Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Free To All

On June 30, 2008, the first Jewish Treat was posted to Jewishtreats.org. There were fewer than 50 people on the subscription list. Today, we are proud to say, over 3,400 people receive Jewish Treats in their inboxes every day, and hundreds more read Jewish Treats via links on Twitter and Facebook. The feedback that Jewish Treats has generated over the last twelve years is a source constant encouragement.

The seemingly limitless variety of topics that Jewish Treats have been able to present to our readers is not surprising, in light of the Talmudic passage in Nedarim 55a.

The sages of the Talmud comment on the verses in Numbers 21:18-19, which note the movements and travels of the Jewish people in what seem to be obscure locations: "From the wilderness [Midbar] to Mattanah; and from Mattanah to Nachaliel; and from Nachaliel to Bamot."

What could this possibly mean?

The sages explain, that when a person makes himself like the Midbar (a wilderness), which is free to all [meaning, he teaches Torah free of charge], the Torah is then presented to him as a Mattanah (a gift), as it says, "And from the Midbar to Mattanah." And once he has the Torah as a gift, God gives it to him as an Nachala (an inheritance), ["and from Mattanah to Nachaliel"] And when God gives it to him as an inheritance, he rises to greatness, for it says, "and from Nachaliel to Bamot (the heights)." 

Each time you, our dear recipients of Jewish Treats, gain new knowledge of your heritage, share something that you learned and enjoyed with others, or forward the e-mail of the day, you too are making yourselves into a wilderness, teaching the Torah to others without compensation. For this, God will gift you His Torah, and make you great.

On the occasion of our twelfth anniversary, Jewish Treats thanks you for your continued support.

This Treat was originally posted on June 30, 2011.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Share The Wealth

If you enjoy receiving Jewish Treats every day, share them with a friend.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Can You Be The Tenth?

That the Hebrew word "minyan" derives from the infinitive "lim'not," to count or number, is not at all surprising. A minyan is a quorum of 10, the smallest number necessary to create a formal "congregation." It is customary to have a minyan for certain religious life- cycle events (such as a brit milah - circumcision). However, most people are familiar with the term minyan in reference to prayer, since, ideally, Jewish prayer takes place with a minyan, allowing the full service to be recited. 

According to the Talmud (Megillah 23b), certain prayers of sanctity (such as Kaddish) can only be recited in the presence of a minyan. This is understood from the verse, "And I [God] shall be sanctified in the midst of the Children of Israel" (Leviticus 22:32). What constitutes being "in the midst?" Two people? Five people?

In the Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah 4:4)*, two verses are cited, in which a group of 10 is called the "Children of Israel" or "congregation." In Genesis 42:5, 10 of the 12 sons of Jacob go to Egypt to buy food. The Torah there says: "And the Children of Israel came to buy among those that come." In Numbers 14:27, 10 of the 12 scouts sent into the Land of Israel return bearing negative reports, to which an angered God responds: "How long shall I bear with this evil congregation which murmurs against me?"

We see, especially from the verse concerning the scouts, whose lack of faith leads to the punishment of the entire nation, how powerful a group of 10 can be, impacting on the very destiny of Israel. On the other hand, when Abraham prays to God to spare the city of Sodom (Genesis 18:32), he stops negotiating when he reaches 10 righteous people, indicating that a group of 10 virtuous people (but not less) can bring salvation to an entire city.

This Treat was originally posted on June 4, 2010.

*The Babylonian Talmud Brachot 21b is also a source for the equation of ten as the minimum for a congregation.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Count Me In

Once in-person gatherings resume more regularly in your community and you feel comfortable attending, make an effort to attend services with a minyan.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Filene's Credit Union

On June 26, 1934, Congress passed the Federal Credit Union Act, allowing for the creation of what is now known as CUNA (Credit Union National Association). Credit unions provide a safe place for people to save and borrow at reasonable rates. While there were many factors that led to the Credit Union Act, one of its most influential advocates was Boston businessman Edward Albert Filene (1860-1937).

The name Filene is most familiar to people in connection with the retail chain established by his father William (who changed his name from Wilhem Katz). Edward Filene, along with his younger brother Lincoln, took over the running of the business in the early 1890s and were responsible for numerous retail innovations - most notably their Automatic Bargain Basement store at which clothes purchased as seconds (overstock, warehouse clearance, etc) were priced down every six days. They also ran their business with a wide range of uncommon-at-the-time employee benefits.

In 1907, not long after the Filene's chain was acquired by Federated Department Store, Filene decided to become a world traveler. While visiting India, he became intrigued with the Agricultural Cooperative Banks that were becoming popular in the country's small villages. With government support, these cooperatives offered small business loans that would normally be denied by larger banks. He came home and began researching the principles involved and discovered that his interest in cooperative banks was widely shared, particularly among a large group of fellow descendants of German Jews (who are said to have wanted to banish the perception of the Jew as userer). The support in his home state was so strong that the Massachussetts Credit Union Association opened in 1914.

