Thursday, May 28, 2020

Green Cheesecake At Midnight

The holiday of Shavuot has three well-known, and well-loved, customs:

Decorating our Homes and Synagogues with Plants and Flowers: According to the Midrash, at the time of the giving of the Torah, Mount Sinai burst forth in blossoms of verdant greenery, covered with plants and flowers. This is the basis for the custom of decorating our homes and synagogues with plants and flowers on Shavuot.

Dairy Foods: On Shavuot, it is customary to eat dairy foods - cheesecake and blintzes are particular favorites.

Among the reasons given for this custom are:

Once the Torah was given, the Israelites refrained from eating meat because they needed to learn the laws of kosher slaughter and to make their utensils kosher. They specifically chose to eat dairy and give themselves the time necessary to learn the laws.

On a more mystical level, the gematria (numeric value of the Hebrew letters) of the word chalav, milk, is 40. Forty corresponds to the forty days and nights that Moses spent on Mount Sinai learning the Torah.

All-Night Learning: To demonstrate our love for Torah and our appreciation for God's revelation on Mount Sinai, it is customary to stay up all night on the first night of Shavuot either studying Torah, listening to lectures on Torah topics or simply discussing Jewish ideas.

Another reason given for the custom of learning all night is to atone for the apathy of the ancient Israelites, who, according to tradition, actually overslept on the morning that they were to receive the Torah, rather than being wide awake in excited anticipation.

For further explanations of these customs, please visit NJOP's Shavuot website. The customs are at the bottom of the page.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Celebrate Shavuot!

Decorate, eat some dairy food and set aside Jewish study material to enhance the joyous festival of Shavuot.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Book of Ruth

Ruth was the Moabite wife of Machlon, one of the two sons of Elimelech and Naomi, a wealthy couple who had fled Bethlehem during a bitter famine. Elimelech's family had settled in Moab, a neighboring country with which Israel had a history of conflict.

When Elimelech and his two sons died, Naomi chose to return to her homeland, Israel. Her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, decided to go with her. As they set out on the road to return, Naomi urged both women to go back to their fathers' homes. Orpah did leave. Ruth refused, declaring: "Where you [Naomi] go, I shall go, your people will be my people...your land will be my land, and your God will be my God." (1:16)

Upon their return to Bethlehem, Ruth and Naomi lived a lonely and impoverished life. People resented that Naomi's family had fled during the famine, and they did not trust her Moabite daughter-in-law. To keep from starving, Ruth gathered excess barley that fell during the harvest in the field of Boaz, a relative of Elimelech. Boaz noticed Ruth's unique qualities of modesty, loyalty and humility and encouraged her to continue gleaning in his field until the end of the harvest.

Naomi, knew that Ruth was devout and sincere, and was concerned for her future. She directed Ruth to go to the celebration at the close of the harvest and to seek out Boaz, who had been so kind to them. She told Ruth to present herself to him as a potential mate and assured Ruth that Boaz would take care of her.

That night, Ruth demurely waited at Boaz's feet, signaling her intentions. Boaz, who was much older, an established landowner and a leader in the community, had not thought of himself as a possible suitor until that night.

Boaz and Ruth married and their son, Oved, was the grandfather of King David.

The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot, which, according to tradition, is the anniversary of David's birth and death.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Exceptional Virtue

Study the Book of Ruth to more fully appreciate Ruth's extraordinary kindness and the remarkable turn of events that impacted Jewish history.

Click here to read the Book of Ruth in both Hebrew and English.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Feast of Weeks

Shavuot, which we begin celebrating this Thursday night (May 28, 2020), is the only holiday listed in the Torah without the date on which it is to be observed. Rather, the Torah states that this festival takes place on the day following the 49th day after the first day of Passover (see Counting of the Omer), the day on which the Omer Sacrifice was offered. The name Shavuot, therefore, reflects the fact that this holiday occurs seven complete weeks (shavuot) after Passover. In mystical terms, the number 7 represents the natural order of things, and so, a complete, natural cycle has occurred.

The natural cycle that has been completed is agricultural. Therefore, the holiday is also called Chag Ha'bikurim, the Holiday of the First Fruits, and is the time when the offering of the first fruits of the harvest was brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as a gesture of thanksgiving for the successful crop.

Seven times seven days, the count of 49, reflects a complete natural cycle. But, Shavuot takes place one day after the seven weeks--one step beyond the natural cycle. It is, therefore, also representative of an event beyond nature as well.

When the Israelites left Egypt, the people acted as though they were merely cousins bonded by mutual misery. By the end of seven weeks, however, at the base of Mount Sinai, the former slaves rose above their human limitations and, by accepting the Torah, took upon themselves a total commitment to God, the final step in becoming the Nation of Israel. Shavuot is therefore also known as Z'man Matan Torateinu, the time of the giving of the Torah.

Like all holidays on the Jewish calendar, Shavuot celebrates both the "mundane" and the holy, and, in this way, reminds us that nothing in life is really mundane.

