Friday, July 31, 2020

Shabbat Nachamu

The Shabbat following the fast of Tisha b’Av (the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av) is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Consolation, referring to the opening words of the haftarah, the weekly reading from the Prophets. It is the first of seven haftarot noted for their theme of consolation.

Having just emerged from the time of deepest mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temples, our despair is tempered by God’s constant optimistic promise--while our people may be laid low at times by our enemies, we shall be redeemed by God and our Temple will be rebuilt.

The haftarah of Shabbat Nachamu begins with the words: “Nachamu, nachamu ami, yomar Eh’lo’hey’chem.” Be comforted, be comforted My people, will say your God. (Isaiah 40:1).

Isaiah lived and prophesied at the time when Israelite kingdoms were threatened by the Assyrians. This was more than 100 years before the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple.

Through his prophecy, however, Isaiah was able to see that these great tragedies would be only temporary and that God would not only bring back the Jews from exile, but would also rebuild the Holy Temple. It is commonly understood that the double language of “Nachamu, nachamu” is an allusion to the destruction of both the First and the Second Temples and the redemptions that would follow.

This Treat was originally posted on July 31, 2009.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Finding Reassurance and Comfort

Take heart from the words "Nachamu, nachamu ami," found in this week's haftarah, assuring that the Holy Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt, hopefully, speedily in our days.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Girl in the Red Coat

Except for one girl's red coat depicted in a scene taking place in the Krakow Ghetto, and the opening and closing scenes in Steven Spielberg’s 1994 Academy Award winning “Schindler’s List,” the entire movie was presented in black and white. The camera followed this young girl as the haunting tune of the famed Yiddish lullaby, “Oyfn Pripetchik,” played in the background.

One of the ways to comprehend mass tragedy is to focus on individuals. By understanding one personal tragic story we can better comprehend mass tragedy. On Tisha b’Av, the sages wrote kinnot (elegies) about the loss of individuals, in order to foster better comprehension of the magnitude of the mass tragedies that we mourn on Tisha b’Av.

Following is a brief review of some of these kinnot

Kinnah number 11 describes the tragedy of King Josiah. The opening line of the kinnah is taken from Chronicles II 35:25, and the text is considered by some to be Jeremiah’s eulogy upon King Josiah’s death. Rashi proclaims that the sad story of Josiah needs to be invoked during every tragedy for the Jewish people.

Menashe, born to the righteous King Hezekiah and his queen, the daughter of the prophet Isaiah, became one of the most vile and immoral kings in Jewish history. As but one example, Menashe replaced the name of God with his own name in all Torah scrolls. Menashe’s son, Josiah, was purposely prevented from learning Jewish theology and rituals. On one fortuitous occasion, Josiah found a single uncorrupted Torah scroll and opened it to the portion containing the rebukes that set forth the consequences for shunning God’s word. With his new-found knowledge, he caused a great renaissance in Jewish observance. He died tragically, and so did his religious renewal movement. As he lay dying, Jeremiah hears the King Josiah declare that God is righteous.

The 21st kinnah describes the martyred death of eight of ten leading rabbis during the Hadrianic persecutions of the first century CE. The deaths of the ten, according to the kinnah, was to atone for the sin committed by ten of Joseph’s brothers centuries earlier, who sold Joseph as a slave. Among those killed by the Romans for illicitly teaching Torah are Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, Rabbi Akiva and the other greatest rabbis of that period. The legends surrounding their deaths also stress their piety in accepting this difficult Divine decree.

Finally, the 34th kinnah recounts the untimely death of Zechariah the prophet/High Priest, on Shabbat Yom Kippur in the Holy Temple, as described in the Talmud (Gittin 57b, Sanhedrin 96b). Zechariah reprimanded the Jewish people for bringing an idol to the Temple. In response, a mob summarily murdered, arguably, the holiest man, on the holiest day, in the holiest place on earth. There could not have been a more irreverent crime. After the murder, Zechariah’s blood continued to spew forth; nothing would clot the fountain of flowing blood. Upon seeing this, Nebuzaradan, the chief Babylonian executioner, attempted to kill enough priests and sages to atone for the sin and cause the blood fountain to stop, but nothing would quiet the spewing blood. At one point Nebuzaradan turned to God, calling out, “Is it not sufficient? Shall I continue to kill everyone?” Finally, the blood stopped flowing. The Talmud claims that Nebuzaradan converted to Judaism as a result of this episode.