Filene traveled from state to state speaking about credit unions. When CUNA was established in 1935, Filene, through the Twentieth Century Fund Foundation, appropriated $25,000 to support it. Throughout his career, Filene found ways to make the lives of those less fortunate just a little better (affordable quality clothes, employee benefits), and he strongly believed that credit unions would offer a chance at success to a whole new segment of American society.

This post was originally posted on June 26, 2017.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Use Your Talent

If you have a special talent that will enable you to create an organization or infrastructure that will "give back" to the community, go for it!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

A Trap of Wealth

If I were a rich man...The most important men in town will come to fawn on me...When you're rich they think you really know...

The now classic words from the Broadway show "Fiddler on the Roof" speak a sad truth--people often convolute having wealth with having wisdom or deserving of leadership status. In many ways, this was the case of Korach, a cousin of Aaron, Miriam and Moses, who led a rebellion against their leadership.

The Aggadah and Midrash (extra biblical texts containing further narrative, part of the oral tradition) add some critical information about Korach that helps explain why the sages state "Which [dispute] was not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach" (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 5:17). 

Korach was used to being in charge and respected. He was not your average Israelite or even an average Levite. The Talmud maintains that Korach was a fabulously wealthy individual and records that "The keys to Korach's treasury were a load for 300 white mules." They even declared that the verse in Ecclesiastes 5:12, "Riches hoarded by their owner, to his misfortune," refers to the wealth of Korach (Talmud Pesachim 119a). Furthermore, according to the Midrash, Korach acquired his wealth as "Overseer of Pharaoh's house, and the keys to [Pharaoh's] treasuries were in his hands" (Numbers Rabbah 18:15).

One of the many underlying themes in Jewish life is to remember that all of one's blessings come from God. And yet, the more successful one is, the more easily one believes that success is solely a product of one's own efforts, which is an attitude that leads a person to seek out honor. The Midrash states about Korach: "Two men of wealth arose in the world - Korach of Israel and Haman of the nations of the world, both of whom perished from the world. Why? Because their gifts were not from the Holy One Blessed is He, rather, He allowed them to grab them for themselves" (Numbers Rabbah 12:7).

A wealthy person may be wise, or a wealthy person may be a lucky fool blessed with good fortune. It is prudent to always judge leaders not by their apparent success and wealth, but by their words, actions and wisdom.

This Treat was originally posted on June 15, 2018.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

For a Broader Understanding

Click here to read a fascinating thought from Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald about parashat Korach.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Story of Lenny Kravitz

On March 6, 1951, a platoon of American soldiers serving in the Korean War came under heavy fire by the Chinese Army near Yangpyeong, Korea. When the platoon's Machine Gunner was wounded, Private First Class Leonard Kravitz took over for his injured comrade. Shortly thereafter, the platoon was ordered to retreat. PFC Kravitz refused to withdraw, because he knew that if he left his position, the Chinese would take the advantage. His protective fire enabled a safe retreat for his comrades, but cost him his life. When the American troops retook the area, they found Kravitz's body slumped over the gun, the majority of ammunition expended and numerous enemy dead before him. Posthumously, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military award accorded to members of the United States Army.

PFC Leonard Kravitz (the uncle of the musician of the same name) was 20 years old when he was killed in action. His heroism may have remained just one of the many stories of fallen soldiers cherished by the surviving family, if not for Kravitz's close friend from his Brooklyn childhood, and fellow Korean War veteran, Mitchel Libman.

Libman was bothered that Kravitz had not received the Medal of Honor, the most prestigious American military award. He noticed that Kravitz and numerous other deserving Jewish heroes had been given lesser honors for similar acts of valor than non-Jewish servicemen who had received the Medal of Honor. In fact, not one of the 136 Medals of Honor awarded during the Korean War was given to a member of the Jewish faith.

Libman's findings turned into a multi-decade campaign that was later taken up by Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida. In 2001, Representative Wexler introduced the Jewish War Veterans Act (informally called the "Leonard Kravitz Jewish War Veterans Act"), which called for a review of Jewish veterans awarded the Distinguished Service Cross to determine if the more distinguished Medal of Honor should have been given.

On March 18, 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to Leonard Kravitz and 23 other veterans, including 17 Latinos, one African American and one Jew (Kravitz). In rectifying a national injustice, Obama stated: "Here in America, we confront our imperfections and face a sometimes painful past, including the truth that some of these soldiers fought and died for a country that did not always see them as equal." The president also honored Libman, 83 at the time, for his life-long work that made the new awards possible.

Mitchel Libman passed away in Davie, FL, on June 24, 2017.

This Treat was originally posted on November 11, 2013.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Honor Them

Recognize the selfless dedication and heroism of Jewish serviceman and all who have served valiantly helping to preserve the freedom that we so cherish.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Serving the Public

As proclaimed by the United Nations, June 23rd is "Public Service Day." In honor of this designation, today's Jewish Treat introduces Sherut Le'umi, the national Public Service system of the State of Israel.

Since the state's founding in 1948, Israel has had a national draft for all citizens 18 years or older. The fact that the Israeli Defense Force included both genders, however, was highly problematic for more traditionally observant Israelis. Life in the military was a great deviation from the strict standards of modesty with which their daughters were raised. Both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Chief Rabbis at the time (Rabbi Isaac Herzog and Rabbi Benzion Uziel, respectively) actively opposed female military conscription.