*This Treat was originally posted on May 21, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Head Start

Get ready for Shavuot by downloading our free Ebook "Jewish Treats on the Ten Commandments" by clicking here

Monday, May 25, 2020

A Memorial Day Look At The Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery, the United States’ most noted military burial ground, was established in May 1864. At that time, and for half a century thereafter, military tombstones bore no markers distinguishing people of different faith, and so the Jewish soldiers who had the honor of an Arlington burial passed into history unidentified as Jews.

In the early 1990s, a man named Kenneth Poch learned of the Jewish Civil War soldiers buried in Arlington through Mel Young’s book Where They Lie: Someone Should Say Kaddish. A Brooklyn native living in Reston, VA, Poch went to Arlington to visit the graves of those soldiers and realized that all around him, within the mass of white grave markers, there was a history that needed to be recorded and made public. For the next ten years, until he succumbed to ALS in December 2003, Poch researched and recorded the fascinating stories of the Jews buried at Arlington.

Some of these soldiers died in war, such as Private First Class Robert Cohen, who was shot in the woods by the Nazis along with 85 other American Prisoners of War, and Sergeant Major Lawrence Freedman (nicknamed “Super Jew”), who was killed in Somalia in 1993.

Other soldiers were buried at Arlington after long, productive post-war years. These include Sir Moses Ezekiel, a Confederate soldier who became a famous sculptor and was knighted both in Italy and Germany, and Rear Admiral Bertram Korn, the highest ranking Jewish chaplain in U.S. military history.

In addition to soldiers, the graves of Arlington include burial sites for military nurses such as Lieutenant Colonel Rae Landy, and astronauts, including Judith Resnick of the Challenger Mission.

Upon his death, Poch’s incredible collection of research files were donated to the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington.

This Treat was originally posted on May 28, 2018.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Be Thankful

Consider the great efforts and acts of valor on the part of Jewish American soldiers who fought to preserve and protect the American way of life.

Friday, May 22, 2020

From Them I Learned

Our modern media culture likes to "label" successful people: The richest person, the prettiest person, the person of the year and etc. And because our culture is so influenced by the images we see on screen and the stories we read in magazines, we sometimes forget that some of our greatest heroes are the people living just next door.

The ability to recognize the greatness of one's neighbors and coworkers begins by first being aware and conscious of one's interactions, and appreciating the things we learn from them. In the sixth chapter of Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers, it is stated: "One who learns from a friend a single chapter, or a single law, or a single verse, or a single word, or even a single letter, must treat that person with respect." (6:3)

While this verse is specifically referring to learning Torah (or, in the case of a single letter, language with which to study Torah), it is a concept that is easily applicable to the acquisition of all types of knowledge. An earlier Mishna in Pirkei Avot praises a person who learns from all people: "Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? One who learns from everyone." (4:1) Because gaining knowledge is what makes a person wise, one must treat with respect all people from whom one acquires knowledge, no matter how simple it may seem.

This Treat was originally posted on May 26, 2015.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Priceless Wisdom

Make this Shabbat even more meaningful by setting aside time to study Ethics of the Fathers. This week, chapter 6 is studied.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Jerusalem Day--Yom Yerushalyim

In 1947, when the United Nations approved the plan to partition the British Mandate of Palestine (Israel) into a Jewish state and an Arab state, they determined that Jerusalem would be an "international city" for a period of ten years. The plan was approved by the Jews, and the day after it came into effect, the new state was attacked by the surrounding Arab states (as the Arabs had not accepted the Partition Plan).

At the time of the cease-fire that ended the 1948 War for Independence, Jordan was in control of the Old City and eastern Jerusalem. Jews lost all access to the Western Wall, the holiest site of the Jewish faith as it is the last standing structure from the retaining wall that supported the Holy Temple, and nearly all of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City was destroyed.

On June 5, 1967, the Middle East was once again at war. The war itself lasted six days, but on June 7, 1967/28 Iyar 5727 - Jewish troops took the Old City.  For the first time in almost 2000 years, ancient Jerusalem was returned to Jewish sovereignty, and for the first time in twenty years, Jewish prayers were recited at the Western Wall.

Eleven months later, the government of Israel declared a new holiday, Jerusalem Day, Yom Yerushalayim, on the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar. In Israel, in normal years, on this day, there are state ceremonies and parades, as well as commemorations for the soldiers who died in the battle for Jerusalem. This year, due to the pandemic, many public celebrations are cancelled or limited. Yom Yerushalayim is also celebrated in many communities outside of Israel with special assemblies and programs. Religious observance of this holiday, by means of special prayers for Jerusalem and the recitation of Hallel, varies by community.

This year, Jerusalem Day will be celebrated Thursday night and Friday. 