In order to grasp the enormity of mass tragedy, we must try to perceive the loss of individuals, and only then, when magnifying the tragedy, begin to absorb the scope of this immense calamity.

This Treat was originally posted on August 6, 2019.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Contemplating Tragedy

Read the kinnot and contemplate why so many terrible calamities have been brought upon the Jewish people throughout Jewish history.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Tisha b'Av

Tonight, at sunset, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar begins. Known as the Fast of the 9th of Av (Tisha b'Av), the observances of the day are very similar to Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. In addition to fasting (no food or drink) for a 25 hour period from sundown Wednesday to nightfall on Thursday, additional restrictions include refraining from washing, using lotions, wearing leather shoes and marital relations.

Aside from the synagogue service, there are two major distinctions between Yom Kippur and Tisha b'Av: 1. Work (creative labor) is permitted on Tisha b’Av, and 2. Tisha b’Av’s customs are mourning oriented, while Yom Kippur’s observances have a more joyous tone as we celebrate our anticipated absolution from sin via the suppression of our physical needs. After all, on Yom Kippur we are compared to angels (which is also why we wear white).

Like the 17th of Tammuz, there are five events commemorated on Tisha b'Av (Mishna Taanit 4:6).

1. God’s decree that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

2. The destruction of the First Temple.

3. The destruction of the Second Temple.

4. The end of the Bar Kochba revolt, when the Romans destroyed the city of Betar.

5. The city of Jerusalem was plowed over by Turnus Rufus, a Roman general.

Click here for later events on this date.

This Treat is posted annually in honor of Tisha b’Av.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Saddest Day

Given the numerous tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout the centuries on Tisha b'Av, contemplate what we each can do in our own lives to improve our actions and become better people.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

A Woman In Charge: Bessie Gotsfeld

Mizrachi Women's Organization of America (MWOA, known today as AMIT - Americans for Israel and Torah) began as part of Mizrachi of America. Its separate identity was the direct result of the efforts of Bessie Goldstein Gotsfeld.

Polish born, Bessie (Baike) Goldstein came to New York in 1905, at age 17, and married her English tutor, Mendel Gotsfeld, four years later. During the first seven years of married life, the Gotsfelds lived in Seattle, Washington, and Bessie got to know, and was inspired by, the rabbinical leadership of the Mizrachi movement. They represented religious Jews who supported the Zionist dream of building a Jewish state in the Promised Land. They did not, however, agree that the State should have only secular public education, and advocated for religious public education as well. Mizrachi’s motto was: “The Land of Israel, for the people of Israel, in accordance with the law of Israel.”

When the Gotsfelds returned to New York in 1918, Bessie increased her involvement with Mizrachi. The women of the Mizrachi proved themselves to be extraordinary fund-raisers. At the 1925 American Mizrachi Convention, Gotsfeld led the leaders of the other women’s branches to declare a separate women’s organization (MWOA) that would administer and support its own projects. According to reports, later that year, when one of the organization's leaders realized “how much money the women had raised, he insisted that the funds be turned over to him. Bessie replied that the ladies would consider his request and inform him of their decision at some other time.”*

MWOA focused on establishing schools for religious students in Israel. Bessie traveled to Jerusalem to find their first school building, which MWOA refurbished as a vocational school. In 1931, Bessie and Mendel settled in Tel Aviv, and she became MWOA’s “Palestine representative.” Over the next 17 years, Bessie helped establish three more schools, two farm village education centers and numerous other facilities to benefit children.

Bessie Gotsfeld retired in 1948, but remained involved in the organization until her death on July 29, 1962.

*Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America: Native American. Rosemary Skinner Keller, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Marie Cantlon.

This Treat was originally posted on July 29, 2013.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

For Religious Education

Acknowledge the good work of AMIT, which runs over 100 schools and programs as part of Israel's only government-recognized network of religious Jewish education.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Terrror at the Olympics

On July 27, 1996, the world was startled when a pipe bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia. The bomb killed one person directly, another indirectly (heart attack) and injured 111 others.

