine Glasses -- All participants should be given a glass or cup (minimum size of 3.3 ounces) from which to drink the required four cups of Wine/Grape Juice.

3) The Seder Plate -- It is traditional to place the following items on a special Seder plate:

--Bay'tza / Roasted (hard-boiled) Egg, symbolic of the cycle of life because of its round shape and representative of the Jewish character - the more you boil them, the harder they get. The egg also represents the missing chagiga sacrifice that was offered on Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot.

--Z'roa / Shank Bone (of a lamb or the bone of another kosher animal or fowl), representing the Passover lamb offering that we cannot bring today because of the absence of the Temple.

--Maror / Bitter Herbs, reminding participants of the bitterness and pain of slavery.

--Karpas / Vegetable (usually a piece of celery, parsley or potato), which is dipped in salt water as part of the Seder ritual.

--Charoset, a tasty mixture of chopped walnuts, wine, cinnamon and apples, representing the mortar the Jewish slaves used to build Pharaoh's cities (recipes may vary by community).

--Chazeret / Bitter Vegetable (like romaine lettuce or celery), which is sometimes placed on the Seder Plate to remind us of the bitter lives of the Israelites as slaves.

4) Salt Water -- The karpas (vegetable) is dipped in salt water as a reminder of the tears of the Jewish slaves. Usually, the salt water is not placed on the Seder Plate, but near it.

5) Elijah's Cup -- This cup, filled with wine, is used to invite Elijah the Prophet, the harbinger of the Messianic age, to come to the Seder, and hopefully, begin our final redemption.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prepare for the Seder IV

Another critical educational method of imparting information is through visual aids. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Seder night is chock full of visual aids, most notably the Seder Plate.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Drama At The Seder

While the basic text of the Haggadah and format of the seder is the same around the world, each community has its own unique customs. One such custom that is pervasive throughout the Sephardi communities is to dramatize the Exodus. Generally this takes place immediately following Yachatz, the breaking of the middle matzah, or after Ha Lachma Anya, the first paragraph of the Maggid section.

The basic script for this dramatization is as follows:

Person holding the afikomen (larger half of the broken matzah) says: "Their remaining possessions tied up in their bags on their shoulders and the children of Israel did as Moses commanded.”

Other Seder Participants: “From where are you coming?” 

Afikomen holder: “From Egypt.”

Participants: “Where are you going?”

Afikomen holder: “To Jerusalem.”

Participants: “What are your supplies?”

Afikomen holder: “Matzah and Maror.”

This ceremony varies not only as to when it is said, but also who says it (sometimes only the leader, sometimes one child gets up and knocks on the door before the dialogue begins, and sometimes each participant of the Seder holds the afikomen in turn), and how the afikomen is wrapped and held (in a napkin or a bag, held on the right shoulder or thrown over the shoulder).

In the Yemenite community, there is a slightly different re-enacting of the Exodus. The seder leader rises, throws the afikomen bag over his shoulder like a knapsack and circles the table while leaning on a cane. As he walks about the room, the leader tells the other participants about his experiences and the miracles he witnessed as he came from Egypt.  

This Treat is reposted in honor of Passover.

Prepare for the Seder III

A principle of the Seder Night is that we must all see ourselves as if we too left Egypt. The more we experience the feeling of release from servitude, the more successful our Seders will be.