This Treat was originally posted on May 18, 2012.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Spiritual Flight

On your next trip to Israel, be sure to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem and appreciate the opportunity to pray at this holy place.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Scholar and a Playwright

As the epicenter of the Renaissance, Italy was filled with great centers of learning and creativity during the middle centuries of the last millennium. In one of these great centers of learning, Padua, Rabbi Moses Chaim Luzzato (RaMCHaL) was born in 1707.

In his early 20s, RaMCHaL gained notoriety for writing and teaching about Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. Alas, he lived in the era just after the famous false Messiah, Shab'tai Tzvi (d.1676), who had built up and then destroyed the hopes for redemption of tens of thousands of Jews. Since Shab'tai Tzvi had also been a teacher of Kabbalah, RaMCHaL was suspected of Sabbatarianism by the leading Italian rabbis of the time.

Fearing excommunication, RaMCHaL toned down his teachings and eventually moved to Amsterdam. There, RaMCHaL wrote several books that are now considered masterpieces of Jewish thought. Derech Hashem, The Way of God, discusses the general basis of all existence, God's Divine Providence, prophecy, and religious observance. Mesillat Yesharim, The Path of the Just, his most famous work and a Jewish religious classic, is considered a masterpiece of ethical instruction, teaching how a person may perfect him/herself through a step-by-step process of overcoming the evil inclination.

RaMCHaL's work was greatly praised by the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu Kremer, 1720 - 1797), one of the greatest Jewish scholars of all time, who said that there was not one superfluous word in Mesillat Yesharim.

In 1743, RaMCHaL and his family settled in Israel. In 1746, when RaMCHaL was only 39, he and his entire family perished in a plague. RaMCHaL was a prolific author, writing numerous poems and at least three plays with secular motifs in addition to his insightful works of Jewish thought.

Today, the 26th of Iyar, is the anniversary of his death.

This Treat was originally posted on May 20, 2009.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Ethics at Your Fingertips

Delve into "the Path of the Just" to gain a new perspective on Jewish ethics.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Battle of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai

At the time of the Declaration of the State of Israel (May 14, 1948), Kibbutz Yad Mordechai was a five year old settlement, ten kilometers south of Ashkelon, just north of the Gaza border. Its 250 or so members, most originally from Poland, had been part of an earlier settlement that had been relocated to a larger parcel of land. They named their new kibbutz after Mordechai Anielewicz, the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

On May 16th, an Egyptian force of over 1,000 troops, armed with artillery, tanks and aircraft, invaded the new state from the south. The only resistance point between the Egyptians and the city of Tel Aviv was Yad Mordechai.

The Haganah, the pre-State defense force, was aware of Yad Mordechai's strategic importance. In the months before independence, the kibbutz was armed and prepared for defense (communication trenches, fortified firing posts, etc.). However, the kibbutz defenders were vastly outnumbered.

The attack began at dawn of May 19th, the morning after the children and most women were secretly evacuated. The first battle lasted through the next day. Overnight, however, a platoon of IDF reinforcements snuck into Yad Mordechai.

On May 21st and 22nd the Egyptians continued to shell the kibbutz, flattening its buildings, but outright warfare was at a standstill. The battle, however, resumed on the 23rd. With many injured and many dead, the kibbutzniks could not hold out any longer. That night, in secret, they withdrew. On the 24th, the Egyptians resumed shelling Yad Mordechai, and only realized several hours later that the kibbutz was empty.

The five days that the heroes of Yad Mordechai held off the Egyptians was long enough for the newly created IDF to complete the plans for the defense of Tel Aviv.
This Treat was originally posted on May 9, 2011.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Modern Day Heroes

Recognize the heroism of those who defended the nascent State of Israel and those who continue to do so to this very day.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Around the World in One Place

In honor of International Museum Day, Jewish Treats presents Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People (often referred to as the Diaspora Museum).

In 1959, at the World Jewish Congress in Stockholm, the organization's president, Nahum Goldmann, suggested the creation of a museum in Israel that would explore the history and life of the Jewish diaspora. His vision came to fruition when Beit
Hatfutsot opened its doors on May 15, 1978.

Located on the campus of Tel Aviv University, the museum has a three-fold mission:

1) To present and display the unique and ongoing 4,000 year-old story of the Jewish people - past, present and future.
2) To nurture a sense of belonging among Jewish visitors and to strengthen Jewish identity.
3) To serve as the central address for Jewish discourse, engagement and learning for Jewish individuals, families, communities and organizations from Israel and around the world.

This unique museum fulfills its mission with interactive displays and inclusive storytelling. In fact, it is notable that while the museum has many replicas, it has almost no actual original artifacts, highlighting the fact that it is not a museum of things, but rather it is the collective narrative of a people.

Beit Hatfutsot was designed around six gates: 1) family, 2) community, 3) faith, 4) culture, 5) the Jewish people among the nations, and 6) the return to the land of Israel. Included among its most renowned exhibits, in the Gate of Faith, is a collection of 18 model synagogues, many of which are no longer standing. Another fascinating exhibit at the museum is the Feher Jewish Music Center, where visitors can explore the music of Jewish communities around the world. Additionally, before leaving Beit Hatfutsot, guests of the museum are offered the unique opportunity of accessing their own personal history at the Jewish Geneology Center.