The Atlanta bombing, which was an act of domestic terrorism by one man, was not the first, nor the most horrifying act of terrorism to affect the summer Olympics. That sad distinction belongs to the Munich Olympics of 1972, when terrorists from the Palestinian Black September organization led an attack against the Israeli athletes in Munich’s Olympic Village, where the athletes were housed.

The well-planned attack began in the early hours of the morning when the terrorists climbed the fence of the Olympic Village and entered the Israelis' housing unit. The Israelis resisted the attack and two were immediately killed trying to stop the terrorists. Seven team members were able to escape. The remaining nine were taken hostage.

The terrorists demanded the release of 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails, as well as members of the German Red Army Faction being held in German prisons. The German government agreed to arrange air transportation to Egypt for the terrorists and their hostages, but were hoping to use the change of location as an opportunity to take down the terrorists. Unfortunately, the German police forces were under-armed and generally unprepared at the airport. The terrorists quickly realized that they had entered a trap and murdered the hostages before blowing up the helicopters in which they had been brought to the airport.

Five of the eight terrorists were killed at the airport. The other three were arrested by the Germans, only to be released at the demand of the hijackers of a Lufthansa airplane about seven weeks later.

Beyond the bloodshed, what is perhaps most shocking about the events at the 1972 Munich Olympics is how little they actually affected the games. In fact, the athletic competitions continued for several hours before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to suspend the Games for one day.

On September 6th, the day after the massacre, a memorial service was held in the Olympic Stadium, but little else was done to acknowledge the terrible tragedy.

This Treat was originally posted on July 27, 2012.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Recognize Evil

Unfortunately we have to recognize terror for what it is; pure evil.

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Words Are The Things

In Hebrew, the Book of Deuteronomy is known as Sefer Devarim. Its name is derived from the fact that the Hebrew word devarim is the first noun that appears in the book, which begins with the words: “Eleh ha’d’varim...” These are the words...

The word devarim, however, is an interesting word. Derived from the Hebrew word l’dabair, to speak, it is usually translated as “words.” However, devarim may also be translated as “things.” This makes perfect sense when one recalls that the Al-mighty created the world through speech (“And God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light,” Genesis 1:3).

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” goes the old childhood song. According to Jewish thought, however, words are as powerful and substantive as physical things. Given that words in Judaism are considered to be actual things, one can see why our faith puts so strong an emphasis on guarding one’s tongue, reciting one’s blessings aloud and staying faithful to one’s vows.

Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Five Books of Moses, contains the transmission of Moses’ final teachings to the Israelites. The sages refer to Devarim as the Mishneh Torah, the Repetition of the Torah, because it appears to relay, in Moses' own words, much of what has already been recorded in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers: “These are the words which Moses spoke unto all Israel” (Deuteronomy 1:1).The Book of Devarim is about the things that occurred to the Children of Israel, about their good times and bad, their battles and triumphs and the way the words that God related through Moses, helped form the Israelites into the great nation that was on the cusp of entering the Promised Land.

This Treat was originally posted on July 23, 2009.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Gain Deeper Insight

To help us prepare for parashat Devarim, this Shabbat, also known as Shabbat Chazon, click here to read a fascinating explanation by Rabbi Buchwald concerning the significance of the word "Eichah" not only in the book of Lamentations but also in parashat Devarim.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Chosen To Write: Chaim Potok

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestled with an angel and emerged as Israel, “He who struggles.” In the 20th-21st century, Western Jews spend a great amount of energy wrestling with the world of tradition and the demands of the modern world. Few writers have portrayed this inner conflict of the American Jewish community as engagingly as Chaim Potok (1929-2002), a man who lived this struggle himself.

Herman Harold Potok was born in The Bronx, NY. His family was not-quite Chassidic and Chaim Tzvi, as he was called, spent his childhood learning in Yeshiva. As a boy, Potok was interested in art, particularly painting. Hearing only discouraging words from his family, however, he turned his creativity to words.

Potok graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English Literature from Yeshiva University (1950). He received rabbinic ordination and a Masters in Chassidic Literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (1954) and a PhD in Philosophy from University of Pennsylvania (1965). Although he never held a rabbinic post, he served as a U.S. Combat Chaplain in Korea.