In 1953, a positive alternative was proposed: The establishment of a compulsory national service corps for those young women who had obtained a religious exemption from military service. While the idea was accepted, the actual program did not come into existence until 1971. At first, the program was specific to young women from religious homes, but, in time, the program expanded to include others: conscientious objectors, those with medical exemptions, etc., as well as Arab youth who wished to serve the country but not be part of the Israeli Defense Force.

While serving in Sherut Le'umi, these young women and men receive housing, a small living stipend, classes/programming and a number of other small benefits. They work in a wide variety of areas, including schools, hospitals, nursing homes, absorption centers and more. Many of the Arab participants are allowed to work within their own communities.

As has been found in other countries with similar programs, Sherut Le'umi offers several important benefits to the country beyond resolving the disagreement about female military conscription. The B'nei Le'umi ("Children of Service") often provide assistance to underprivileged citizens. Additionally, the participants receive potential vocational training and experience while learning about "giving back" and about the diversity of their country.

This Treat was originally posted on June 23, 2017.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Give Back

Think about ways where you can make a meaningful contribution to those in your community.

Monday, June 22, 2020

On the Canadian Prairie

Thirty-three years old at the time of his immigration, Grodno-born Rabbi Israel Isaac Kahanovitch was called to Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1906, after spending a year in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He had left his Russian homeland two years earlier in the wake of devastating pogroms and traveled across the ocean with his wife and several small children.

When Rabbi Kahanovitch and his family arrived in Winnipeg, the prairie city was still quite young and the Jewish community was composed of struggling groups of immigrants, most of whom had fled from Russia following pogroms in 1882 and 1905.

In addition to his high level of Torah knowledge, Rabbi Kahanovitch was known for his warmth, energy and dedication to the people of the region. He organized Talmud study groups and helped establish the Hebrew Free School.

In addition to his rabbinic duties in Winnipeg, Rabbi Kahanovitch traveled throughout the Canadian prairies to support the larger Jewish community. He was involved in creating a Jewish school in Regina, a synagogue in Melville (both in Saskatchewan), etc. He was often referred to as the Chief Rabbi of Western Canada.

A passionate Mizrachi Zionist, Rabbi Kahanovitch served on the National Executive of the Zionist Organization of Canada. This was not his only national activity. He was overwhelmingly elected to serve as a delegate at the first Canadian Jewish Congress in Montreal in 1919. Additionally, Rabbi Kahanovitch created Winnipeg's Unity Charity organization.

Rabbi Kahanovitch passed away on June 22, 1945. His contributions to Canadian society were recently recognized by the Canadian government. In March 2016, a plaque in his honor was unveiled by Parks Canada, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada.

On September 1, 1905, Alberta and Saskatchewan, two of the three prairie provinces, joined the Canadian confederation.

This Treat was originally posted on September 1, 2016.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate Their Concern

Study the history of Rabbis who helped build many of the thriving Jewish communities across North America.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Don't Wake Dad

You receive a telephone call offering you ten million dollars; all you have to do is go upstairs and wake your father from his mid-day nap. Who'd hesitate?

The Talmud tells an interesting story in praise of Dama, son of Nethinah, a non-Jew, who went to great lengths to honor his father: "Go forth and see what a certain heathen, Dama son of Nethinah by name, did in Ashkelon. The Sages once desired merchandise from him, in which there was six-hundred-thousand [gold denarii] profit, but the key [to the vault] was lying under his father's [head], and so he did not trouble [wake] him" (Kiddushin 31a).

This story highlights an interesting conundrum. Beyond food, shelter and clothing, the halacha does not require a person to make financial sacrifices in order to honor one's parents. But, waking one's parent would be a transgression of the Fifth Commandment.* Perhaps that is why "Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said that the most difficult to observe of all the 613 commandments is 'Honor your father and mother'" (Tanhuma, Ekev 2).

Honoring your mother and father, while it sounds like instructions for a child, is a mitzvah that one must perform throughout one's adult life. As children grow into adults, the relationship one has with one's parents is also constantly changing.

*If the parent would be distressed at the financial loss, one would be allowed to wake him or her.

This Treat was originally posted on June 20, 2011.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Thank Dad!

Remember to call dad and show him the honor he deserves.

Friday, June 19, 2020

World Sauntering Day

In Jewish life there is great admiration for a character trait known as z'reezut, which is often translated as zealousness. The word z'reezut actually comes from the root zayin-reish-zayin, which is associated with the concept of haste and speed.

Acting with z'reezut does not mean that one should rush through the day, but, rather, that when a person has the opportunity to perform a mitzvah, it should be done with deliberate speed. This idea applies to activities like arriving early to synagogue services as well as responding to unexpected opportunities, like helping provide meals for community members in need.

In a culture where z'reezut is a positive character trait, what can be said about a day designated for sauntering, walking slowly in a casual manner? World Sauntering Day (June 19th) may imply a call to behave in a lazy manner, but, in fact, it was meant by its creator, W.T. Rabe, to be a way to encourage people to slow down and appreciate the world.