This Treat was originally posted on May 18, 2017.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Local Jewish History

Learn more about the history of your Jewish community whether you live in the Diaspora or the State of Israel.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Be Strong!

For many readers, completing a book leaves them with a variety of feelings. Some people have a sense of satisfaction, others of relieved accomplishment, and still others are left with a vague sense of longing for the book to continue. For those who strongly connect to the book that they are reading, these emotions are very real.

It is interesting to note that it is a custom among Ashkenazic Jews to acknowledge the significance of completing a book.

The Torah is divided into the Five Books of Moses - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  Each of these books is divided into parashiot (Torah portions) that are read in order on a weekly basis.  At the conclusion of the reading of the final Torah portion of each of the Five Books, the custom is for the congregation to rise and call out "Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek - Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other." The Torah reader then repeats the phrase after the congregants.

The phrase chazak, chazak v'nitchazek can be sourced back to several biblical verses where similar terminology is used, such as  "Only be strong, and let not this book of the law depart from your mouth" (Joshua 1:7-8). Many understand that the point of reciting this phrase in synagogue is to serve as a call to the congregants to strengthen themselves and continue their dedication to the Torah, particularly as they begin the next book of the Torah. Conversely, it can also be understood as a call for the congregants to be strengthened in their faith and practice from all that they have learned in the Torah book that they have just completed.

This Shabbat, we complete the reading of the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra) when we conclude the Torah portion, parashat B'chukotai. We look forward to beginning the next Book of Numbers (Bamidbar).

This Treat was originally posted on May 30, 2019.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

If Only I Had Time

You do. Spend some time this Shabbat learning the parashiyot of B'har and Bechukotai and be strengthened.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Buttonwood Jews

On the 17th of May, 1792, 24 businessmen met under a buttonwood (sycamore) tree and made an agreement to deal only with one another and to set a .25% commission rate on all transactions. The tree under which those brokers and merchants met was located on Wall Street in Manhattan and that agreement established what would become the New York Stock Exchange. In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, Jewish Treats presents a quick look at the five Jews who signed the Buttonwood Agreement.

Isaac Moses Gomez (1768 - 1831) was a native of New York, as was his father Moses Gomez (1728 - 1789). Isaac actually wrote a detailed history tracing the Gomez family to a Spanish converso nobleman, also named Isaac Gomez, who lost everything fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Luis Moses Gomez, the son of the Spanish Isaac, was raised in France but received permission in Great Britain to come to the colonies, where he built Gomez Mill House in what is now Marlboro, New York ("Oldest Jewish Dwelling in North America"). Isaac Gomez of Buttonwood fame married Abigail Lopez of Newport, Rhode Island, and raised 10 children to adulthood.

Bernard Hart (1763-1855) was born in London and emigrated around 1777. Married twice, the son of the only child of his first marriage was Bret (Francis Brett) Harte (1836 - 1902), a popular author and poet. Hart's second wife was the daughter of Benjamin Seixas, and one of their sons, Emanuel Bernard Hart, served in the U.S. Congress from 1851 - 1853.

Ephraim Hart (1747 - 1825) was born in Furth, Germany, where his last name was Hirz. It is known that he was in America during the Revolutionary War because his tombstone lists him as a private in Captain Henry Graham's Company. In the 1870s, Hart spent time in Philadelphia, where he joined Congregation Mikveh Israel. When he returned to New York, he became an active member Shearith Israel Congregation.

Benjamin Mendes Seixas (1747 - 1817) was born in Newport, Rhode Island and came from a band of famous brothers. Gershom Mendes Seixas was the spiritual head of Shearith Israel. Moses founded the Bank of Rhodes Island and wrote to George Washington, resulting in the famous presidential letter to the Jews of Newport ("to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance").

Alexander Zuntz (1742 - 1819) has little recorded about him. Born in Westphalia (Germany), he came to America as a Hessian mercenary hired by the British. He defected and stayed in the U.S., where he became a successful businessman and active member of Shearith Israel.

This Treat was originally posted on May 17, 2016.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Contribution

Study American history and appreciate the many contributions made by American Jews to business and commerce during the early years of this country that have had a lasting impact.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Israeli-German Relations

On the 11th of Iyar, 5725, corresponding to May 13,1965, Israel officially established diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic of (West) Germany (FRG). This event is quite notable, since Israel was established in the shadow of the Holocaust, that had been perpetrated by the previous Nazi German government. As expected, Israeli suspicion of, and anger toward, the Germans was widespread in Israel for many decades after the Holocaust.

Prior to official diplomatic contacts, the relationship between Israel and the FRG was purely financial, based on Germany's payments of reparations to Israel for the heinous and murderous behavior of its predecessor government, Hitler's "Third Reich."