ChaimPotok_TheChosen.jpg (232×345)The Chosen, Potok’s first and best-known novel, was published in 1967. It spent 39 weeks on the bestseller list. The Chosen, which was made into a major motion picture in 1981, is the story of a friendship that develops between two Jewish youth, one Chassidic and one Modern Orthodox. Each boy is drawn to the other’s world. The majority of his other novels continued to draw on similar Jewish themes. His other well-known works are: The Promise, My Name is Asher Lev, The Gift of Asher Lev and Davita’s Harp.

In addition to his writing, Potok served as the editor of the Jewish Publication Society of America for eight years before taking on a different role there as the special-projects editor. Potok taught at numerous colleges and universities.


Chaim Potok died on July 23, 2002--14 Av 5762.

This Treat was originally posted on July 23, 2012.




People Of The Book

Set aside time to enjoy a book with a Jewish theme or explore the ever-growing world of Judaica and choose a topic and title that speaks to you.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Month of Av

The months of the Jewish year are called in the Torah by number only (the first month, second month, etc.). Over time, during the exile, the months assumed the names given to them by host cultures and thus, “Jewish” months as we know them today, are actually Babylonian in origin. These names were so common, that 8 out of 12 are mentioned in the later books of the prophets.

Even though the name Av is Babylonian in origin, one cannot help but take note of the subtle nuance of the name. Av means father in Hebrew, and in the fifth month of the Hebrew year, God’s persona of Father is truly demonstrated.

It is stated in the Book of Proverbs (13:24): “One who spares his rod hates his child, but he who loves him, disciplines him in his youth.” God repeatedly warned the Jewish people that their misguided behavior would result in disaster, but they ignored His warnings. Thus, the beginning of the month of Av was the time of the destruction of both Holy Temples, disasters which the Jewish community commemorate with an annual day of mourning on the ninth of Av (Tisha b’Av). When He allowed the Babylonians (and then the Romans) to conquer Jerusalem, destroy the Holy Temple(s) and drive the Jewish people into exile, God had one fatherly goal in mind--that the Jewish people should see the error of their ways and correct themselves.

A parent who punishes a child still loves that child and still wishes to share in the child’s happiness. Rejoicing is also an important facet of the month of Av. Tu b'Av (literally the15th of Av) is a day of tremendous rejoicing in Israel when, traditionally, unmarried maidens would go out to the field to find a husband. Thus in Av, after God completes the role of disciplinarian, He comes forward to watch, and enjoy, as His children rejoice.

Today is Rosh Chodesh Av.

This Treat was originally posted on August 1, 2011.

For more on The Nine Days, the period between Rosh Chodesh of Av and Tisha b'Av, please click here.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Lessening Our Joy

According to the Mishna in Tractate Ta'anit 26b, when the month of Av begins, we curtail our joy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Herzl’s Vision of Haifa

International air travel today, especially in the “post 9-11 world,” can be frustrating, annoying and anxiety-provoking. Because of the extra costs of traveling to and from airports, navigating the heightened security protocols and even the discomfort while on a plane, people often need a vacation after their vacation, or choose not to travel at all. The distance of the trip is often directly proportional to the anxiety and frustration.

But talk to someone who traveled to Israel from North America before air travel was ubiquitous and you’ll find out what true inconvenience and hardship was. The trip by ocean liner from ports such as New York City, as late as the 1960s, took over 10 days. When the port of Haifa came into sight for the fatigued passengers, their joy knew no bounds. Voyage by sea was the standard method how most people arrived from abroad to the State of Israel during its early years.

The port of Haifa, the largest of Israel’s three commercial ports (the others being Ashdod and Eilat), processes over 29 million tons of cargo a year, welcomes 140,000 passengers, and is staffed by over 1,000 employees. That number jumps to 5,000 when cruise ships arrive.

Akko (Acre in English), a city 17 km (10 miles) north of Haifa, served as the Holy Land’s primary port until the 20th century. When silt made the docking of large ships impossible, an alternative site was sought. In 1902, Theodor Herzl virtually “prophesied” in his famous book Altneuland, about the development of the city of Haifa and the transformation of its bay into a major commercial port. In 1922, construction began.

The port of Haifa opened for business on the 27th of Tammuz (July 21) 1933. Whether arriving by boat or plane, there is an ancient custom to kiss the ground of the Holy Land of Israel. Maimonides (Laws of Kings 5:10) relates that the great sages would “kiss the borders of the land, kiss her stones and roll in her dust.” This custom serves as yet another profound reminder of the Jewish people’s special relationship with the Land of Israel.