Jewish living is about balance. One needs to know the appropriate time for z'reezut and the appropriate time for "sauntering." Indeed, one does not have to exclude the other. Slowing down allows one to be more aware of others, which may provide a chance to discover new mitzvah opportunities (which one can then hurry to take care of).

As interesting as it may be that there exists such a thing as World Sauntering Day, Judaism has an inner mechanism for slowing down and appreciating the world. Once a week, Shabbat provides Jews with an "oasis of time" to truly slow down. In fact, that day is so significant that the preparations for it are often done with z'reezut.

This post was originally posted on June 19, 2014.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Prepare Today

Employ z'reezut, deliberate speed, today so you will be able to saunter and really enjoy a relaxing and uplifting Shabbat.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Why Were Scouts of the Promised Land Needed?

The most devastating punishment meted out by God in the Torah is described in this week's parasha. 

God commands Moses to send 12 scouts - one representing each tribe - to reconnoiter the Promised Land that the Children of Israel were poised to enter. Rashi (Numbers13:2) claims that God did not command Moses to dispatch the spies, but rather, Moses could send them at his own discretion, since members of the Children of Israel had approached him, asking for a scouting report of their future homeland. Rashi's comments are based on Biblical sources later (Deuteronomy 1:21-23), where Moses recounts how the scouting mission began:

"Behold, the Lord your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the Lord God of your fathers has said to you; fear not, nor be discouraged. And you came near me every one of you, and said, we will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by which way we must go up, and to what cities we shall come. And the saying pleased me well; and I took twelve men of you, one from each tribe..."

The scouts returned with a report based on facts presented out of context, that were meant to intimidate and scare the people, and their plan worked. God told the Jewish people over the age of 20 that as a result of believing the "fake news" about the Land of Israel reported by ten of the twelve scouts, they would not enter the Land of Israel. Tradition states that since the women and the entire tribe of Levi refused to believe the report, they were not included in the punishment.

If Moses resented the request to send scouts, hoping the Children of Israel would trust God to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey, why were the scouts ultimately allowed to be sent in the first place?

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik explained, that although the Children of Israel should have trusted God completely, there is precedent for why the scouts should have seen the land prior to entering it.

Moses needed no military intelligence when the Jews left Egypt, and he needed none here. Moses knew very well that the entry to the Land of Israel would be accompanied by miracles, as was the Exodus. There was no need to send spies to collect intelligence data. Instead, Moses acted in accordance with the principle that one must not propose to, let alone wed, a woman he does not know, no matter how highly recommended she may be (Talmud Kiddushin 41a). (Chumash Mesoras Harav, Sefer Bamidbar, with commentary based upon the teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, pp. 99).

It was necessary for the scouts to actually see the land, before the "marriage" with the Land of Israel was consummated.

This Treat was originally posted on June 28, 2019.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Accurate Reporting

Be sure, when sent on assignment, to report back with an accurate account of what transpired.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Disputation of Paris

The month of June in the year 1240 C.E. was not a good time for the Jews of Europe. The trouble began with a Jewish apostate named Nicholas Donin. Wanting, perhaps, to prove his loyalty and faith to the church, he sent a letter listing 35 charges against the Talmud, many of them details of texts reputedly belittling Jesus or Mary, telling seemingly lewd stories or relaying other "offensive" messages. The letter went to Pope Gregory IX and a debate was arranged at which Donin would argue his charges against four prominent French rabbis: Rabbi Yechiel of Paris, Rabbi Moses of Coucy, Rabbi Judah of Melum and Rabbi Samuel the son of Solomon of Chateau-Thierry.

The "Disputation of Paris," as the debate came to be known, was a dispute with a foregone outcome. Although the rabbis were guaranteed their safety by the queen so that they would be free to respond, there were strict limitations on what they were allowed to say about Christianity and the Church.

The Chief Jewish spokesman, Rabbi Yechiel, responded well during the Disputation and was able to reply to and reframe the derogatory accusation of Donin. For instance, he argued that in the points brought up referring to Jesus, it was simply a matter of two men with the same name, and that these passages that they found derogatory were discussing a different man named Jesus.

Not surprisingly, the Disputation ended with a condemnation of the Talmud and other rabbinic writings. It was determined that these holy Jewish texts should be confiscated and destroyed. Two years later, 24 cartload of Hebrew books, including many volumes of the Talmud, were brought to Paris and burnt, this, at a time before the printing press, when every volume was copied by hand! So great was the loss that the date of the burning of the Talmud was subsequently marked as a fast day that was observed by many European Jewish communities in the Hebrew month of Sivan.

The mass burning of the Talmud in the aftermath of the Disputation in Paris took place on June 17, 1244.

This Treat was originally posted on June 12, 2017.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.


How Fortunate

Consider how lucky we are today to be able to study the Talmud freely in multiple languages with full translation.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Making it Transfusable

This past Sunday, June 14, was World Blood Day. Today's Jewish Treats takes a brief look at the Jewish researchers who made safe blood transfusions possible.