The Israeli public was bitterly split over accepting reparations from Germany.

In the early 1950s, the Israeli economy functioned under a policy of austerity due to the debilitating 1948 War of Independence, high unemployment and Israel's absorption of tens of thousands of Jews from Europe and the Arab countries. Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion  saw reparations both as a moral imperative as well as a practical means of alleviating Israel's financial crisis. Ben Gurion argued that reparations should be accepted so "the murderers do not become the heirs as well." Those opposed to reparations felt that it might be interpreted as an expiation of the Nazis for their unspeakable crimes. Since this debate occurred only a few years after the Holocaust, the emotions were very raw.

Prior to the Knesset debate over reparations on January 7, 1952, 15,000 opponents rallied in Jerusalem's Zion Square against the reparations bill, which ultimately passed 61-50. The rally turned violent, and disrupted the debate in the Knesset chamber, which was then located nearby on King George St. Menachem Begin, the leader of the opposition and a Holocaust survivor, gave a fiery speech at the rally against reparations, standing under a banner saying, "Our honor shall not be sold for money; our blood shall not be atoned by goods. We shall wipe out the disgrace." Begin passionately told the crowd that when Haganah forces fired on the ship, Altalena, in Tel Aviv harbor in 1948, on which Begin himself was aboard, he famously ordered his Irgun forces not to return fire. "Now, however," Begin told the crowd, "I will give the order to fight back."

The reparations agreement was signed on September 10, 1952. The FRG paid Israel a sum of 3 billion German marks over the next 14 years, and 450 million marks to the World Jewish Congress. As of 2007, Germany has paid $25 billion Euros in reparations to the State of Israel and to individual Holocaust survivors.

Today, Israel maintains an embassy in Berlin and a consulate in Munich. Germany has its embassy in Tel Aviv and honorary consuls in Eilat and Haifa.

This Treat was originally posted on May 16, 2019.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn the Lessons of History

To better appreciate the trials and tribulations and its aftermath, ask a Holocaust survivor for their impressions of the need for, and whether to accept, German War reparations.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Lag Ba'omer

The period of mourning* (for the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died of plague) associated with Sefirat Ha'Omer is not observed on the 33rd day of the Omer, a day known as Lag Ba'Omer. In Hebrew, every letter has a numerical value. "Lamed" equals 30, and "Gimmel" equals 3, thus Lag (spelled "Lamed Gimmel") Ba'Omer, literally means 33 (days) in the Omer.

Because the mourning period is now over or suspended for the day, Lag Ba'Omer is a popular date for weddings (which are not held during most of Sefirat Ha'Omer) and haircuts.* Some have the custom not to cut a boy's hair until he is three years old, the age at which the child first begins to learn Torah. Since haircuts are delayed until after the period of mourning, and because there is Kabbalistic significance to hair, many put off the child's first hair-cutting ceremony, called an Upsherin, until Lag Ba'Omer.

Lag Ba'Omer is also the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the famed Talmudic Kabbalist whose teachings are revealed in the Zohar
. In Israel, tens of thousands of people travel to Mount Meron (near Safed) to observe his yahrtzeit near the cave in which he was buried. As per his deathbed request, his death is celebrated rather than mourned.

It is also common for families and friends to gather together for a bonfire and/or picnic on Lag Ba'Omer, often on Mount Meron. There are several reasons given for this custom. One is that the word Zohar translates to "shining light," and bonfires bring light to the world.

*Some people observe 33 days of mourning starting from the beginning of the month of Iyar until three days prior to Shavuot. In such cases, however, Lag Ba'Omer is excluded from the mourning customs.

This Treat is reposted annually.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Modern Day Heroes

Recognize the heroism of those who defended the nascent State of Israel and those who continue to do so to this very day.


Cut your hair, trim your beard and sit back and enjoy some Jewish music.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Happy Birthday Birkat Hamazon!

The Torah (Exodus 16:1) reports that the Children of Israel arrived at the Wilderness of Sin on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Iyar, approximately one month after the exodus from Egypt. The Torah relates (Ibid. verses 2-4) that the Children of Israel began complaining to Moses and Aaron about the "wonderful" foods they ate in Egypt and their current lack of culinary choices. God tells Moses to inform the nation that manna would soon begin falling to feed the nation.

The Biblical commentator  Rashi asks: Why was this particular date so important to be worthy of mention in the text? The Torah rarely mentions actual dates. Rashi explains that on this day, the 15th of Iyar, the Children of Israel completed consuming all the supply of matzah and food that they brought with them from Egypt. Rashi notes that on the following day, the 16th of Iyar, a Sunday, the manna began falling.