This Treat was originally posted on July 10, 2018.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

What a Transformation

With numerous visits each year from commercial tankers, passengers cruise ships and even the US Navy's Sixth Fleet, Theodor Herzl's vision of Haifa becoming a commercial port has certainly been realized.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Armistice

Many people assume that the end of a war implies that a peace treaty has been signed.  

Actually, there are several ways to end a military conflict: truce, cease-fire, armistice or peace treaty. While these terms may all sound similar, each has its own subtle meaning and implication, with a peace treaty being the most secure.

Israel’s War of Independence, which began on May 14, 1948, was interrupted by several types of cease–fires. The actual fighting, however, is not considered to have ended until July 20, 1949, when the last of four separate armistice agreements was finally signed. The first armistice, which was signed on the Island of Rhodes on February 24th, was with Egypt. The second, signed on March 23rd, was with Lebanon. Jordan signed an armistice on April 3rd. The last armistice was with Syria on July 20th. (Iraq and Saudi Arabia were also involved in the fighting, but, as they did not share a common border with Israel, did not sign formal agreements.) In time, and after several other conflicts, Israel signed separate peace agreements of varying duration with each of these countries.

During the period leading up to and following the declaration of the State of Israel, Jews around the world held their breath, not quite certain what the outcome would be, and, for many, not quite certain how they felt about the whole endeavor. With the signing of the armistices, however, the existence of the State of Israel seemed secure and world Jewry breathed a sigh of relief.

This Treat was originally posted on July 20, 2015.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Yearning For Peace

Seventy one years after the signing of the final Armistice Agreement following Israel's War of Independence, Jews the world over pray for future peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors.

Friday, July 17, 2020

A Day to Firgun

In the age of the internet there are an incredble number of new "holidays." This coming week alone we "celebrate" National Caviar Day (18th), Moonday (20th) and National Junk Food Day (21st). In 2014, an Israeli non-profit organization, Made in JLM (which works with Israeli start-ups) decided to create a new international holiday that they named International Firgun Day. The chosen date was July 17th.

Firgun, (pronounced feer-goon, from modern Hebrew) according to several internet definitions, means: "a genuine, unselfish delight or pride in the accomplishment of someone else; giving credit where it is due, fairly and without jealousy." A firgun is the ideal of a compliment as it looks fully at the other person with no ulterior motive and with a depth of recognition of the other person's character (as opposed, for instance, to "I like the shirt you are wearing").

Firgun is not a native Hebrew word, but rather a slang that evolved from the Yiddish word firgenun. As with so many cross language words, there is no singular English term that translates either firgenun or firgun, but that does not mean that International Firgun Day cannot be celebrated by all. 

At the heart of the concept of firgun is the idea of an ayin tova, a good eye. Having a "good eye" means looking to see the positive, and it is a trait listed as one of the basic attributes a good person should have (Pirkei Avot /Ethics of the Fathers 2:10).

Seeking joy in other people's lives inevitably makes multiple people happy, thus bringing peace, shalom, to the world.

This Treat was originally posted on July 17, 2017.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Good Eye

To "firgun" means to give someone the benefit of the doubt. Seeing someone in a more positive light will likely make you feel better too!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Beauty and the Bess

On December 14, 2014, one of the most talked-about American Jews from the 1940s passed away. Bess Myerson, born in the Bronx on July 16, 1924, became the first and only Jewish "Miss America" when she won the 1945 pageant and its accompanying $5,000 scholarship, which she used to pay for graduate school at New York's Juilliard School of music and Columbia University.

The confluence of Ms. Myerson's pageant victory and the horrific news reports and newsreels about emaciated Jews emerging from the concentration camps under Nazi hegemony was not lost on the media. Upon her death, Religion News Service suggested that "Bess Myerson represented the resurrection of the Jewish body - the journey from degradation to beauty."

Ironically, Ms. Myerson was entered into the Miss New York City competition by someone else. She was embarrassed by the entry, as she was raised in a home that valued scholarship and culture (she was a very serious pianist). In fact, she had to borrow a bathing suit for that component of the competition. The Jewish view of beauty, preaches that while inner beauty is true and everlasting splendor, there is great value to external attractiveness as well, but within parameters.