In 1901, Karl Landsteiner (June 14, 1868 - June 26, 1943) discovered that people have different types of blood, and by 1909 he was able to begin labelling the different blood types. Born in Vienna, Landsteiner attended the University of Vienna, where, after several years of outside research, he became a professor. In 1919, Landsteiner moved to The Hague, from where he was recruited in 1922 by the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York. Receiving the Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine for his work on blood types in 1930, Landsteiner was involved in important research in immunology, pathology and hematology. During his work at the Rockefeller Institute, he collaborated with two other well-known Jewish hematological researchers, Alexander Wiener and Philip Levine.

Alexander Solomon Wiener (March 16, 1907 - November 6, 1976), a life-long New Yorker, was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. At 15, he received a scholarship to Cornell University. Afterward, while attending the Long Island College of Medicine, Wiener began doing research on blood groups at the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital alongside Landsteiner. While working on creating a blood "fingerprint," they discovered the RH +/- factor. They named this blood factor RH in honor of the rhesus monkeys that they used as test subjects. It was Wiener who was responsible for recognizing the trouble that incompatible RH factors caused in blood transfusions; RH+ given to an RH- patient will cause the creation of dangerous antibodies. An interesting sidenote: Due to his research furthering the development of forensics and criminal identification, Wiener was made an honorary member of the Mystery Writers of America.

Philip Levine (August 10, 1900 - October 18, 1987) moved to New York from Kletsk, Russia, when he was 8 years old. He attended City College and Cornell University, after which he worked as Landsteiner's assistant. From 1932-1935, Levine led a research team at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, but returned east for a position at Newark Beth Israel. Based on the research findings on RH+/-, Levine hypothesized correctly that this was the cause of hemolytic disease of newborns. Together with Wiener, Levine created a transfusion procedure that saved the lives of an untold number of infants.

This post was originally posted on June 14, 2016.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Be Thankful

Consider the wonderful accomplishments of many Jewish researchers in the field of hematology and how these discoveries have positively impacted upon humankind.

Monday, June 15, 2020

In Arkansas

Jewish life in Arkansas began in 1825 with the arrival of Abraham Block to the town of Washington in Hempstead County. For Block and his family, however, it was a very lonely Jewish existence, as it was several decades until there were enough Jews in the area to form a community. When the Civil War began in 1861, there were approximately 300 Jews in the state, 70 of whom fought for the Confederacy.

The first two Jewish congregations in the state were founded in 1866, within a few days of each other: B'nai Israel in Little Rock and Anshe Emeth (which held its final service on June 11, 2016) in Pine Bluff. The state had one particularly interesting legislative impediment for Jews. When the first rabbis moved to Arkansas, they discovered that they were unable to perform weddings due to a law requiring that a Christian minister officiate at all nuptials. The Jewish community successfully lobbied the legislature, and the law was changed to include rabbis.

In the 1930s, the scattered Arkansas Jewish communities decided to coordinate and consolidate. They created the Arkansas Jewish Assembly, which helped to provide Jewish education and to connect unaffiliated Jews with Jewish organizations. It lasted for nearly two decades, but ended abruptly upon the death of its president, Jack Botnick, in 1951. Local Jewish Federations took over most of the Assembly's services.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, the Jewish population of Arkansas in 2019, was just over 2,225. Today, is the anniversary of Arkansas becoming the 25th state of the United States in 1836.

This post was originally posted on June 15, 2017.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Making a Difference

Appreciate the actions taken by individuals and Jewish organizations to foster Jewish education and connect unaffiliated Jews within your local community.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Who Lights The Shabbat Candles?

While lighting Shabbat candles is generally considered a "woman's mitzvah," and is traditionally performed by the woman of the house, it is actually an obligation of the entire household. If a man is living alone or the one who usually lights is away, candles must still be lit. In fact, the Talmud encourages every husband to be involved in preparing before Shabbat to assure that the Shabbat candles are properly arranged. Many men, therefore, have the custom of preparing the candles for their wives.

One could mistakenly surmise that the custom of candle lighting as the woman's mitzvah is based on practicality. After all, in most households, women are most active in creating the Shabbat atmosphere of the home.

Tradition states, however, that the connection of Jewish women to candle lighting dates back to the matriarch Sarah. According to the Midrash (cited by the great sage Rashi on Genesis 24:67), a candle burned miraculously in Sarah's tent from one Friday evening to the next. When she died, the candle and its glow vanished. When Isaac's bride Rebecca moved into Sarah's tent, however, the miracle of the light returned.

Just as the matriarchs lit a candle on Friday evening to welcome Shabbat, so too have Jewish women, from ancient times until the present, welcomed the Shabbat with the lighting of the candles.

This post was originally posted on February 27, 2013.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Add Radiance to your Home!

Learn how to bring peace and radiance into your home tonight by lighting Shabbat candles. Click here.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Jews' Hospital of New York

Healthcare is a topic that is frequently in the news these days and is a major part of the current public discourse.

Before it became standard practice for governments to fund public hospitals, most hospitals were under religious auspices. (Thus the heroes of historical fiction are often cared for by sympathetic nuns.)