The day that the manna was introduced to the people is another significant anniversary, as the Talmudic passage below indicates: "Rabbi Nachman stated that when the manna began falling, Moshe established the first blessing of the Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals,) "He who sustains the world." When the Children of Israel entered the land of Israel, Joshua established the second blessing of Birkat Hamazon, "the blessing of the Land." King David and King Solomon established the third blessing, "He who builds Jerusalem." King David composed the words, "Be merciful, God, our Lord, upon Israel Your nation, and upon Jerusalem, Your city." King Solomon added, "upon the great and holy Temple..." The fourth blessing, "He who benefits and causes benefit" was established by the Sanhedrin (High Court) in Yavneh, after the dead from Betar were finally [permitted to be] buried" (Berachot 48b).

Imagine the glee of the Children of Israel when they literally received "manna from heaven" just as their food supply ran out. Who better than our greatest prophet, Moses, could compose the opening lines of Birkat Hamazon

Next time you recite, or even sing, Birkat Hamazon, think about the miraculous manna.

Yesterday was the 16th of Iyar.

This Treat was originally posted on May 21, 2019.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Say Thank You

After finishing your meal, take a moment to recite Birkat Hamazon to thank G-d for providing the delicious food .

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Thank You, Mom

In honor of all our favorite Jewish mothers, we've decided to re-Treat this special Mother's Day edition of Jewish Treats

For those very, very out of the loop, today is Mother's Day, so don't forget to call your mother today, or send her flowers or a card. 

Mother's Day is a day set aside to show the moms in our lives how much we appreciate them. It's a sweet and wonderful idea...but according to the Torah, every day is Mother's Day.

The very first commandment that God gave to Adam was to "be fruitful and multiply." Traditionally, this mitzvah is considered obligatory only upon men, not women.

This seems strange. After all, women are the ones who carry the child in their wombs, nourish the infants from their breasts, and, traditionally, bear the brunt of the child-rearing responsibility. If anything, "peru oo'revu," be fruitful and multiply, should be a woman's mitzvah!

According to the sages, however, the mitzvah of "peru oo'revu" is not obligatory on a woman because Torah law does not command people to put themselves in life-threatening situations. After all, until only the last 100 years or so childbirth was extremely dangerous and the number of fatalities during birth was not insignificant.

Perhaps, however, the danger inherent in motherhood is not just physical. Motherhood changes a mother profoundly, restricting her, and demanding that she sacrifice many of the things that she most values in life (sleep, independence, etc.). At the same time, through motherhood, a woman has the chance to not only experience the immense power of creation, but also to emulate God's endless ability to give.

Motherhood, therefore, is both a choice and an opportunity. And, because of this choice, and the sacrifices inherent in them, mothers should be accorded much well-deserved honor, respect and, of course, infinite gratitude, not just on Mother's Day, but every day.

For more on the mitzvah of honoring one's mother and father, please click here.

This Treat is reposted annually for Mother's Day.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Remember to Call

Don’t miss the opportunity to put a smile on your mother’s face.

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Second Passover

On the first anniversary of the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel prepared to celebrate their first Passover as free people. God decreed that they should eat matzah and maror (bitter herbs) in commemoration of the great event, and, most importantly, that the Israelites should all partake of the Passover sacrifice (lamb).

On the eve of the second Passover, Moses was approached by a group of distraught men. "We are unclean because of the dead body of a man; why are we being held back so that we cannot bring the offering to God in its appointed time among the Children of Israel?" (Numbers 9:7).

According to Jewish law, death is the greatest defiler and contact with the dead renders a person tamei, spiritually impure. Thus, any person who was tamei was forbidden to partake of the Paschal lamb.

In response to their plea, Moses sought instruction from God. God responded, that any person who was tamei due to contact with death or who was on a far-away journey at the time of the Passover offering (14th of Nisan), would be required to offer the Pascal lamb one month later, on the 14th of Iyar. Although chametz was allowed on this make-up date, those celebrating "Pesach Sheni" (Second Passover) had to eat the meat of the sacrifice together with matzah and maror, exactly as on a regular Passover.

Today, without a Temple, no one is able to bring a Passover sacrifice. Thus the laws of Pesach Sheni have little practical effect in day-to-day practice. However, there is a custom to eat some matzah on the 14th of Iyar to mark the date of Pesach Sheni for ourselves and for future generations.

This year, the 14th of Iyar, Pesach Sheni, is Thursday evening and Friday, May 7-8, 2020.

This Treat was originally posted on May 7, 2009.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Looking Forward

It's time to start looking forward to the holiday of Shavuot, which seems just around the corner.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Rabbi Meir

The Mishna is a collection of citations of the oral law by an array of brilliant scholars. There are, however, many Mishnaic statements that are anonymous. According to Talmud Gittin 4a, the source of all anonymous statements is Rabbi Meir.

Rabbi Meir is believed to have been a descendant of the Roman Caesar Nero and was a student of the great Rabbi Akiva. He was also a student of Elisha Ben Abuya and remained close to him even after Elisha became the Talmud's paradigmatic apikores (non-believer), who was excommunicated and called "Acher" (the other). Rabbi Meir was the husband of Bruriah, famous in the Talmud for her brilliance and piety. (Both "Acher" and Bruriah are fascinating personalities in their own rights and will be subjects of future Treats). Rabbi Meir was respected by scholars and lay people alike and is also noted for making the law accessible via parables.