The Jewish virtue of tzniyut, modesty, protects that which is most attractive and beautiful and reserves it for more private settings, not public ones. Tzniyut governs appearance and attitude, and encourages Jews to live with humility and to recognize that our commendable accomplishments and attributes are from God. But that divinity within each person, also means the Jews must carry themselves with dignity and honor as befitting a creation of the Al-mighty.

The Talmud (Shabbat 114a) warns, that a Torah scholar with a stain on his shirt is liable to the death penalty. This, of course, was not meant to be taken literally. As representatives of God and the Torah, any "stain" on our clothes or character, reflects poorly on God, and His people. Jewish tradition clearly notes that the matriarchs were beautiful and that certain males were handsome such as Joseph and Absalom. As Jewish Treats has previously written, the Talmud relates that when one sees a person of exceptional beauty, one should recite a blessing that concludes: "Who has such [beautiful] things in His world." Spouses need to be physically attracted to one another, which is why Judaism proscribes marriage until the couple have met and determined their mutual attraction.

Beauty is laudable and virtuous, so long as it is used properly and does not cause one's humility to weaken.

This Treat was originally posted on December 14, 2018.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Who is a Virtuous Woman?

Aishet Chayil, A Woman of Valor, the beautiful song drawn from Proverbs Chapter 31, that is sung each Friday night before Kiddush, describes a virtuous Jewish Woman; "Grace is false, and beauty vain, a woman who fears God, she should be praised."

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Which Day Of The Week Were You Born?

Do you know on which day you were born? Not your birthday...which day of the week? It doesn't appear to be a relevant fact, but more of an interesting bit of personal trivia. According to the sages (Shabbat 156a), however, the day of the week on which a person was born can influence that person's personality.

People born on Sundays tend to be more extreme. Rabbi Joshua ben Levi describes a Sunday child as being "a person without one..." which is understood by Rabbi Ashi as being "completely virtuous or completely wicked." Sunday (Day One) was the day on which God created light, and thus darkness. 

Monday's child will be ill-tempered because on Day Two of creation, God divided the waters, but He did not settle the waters until the next day.

One might think that the settling of the water on Day Three would bode well for a child born on Tuesday. Alas, this child, according to the sages, will be "wealthy and unchaste...because herbs were created" on Day Three. (Herbs multiply with exceptional speed and can live with many other types of plants.)

Born on Wednesday? The Wednesday baby will "be wise and of a retentive memory," because on Day Four, God placed the stars, moon and sun in the Heavens. In the Heavenly bodies, God encrypted great knowledge.

On Day Five, God created the fish and the birds, who, according to some explanations, live purely on God's loving-kindness and mercy. Therefore, a Thursday birth means a benevolent child.

One born on Friday is said to be a seeker. According to Rabbi Nachman ben Isaac, this means a seeker of good deeds.

Finally, the Talmud notes that one "who is born on Shabbat will die on Shabbat, because the great day of Shabbat was desecrated on his account." This, however, applies only as a rule to those who are particularly holy.

This Treat was originally posted on June 13, 2011.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Happy Wednesday

If you were born on Wednesday and are blessed with wisdom and a good memory, perhaps it was alluded to in the Talmud.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Antidote for Baseless Hatred

The calendrical period between the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz and the Fast of Tisha b'Av is known as Bein Hame'tzarim (in the midst of distress) and is referred to colloquially as the "Three Weeks." While the latter describes the time frame between these two fasts, the former, finds its source from the verse in Scripture (Lamentations 1:3), "all her [Israel's] pursuers overtook her in the midst of her distress." The Three Weeks represents the saddest period in the Jewish calendar.

The Talmud teaches that while the First Temple was destroyed because of the cardinal sins of murder, idolatry and sexual immorality, the successful razing of the Second Temple by the Romans is attributed to Sinat Chinam, which literally means "free hatred," but connotes hatred for no apparent reason or, at least, no legitimate reason. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook famously stated that the antidote to baseless hatred is baseless love, Ahavat Chinam (Orot Hakodesh, section 3, page 324). In modern parlance, which perhaps owes a proper citation to Rabbi Kook, the concept of "random acts of kindness" may find its source from this idea.

During the period of the Three Weeks, Jewish Treats will endeavor to share some brief and inspiring thoughts related to the topics of Ahavat Chinam, or Ahavat Yisrael, the love we should exhibit for our fellow Jews.