Because of both religious discrimination and the specific needs of the community, it was not uncommon to find specifically Jewish hospitals in major cities. One excellent example of the development of Jewish hospitals in America is The Jews' Hospital of New York (now known as Mount Sinai Hospital), which was founded in 1852.

Although there were nine representatives of Jewish charities who agreed to the creation of a charity hospital for Jews, the name most closely aligned with the launch of The Jews' Hospital is Sampson Simson (1780-1857), an American born Jewish philanthropist. Not only did Simson donate the land on which the hospital was built (West 28th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues), he also served as the first president of the Board of Directors.

The Jews' Hospital of New York accepted its first patient on the 19th of Sivan (June 5) 1855. While people of all faiths were welcome, the majority of patients were immigrant Jews. With the outbreak of the Civil War, however, the demands for the hospital's facilities greatly increased.

Having expanded its mission to accommodate the war, The Jews' Hospital formally retired its sectarian charter in 1866 and renamed itself The Mount Sinai Hospital. The formerly Jewish hospital was, however, better able to care for the religious needs of its Jewish patients (Kosher food) and offered opportunities that Jewish medical professionals might not have found elsewhere in those times when Jews were barred from certain professions and suffered academic quotas.

Today Mount Sinai Hospital continues the tradition of providing opportunities to Jewish patients as can be seen in the hospital's brochure entitled "Resources for Jewish patients and Visitors." Please click here to see the brochure.

This post was originally posted on May 28, 2013.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Kosher Food?

If you or a family member require hospital care, make certain to inquire whether Kosher food is available.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

You Say It's Your Birthday

January, March, June or November (or any of the other months not listed)...Nope, that's not the birthday about which we are writing. Jewish Treats wants to know: Do you know your Hebrew birthday?

Knowing the date of one's Hebrew birthday can be an important building block in one's Jewish identity. There are two reasons why one might want to have this information. The obvious reason is that two birthday parties are better than one! (Hey, you've got lots to celebrate, right!)

On a more serious note, however, the Jerusalem Talmud (Rosh Hashana 3:8) relates that a person has a special mazal on his/her date of birth on the Hebrew calendar. "Mazal" is a difficult word to translate, often defined as luck or fortune. Mazal, however, is a much more spiritual concept--it is the spiritual influence that affects a specific person or time. Some days are known to have particularly good or particularly bad mazal. For instance, the ninth of Av (Tisha b'Av - the date of the destruction of the Holy Temples) is a day of notoriously bad mazal for the entire Jewish nation.

A person's birthday is a day of positive mazal for that person, because it is a day that represents "potential." Great leaders of Jewish life have viewed birthdays in many different ways. Some have felt that a birthday is a day meant for introspection, reflection and resolution for the future. Others have used it as a day to celebrate with those close to them, or to bring the celebration to others by handing out tzedakah (charity) and brachot (blessings).

So now that you know the significance of this date in your life, we repeat: Do you know your Hebrew birthday?! (If the answer is no, click here to find the date.)

This Treat was originally posted on January 21, 2009.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Plan Ahead

Use your birthday as a time of reflection and also as an opportunity to set goals for establishing a stronger connection to Jewish life.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Watch Your Language

Once upon a time in American culture, defiant children who uttered certain improper words would have their mouths washed out with soap. Today, the profanities litter the world of common media. But just because society has allowed the vulgar to become the norm does not mean that this is the proper way for anyone to speak.

Crass language, referred to in Jewish sources as nivul peh, is discussed in several places in the Talmud. For instance, Rabbah ben Shila said in Rabbi Chisda's name: "He who puts his mouth to folly, Gehinnom [Hell] is made deep for him, as it is said (Proverbs 22:14), 'A deep pit is for the mouth [that speaks] perversity." (Talmud Shabbat 33a).

It is the ability to speak that defines humanity from the rest of the "animal world," and how one uses that gift often reflects how a person views him/herself and the world. Rabbi Joshua the son of Levi said, "One should not utter a gross expression from one's mouth" (Talmud Pesachim 3a) while the School of Rabbi Ishmael taught: "One should always discourse in decent language... and it is said (Job 15:5), 'and you shall choose the tongue of the subtle,' and it is said (Job 33:3), 'and that which my lips know they shall speak purely'" (Talmud Pesachim 3a).

Maintaining purity of speech is not limited to simply refraining from cursing, but should also include being conscious of all the words that one uses. It is interesting to note that most expletives in English are based on body functions, particularly "romantic" functions. Jewish texts, however, are filled with euphemisms. "Said Rabbi Chanon the son of Rab, 'All know for what purpose a bride is brought into the bridal chamber, but whoever disgraces his mouth and utters a vulgarity, even if a [Divine] decree of 70 years of happiness were sealed for him, it is turned for him into evil'" (Talmud Ketubot 8b). 

This post was originally posted on May 8, 2017.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Use Care

Remember that our speech reflects who we are.