This great sage became known as Rabbi Meir Baal Ha'neis (Master of the Miracle), and his name is thus invoked, even to this day, by many charitable organizations that help needy Torah scholars in Israel. The following story is the source of this title: Rabbi Meir rescued his sister-in-law from her imprisonment in a Roman brothel by bribing the guard. He told the guard, frightened lest his superiors find out that he accepted a bribe to free a prisoner, that should any trouble occur he should call out: "God of Meir--answer me!" Eventually the guard was caught and sentenced to death by hanging. On the gallows, the guard cried out, "God of Meir--answer me!" and the rope snapped, saving the guard's life.

Tomorrow is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Meir.

This Treat was originally posted on April 28, 2010.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Time for Study

Set aside time to study the Mishna and the Talmud to gain a greater appreciation of the wisdom of Rabbi Meir.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Jewish Buckeyes

In 1817, when a pioneering watchmaker, Joseph Jonas, settled in Cincinnati, OH, from his native England, a permanent Jewish presence in Ohio was established. The Cincinnati Jewish immigrants held their first communal synagogue service in 1819, which led to the founding of Ohio’s first synagogue, the Orthodox B’ne Israel, in the Ohio Valley.

Two decades later, German Jews, led by Simson Thorman, raised in the Reform tradition, relocated to Cleveland, on the other side of the state. The first known Jew in Cleveland was Daniel Maduro Peixotto, who arrived in 1835 to teach at Willoughby Medical College. In 1839, these German immigrants founded the Israelitish Society, Cleveland’s first synagogue and Ohio’s second. Jewish German immigrants also arrived in Cincinnati in 1841 and founded the Bene Yeshurun Congregation. By 1850, Ohio’s six Jewish houses of worship were located exclusively in Cincinnati (four) and Cleveland (two). Prior to the American Civil War in 1860, Jewish communities were founded in five other Ohio cities: Columbus (1838), Dayton (1850), Hamilton (1855), Piqua (1858) and Portsmouth (1858). The Civil War saw 1,004 Jewish Ohioans participate as soldiers, a Jewish delegation second only to that of New York State.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Jews moved to Ohio in large numbers, populating cities such as Youngstown, Akron, Toledo and Canton. The American Jewish Year Book in 1902 recorded an organized Jewish presence in 18 Ohio cities, practically every major city, with 16 of them hosting over 50 Jewish organizations.

The founding of the U.S. Reform movement cannot be chronicled without mentioning Cincinnati. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise founded the Israelite in 1854, the first English language Jewish paper published west of the Allegheny Mountains. Rabbi Wise organized the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1873 and, in 1875, he founded the first American rabbinical seminary (Reform), Hebrew Union College, all in Cincinnati.

It wasn’t until 1941, 65 years later, that the famed Telshe (pronounced “Telz”) Yeshiva, was relocated from war-torn Lithuania, to Cleveland.

At the close of the 20th century, 90% of Ohio’s Jews lived in one of three cities: Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, with approximately 80,000 Jews in the greater Cleveland area, and about 25,000 each in Columbus and Cincinnati. As of 2017, approximately 148,000 Jews resided in Ohio.

Joseph Jonas, the first Jew in Ohio, died on May 5, 1869, corresponding to Iyar 24.

This Treat was originally posted on May 29, 2019.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Do Your Preparation

Before you travel, try to learn the Jewish history of the places you plan to visit.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

In 2006, the month of May was officially designated as Jewish American Heritage Month. And what better way to celebrate Jews in America than with a little bit of baseball? Certainly Jewish Treats could present the biography of one of the sport’s greatest Jewish players, such as Hank Greenberg. Today’s Treat, however, focuses on a man who made baseball exciting even for those who don’t like baseball: Albert Von Tilzer, the composer of the popular baseball song,“Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”

Born Albert Gumm (original family name Gumbinsky) on March 29, 1878, in Indianapolis, Indiana, Von Tilzer came from a family of musicians. All five of the Gumm sons worked either in Tin Pan Alley or Vaudeville, and they all followed their eldest brother, Harry, in changing their surname to their mother’s maiden name (Tilzer) and adding the lofty sounding “Von.”  

In 1908, Von Tilzer was approached by Jack Norworth, who had just penned the verses that would become “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” His inspiration was an advertisement for a game at the New York Polo Grounds. Von Tilzer immediately put the lyrics together with a waltz he had been composing. On May 2, 1908, the song was copyrighted by Von Tilzer’s York Music Company.

While the chorus to “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” is one of the best known songs in America (along with “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Happy Birthday”), most people don’t realize that there are also narrative verses telling the tale of a young lady who would prefer a date to the ball game rather than attend a show. The popular song became a part of game-time tradition in the 1970s when sportscaster Harry Caray would sing it during the seventh inning stretch.