The primary Scriptural source associated with Ahavat Chinam and Ahavat Yisrael is the famous "Golden Rule: "You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:18). Rabbi Hillel famously taught, "that which is hateful to you, do not do to others" (Talmud Shabbat 31a). Referring to this Biblical verse, Rabbi Akiva proclaimed: "This is a major principle of the Torah" (Jerusalem Talmud Nedarim 9:4).

This Treat was originally posted on July 3, 2018.


Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Turn The Tables

During the Three Weeks, between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and Tisha b'Av, instead of baseless hatred and holding a grudge, embrace baseless love and kindness.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Three Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

While Jewish prayer has many aspects that are introspective, prayer is also designed to serve as a vehicle of communication with the Divine. The central focus of every prayer service is the Amidah, which means standing, a prayer that, during the weekdays, consists of 19 blessings of praise, supplication and gratitude. During the recitation of the Amidah, it is customary to stand erect with feet together - reminiscent of the stance of angels.

When reciting the Amidah, one should have the mindset of truly standing before the King of kings. For this reason, tradition suggests that the proper way of approaching the Amidah is to take three steps forward into the posture of prayer. An additional custom has developed to take three steps back prior to taking the three steps forward, which apparently derived from the practical need for space to move forward.

At the conclusion of the recitation of the Amidah, when ready to withdraw from the Divine communion, it is customary to take three steps backward and bow to the left, right and center while reciting: "He Who makes peace in His heavens, may He make peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say Amen." This follows the dictates of the Talmud: "Rabbi Alexander said in the name of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi: One who prays [the Amidah] should go three steps backward, and then recite 'peace.' Rabbi Mordecai said to him, 'Having taken the three steps backward he ought to remain standing, as should a disciple who takes leave of his master'" (Talmud Yoma 53b).

Numerous explanations have been given for the significance of the number three. The most basic purpose of this movement, however, is that it creates a separation between that which is mundane and that which is holy.

This Treat was originally posted on June 21, 2016.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Holy Steps

As we take three steps forward to begin the Amidah, consider how fortunate we are to be able to regularly connect with the King of kings on an intimate basis.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Five Wise Sisters

Few women are mentioned by name in the Torah, and those who are, are generally the major players (i.e. Sarah, Rachel, Miriam). Yet twice in the Torah, Mach'lah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah--the five daughters of Zelophchad--are listed. In Numbers 27, they approach Moses and ask to inherit their father's property in the Promised Land, since he had died without sons. Because of their request, the law was established that "If a man dies with no sons, then his inheritance goes to his daughter(s)" (Numbers 27:8)

As the Israelites prepared to enter Canaan, the heads of the tribe of Menashe (Zelophchad's tribe) approached Moses with a concern about Zelophchad's daughters: "If they marry sons of the other tribes...their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of our father's tribe (Menashe), and will be added to the inheritance of the tribe whereunto they shall belong [since the children will be reckoned as part of their father's tribe] (Number 36:3)." To ensure that this would not be the case, Moses ruled that Zelophchad's daughters could marry whomever they wished, but only from among the tribe of their father (Menashe), so that the land would not be lost to the tribe.

Nothing more about these remarkable women is mentioned in the Torah, but the sages of the Talmud relate:

[They] were wise women, they were interpreters of scripture, they were virtuous. They [must] have been wise, since they spoke at an opportune moment...They [must] have been interpreters of scripture, for they said: "If he had a son we would not have spoken" (Numbers 27:8)... [The explanation is that they said]: "Even if a son [of his] had a daughter, we would not have spoken". They were virtuous, since they married only such men worthy of them (Baba Batra 119b).

This Treat was originally posted on July 27, 2011.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Enjoy The Rest

Enjoy the serenity and relaxation afforded by Shabbat and take a walk tomorrow.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Smashing the Tablets

The sages declare that five tragedies occurred on the Seventeenth of Tammuz, which is why the day is observed as a fast day. Days of what we might now call "bad karma" (on which bad things consistently occur) were, according to Jewish tradition, set early in Jewish history, and the Seventeenth of Tammuz was fated to become one of the most painful days in Jewish history. It all began when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, discovered the Israelites dancing around the Golden Calf, and smashed the Ten Commandments on the Seventeenth of Tammuz.