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Surgery Is Elective

In the late twentieth century, there was, according to anecdotal evidence, an epidemic of "deviated septum" among American Jewish girls. The implication, along with many not-so-funny jokes, was that many young Jewish women were finding medical reasons to have rhinoplasty ("nose jobs"). Today, in the 21st century, cosmetic surgery and rhinoplasty are basic and easily available options and have moved from being a tabloid title of derision to being an advertised standard option for anyone.

Pikuach nefesh, saving a life, is always a primary priority in halacha (Jewish law) discussions. But, plastic surgery, particularly elective procedures done purely for aesthetic purposes, does not fall into the life-saving category, and one might wonder if these procedures are therefore allowed according to Jewish law. This question has been discussed by many important halachic experts since the 1960s, when the practice first became popular.

One common argument raised in the discussion of cosmetic surgery is the religious prohibition of chavala, injuring one's body. However, it is commonly accepted, as explained by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides/Rambam), that this prohibition refers specifically to hostile actions.

Another primary point made, is the question of safety. It is not permissible to put one's life in danger unnecessarily, and many cosmetic procedures require general anesthesia. Advances in technology and medicine, however, have made those risks negligible in most cases. Pikuach nefesh raises the issue of health and healing, the validity of which many may question when discussing cosmetic surgery. However, in many cases, the benefit of the surgery is to heal a person's emotional needs by helping to create a positive sense of self, which can be just as important as a healthy body.

Like most choices filtered through a Jewish lens, every case of elective surgery involves an individual halachic decision and one should always discuss such issues with a rabbi. This

Treat was originally posted on June 14, 2018.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jewish Ramifications?

Consider the Jewish angle when contemplating elective surgery.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Eat and Save

"Eat your peas! There are children starving in Africa!" "No dessert until you eat all the food on your plate!" "Waste not, want not."

Today, June 5, 2020, is the United Nations Environment Programme's World Environment Day. The theme of the day is "Think.Eat.Save." Its focus is on preventing food waste.

The pithy little sayings above, credited to parents around the world, have a fascinating basis in Jewish life. Judaism not only expects individuals to demonstrate gratitude for the food they have, but to also take measures not to waste that food.

Judaism's waste management program for food actually begins in the field, when the Torah instructs the farmer to allow those in need to collect that which is left on the ground after the harvest. Not only is this a lesson in giving charity, but it is also a built-in system to help decrease food waste.

The most prominent halacha (Jewish law) that deals with preventing food waste is known as bal tashchit. This translates to "dare not waste," and Judaism's goal is not to wantonly waste. The concept of bal tashchit is derived from the commandment not to destroy fruit bearing trees, but is understood within Jewish law to refer to any situation of waste or wanton destruction.

In honor of Think.Eat.Save., Jewish Treats presents three suggestions to help fulfill the mitzvah of bal tashchit:

1) Review the contents of your pantry and refrigerator on a regular basis so that food is eaten or given away to those in need before it spoils.

2) Find creative ways to re-serve leftovers.

3) If you host a party or event, arrange in advance with a food bank or similar recycling organization to receive the leftovers from the event for proper distribution.

This Treat was originally posted on June 5, 2013.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Plan It Out

Set an example for others and try to avoid waste.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Who Was a Nazirite?

One of the topics found in Parashat Naso concerns the Nazirite. The Nazirite is a man or woman who vows to avoid the vices of wine and grape products, to avoid any contact with the dead and does not cut his/her hair.

The Biblical verse (Numbers 6:7) declares that a Nazirite may not come in contact with the dead, states as follows: "He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die; because the consecration of his God is upon his head."

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, of blessed memory, Dean of New York's Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, noted that when the Torah describes (Leviticus 21:1-3) the deceased family members with whom a Kohen (priest) may come in contact, the list is more expansive. "God said to Moses; Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and you shall say to them: a dead person he shall not become impure among his people; except for his relative who is closest to him (his wife), to his mother, and to his father; to his son, to his daughter, and to his brother; and to his virgin sister who is close to him, who has not been unto a man; for her he shall make himself impure."

Why, asks, Rabbi Kamenetsky, when the Torah describes those for whom the priest may come in contact with the dead, the list includes parents, spouses, children and siblings, yet when the Torah lists those for whom the Nazirite may not defile himself or herself, the list is limited to parents and siblings?

Rabbi Kamenetsky offers a brilliant insight. Being a Kohen is not an optional status for a young man, as it is determined at birth purely by lineage. A Nazirite, however, is a voluntary vow that an individual chooses to make. What type of person swears off wine, haircuts and contact with the dead? An idealistic, somewhat ascetic young person! As such, there is no mention of children and spouses because the Nazirite has probably not attained a point in life where they have married and had children. Rabbi Kamenetsky cites a verse in Amos (2:11) and a Talmudical passage (Nedarim 9b) as support for his thesis.

The ability to alter one's life drastically, as is seen by the actions of the Nazirite, cannot be accomplished by someone established in years. Rabbi Kamenetsky understood that young people are more prone to make drastic changes and adopt idealistic actions such as that of a Nazirite.