While “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” is Von Tilzer’s best known work, he composed hundreds of tunes throughout the first half of the 20th century. He passed away on October 1, 1956.

This Treat was originally posted on May 2, 2016.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Kosher Hot Dogs?

If you live in a city with a large Jewish population, the next time you're able to go to a ballgame at the stadium, be sure to ask whether there is a kosher food stand. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Monday, May 4, 2020

What Happened in SHUM

While most people know about the horrors of the Crusades, many do not realize that there were, in fact, many Crusades over a period of four hundred years, and that most of these crusades did not directly affect the Jewish people.

The First Crusade, however, was such a time of terror for many of the Jews of Europe that it is referred to in some Jewish texts as Churban SHUM - Churban means destruction, SHUM is an acronym for the Hebrew names of Speyers, Worms and Mainz, the three cities that suffered the greatest devastation. These particularly horrific attacks were led by Count Emicho of Flonheim (also referred to as Emicho of Leiningen).

The first of these pogroms occurred in Speyer on Saturday, May 3 (8 Iyar), 1096, when Count Emicho led his recruited crusaders, who were joined by many eager locals, and attacked the synagogue. They then sought out individual Jews and tried to violently force them to convert. Twelve Jews died before the Bishop of Speyer (Johann vom Kraichgaul) managed to protect the community.

Emicho’s crusaders marched on and reached the city of Worms on May 18th, ready to continue their violence. The Jews fled to Bishop Adalbert’s palace, where they were offered protection. Eight days later, however, a mob of crusaders and locals broke into the palace, leading to a massacre of 800 Jews.

When the Jews of Mainz heard that Count Emicho’s growing army was heading their way, they immediately went to Mainz’s Bishop Rothard (and paid him 400 pieces of silver). When Emicho entered the city by force, the Jews tried to fight back. The death toll there was close to 1,000, many of whom took their own lives (ahl kiddush Hashem) rather than convert to Christianity.

While these pogroms were the largest, there were many other pogroms during the First Crusade. Most of the Crusade pogroms, like Churban Shum, were instigated by individuals who led wild, often drunken, mobs. These attacks, however, were not condoned by either the nobility or the church hierarchy.  

This Treat was originally posted on May 16, 2016.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Lessons of History

Sadly, there have been many pogroms against Jews and the Jewish community throughout the generations. It is important that we learn the lessons of history and remain vigilant.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Tripping the Vision Impaired

Parashat Kedoshim contains a total of 51 mitzvot. One of those mitzvot pertains to the prohibition of taking advantage of the disadvantaged. “You shall not curse a deaf person and you shall not place a stumbling block before a blind person, and you shall revere your God, I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:14). 

Clearly, only an unfeeling, insensitive individual could purposely take advantage of the disabled. Jewish Treats has previously addressed the meaning of “placing a stumbling block in front of the blind.” Our sages understood this prohibition as setting someone up for sin. Asking a Nazirite (one who has taken a vow against contact with the dead, cutting one’s hair and consuming drinks made from grape products) to travel a certain route which includes passing through a cemetery, is a classic example of violating the prohibition of placing a stumbling block in front of the blind.

Rabbi Joseph. B Soloveitchik asked whether someone who actually committed the absolutely heinous act of literally placing a stumbling block in front of a blind individual, would actually violate the transgression, or is it only meant figuratively, as in the case with the Nazirite? Rabbi Soloveitchik asked the question because of a few words that are found in the Sefer Hachinuch code.

The Chinuch comments on all 613 commandments (according to Maimonides’ count) and explains the rationale of each mitzvah, teaching the laws and describing who must fulfill them, and the punishment one receives when violated. At the end of the Chinuch’s 232nd mitzvah (Do not place a stumbling block in front of the blind), the author adds “there are no lashes for one who transgresses this mitzvah for there is no action associated with it.” This means, according to Rabbi Soloveitchik, that if one were to stick their foot out as a blind person walked by, causing him to trip, they would not violate this mitzvah.

But, isn’t there a rule that, ultimately, the literal meaning of a verse may not be dismissed? How then is this question addressed? Rabbi Soloveitchik answered: “It appears that placing a stone in front of a blind person is such a cruel and grotesque act that the Torah did not even think it worthy of mention. For a Jew to act with such evil intent would cause us to question his very Jewishness. Because the Torah is addressing the Jewish people exclusively, mentioning such a prohibition explicitly was unnecessary.” (Rabbi Aaron Ziegler, Halachic Positions of Rabbi Soloveitchik Vol. 1, pp. 175-176 as quoted in Chumash Mesoras HaRav)

This Treat was originally posted on May 10, 2019.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Think Before We Do

Let's consider whether the actions we plan to take should be avoided if they will likely mislead a person, and thereby, lead them astray.