This Treat was originally posted on June 13, 2019.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Dig Deeper

Click here to read a fascinating thought from Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald about Parashat Naso.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Book Respect

Because of the centrality of the Torah in Jewish life, the Jewish people are known as, "The People of the Book." Perhaps the Jewish people could also be known as, "The People of the Books," for books, in general, are central to Jewish life.

It is not just that Jewish scholars have produced countless books - on Jewish law, midrash (legends), traditions, biblical commentary and more - but it is also the way Judaism prescribes that books, particularly sefarim (holy volumes) be treated with utmost reverence. In traditional circles, the Hebrew word for book, sefer (sefarim in plural) is used to refer to religious works. In most traditional Jewish homes, a bookshelf filled with sefarim is often situated in a central place in the house. 

Traditionally, there are basic practices for how one should care for their sefarim. One of the most common and noticeable customs is that if a sefer falls on the floor, it should be picked up immediately, and many are in the habit of kissing it (as a sign of one's respect and love for the volume's contents and for Judaism) before returning it to its proper place. Similarly, some people will lightly kiss a sefer before and after use. Placement of sefarim is also important. A sefer should not be left upside down either on a shelf (with the words reversed on the spine) or on a table (with the cover face down). Many people are also careful not to place a sefer on the same surface (e.g. a chair or bench) on which a person is sitting.

Traditionally, one refrains from placing items or secular books on top of the holy sefarim. It is also interesting to note that there is a hierarchy in the placement of sefarim. Rabbinic writing, including Talmudic volumes, should not be placed on top of books of Tanach (the 24 books of the Bible): Five Books of Moses, Books of Prophets, Books of Writing. If one makes a pile of books of Tanach, the Five Books of Moses should be placed on top of Books of the Prophets, and the Writings at the bottom.

This Treat was originally posted on April 13, 2018.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Show Reverence

Place your Jewish books in a central bookcase so it will be clear how much you cherish them.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Great Sanhedrin

In ancient times, the court system of Israel was dominated by two forms of large courts. The smaller of the large courts known as "Small Sanhedrins," were composed of 23 sages each, and were located throughout the land of Israel. The large court, composed of 71 of the greatest sages of Israel, known as the Great Sanhedrin, served as both a judicial court and a legislative body and sat in the semi-circular "Chamber of Hewn Stones" in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

As a legislative body, the Great Sanhedrin played a critical role in interpreting Jewish law. In fact, the Torah scholarship of the 71 sages was considered so great that the members of the "Great Sanhedrin" were empowered to enact new laws, if necessary.

The judicial system of ancient Israel revolved around the testimony of witnesses. In order to convict a person of theft or of a physical crime, a minimum of two witnesses was necessary. To disprove his accusers, the defendant could also bring witnesses.

In capital cases, the Great Sanhedrin appointed different judges to investigate the evidence of both sides and report their findings to the assemblage. One interesting provision of the Great Sanhedrin's procedures was that if a person in a capital case was convicted unanimously, the conviction was overturned and the person was acquitted on the grounds that the defense had not been properly and thoroughly presented, as evidenced by the unanimous guilty verdict.

After the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., the Great Sanhedrin reconvened in Yavneh and afterwards in various cities in the Galilee, before being disbanded in 425 C.E.

This Treat was originally posted on February 5, 2009.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Choose the Right Forum

Although there is no Great Sanhedrin today, there are Batei Din, local Jewish courts that serve as the proper forum for Jews who feel they need to litigate their disputes.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Keeping Those Hands Clean

Hand-washing is currently a hot topic due to COVID-19. Since Jewish law emphasizes cleanliness and promotes guarding one's health, Judaism has always been ahead of the game when it comes to hygiene issues.

It should be noted, that the Jewish customs of frequent hand-washing and the high value placed on personal cleanliness may actually have had an impact on world history. In the Middle Ages, when entire villages were at times decimated by the Black Plague, Jews had a significantly lower rate of infection. Unfortunately, many peasants assumed that this was because the Jews were spreading the disease or poisoning the wells, and many Jewish lives were lost as a result.

If only they had known that the plague was spread by fleas on rats, and that the Jewish populace was far less affected because of the natural hygiene built into Jewish observance.

Jewish law strongly recommends washing one's hands after using the facilities and before eating (especially when eating bread). Hygienic? Certainly. But, in this case, water is used to remove "spiritual impurities" that come upon the hands from touching certain body parts or due to general contact with a not-so-clean, physical world (a Kabbalistic idea).

Jews are charged by the Torah to strive for a level of holiness (Leviticus 19:2), which is accomplished through preparing for, and participating in, holy activities. Washing one's hands before eating turns eating into a holy act ("We eat to live!" - Proverbs 13:25). Washing after leaving the restroom enables one to properly participate in a holy act. Many people also wash their hands before prayer. The significance is obvious.

In the first two examples we've cited, washing of hands is followed immediately by the recitation of a blessing. The washing and the blessing help us recognize that food is a gift of God and enables us to acknowledge God's role in allowing our bodies to function properly.

This Treat was originally posted on August 1, 2008.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Wash Well

At this difficult time, let's do our part to be especially careful to make sure that we wash our hands regularly and thoroughly.