Since the Torah does not mention dates, the Talmud, asks how it is known that the Tablets were shattered on the Seventeenth of Tammuz:

It is written (Exodus 24:16-18), "On the seventh day [of Sivan] He called to Moses...and Moses entered into the midst of the cloud, and went up onto the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights." The [remaining] twenty-four days of Sivan and the sixteen days of Tammuz altogether make forty. On the seventeenth of Tammuz he came down [from the mountain] and shattered the Tablets (Ta'anit 28b).

After the sin of the Golden Calf, God was ready to destroy the Israelites and create a new nation who would descend from Moses. Due to Moses' fervent prayers, however, God forgave the Children of Israel.

God's anger at the Israelites for easily falling into worshiping apparent idolatry is understandable. But, what right did Moses have to smash the Tablets of law that had been given to him by God? The Talmud, Shabbat 87a, explains that Moses' actions were driven by more than anger. He sought to protect the people. By destroying the Tablets, Moses created a situation in which the people had never fully received the Torah, so they could not be charged with having transgressed its laws.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of the Seventeenth of Tammuz.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Three Weeks

Today, the Seventeenth of Tammuz, is the beginning of the period known as the Three Weeks, when we mourn the national tragedies that befell the Jewish people throughout the generations.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Word Magic

If you have ever heard that the magical word "Abracadabra" is Hebrew, then you may enjoy today's Jewish Treat highlighting the etymological connection of some common English words and their Hebrew origins. Abracadabra, a word used to bring forth magic, is an excellent place to start. It is traced to the Hebrew (Aramaic) phrase av'rah k'dabrah - I will create as was spoken.

Some words are obvious to those who know the Bible: To "babble" is to speak rapidly and randomly, as did the people at the Tower of Babel when they lost the ability to speak to one another. A cherub, that cute little angel with the dimpled cheeks, comes straight from the Hebrew word k'ruvim, the angelic figures that were on top of the Holy Ark.

There are many words that are not credited with a Hebrew etymological root* and yet the connection is hard to overlook: The word "over" is phonetically similar to the Hebrew word ever (ayin-vet-reish), which is also the root of the word ivri (Hebrew), the term used to describe Abraham for having crossed over the river. Another interesting word is "mystery," which shares an interesting resonance to the Hebrew word hester whose root is "sater" (samech-tav-reish), the Hebrew word for hidden. Creating a hole in the ground is the act of "boring," and Joseph's brothers threw him into a bor (bet-vav-reish), a deep pit. One last example is the Hebrew word ayin, which is not only the name of a Hebrew letter but also the Hebrew term for eye.

*Many words are traced to Old French or Old German, but no further back than that.

This Treat was originally posted on June 18, 2018.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Study Hebrew

Learn to read Hebrew and unlock the fascinating etymology of Hebrew words and the surprising similarity with some common English words.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Kiss the Mezuzah

One might easily think of the mitzvah of mezuzah as a passive mitzvah. Simply recite the blessing before affixing the mezuzah to the doorposts of the house, and it is done.

While affixing a mezuzah is a one time act, its position on the doorpost is meant to lead the home dweller to a continual awareness of the Divine presence. For this reason, there is a custom to either look at or touch/kiss the mezuzah as one passes by.

So which is it? Does one look at, touch or kiss the mezuzah? The answer is that it depends on the family's or community's custom.

Many people cite the source for touching the mezuzah back to a story about Onkelos in Talmud Avodah Zarah (11a). When the emperor's soldiers come to retrieve him (click here to find out why), he placed his hand on the mezuzah and asked if the soldiers know what it means. When they inquired, he used it as an opportunity to explain how God perpetually watches over the Jewish people. The guards were so impressed that they converted to Judaism.

The custom of kissing the mezuzah, which usually means touching the mezuzah and then kissing the fingers that touched it, is not mentioned until the era of Rabbi Isaac Luria (16th century, Arizal). It is a further means of demonstrating not only one's awareness of God, but one's love of the Divine as well.

This Treat was originally posted on June 29, 2016.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Divine Protection

During the current pandemic, it would be wise to avoid touching or kissing the mezuzah. Nonetheless, remember to bear in mind the mezuzah's symbolism of Divine protection of the Jewish people.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Fleeing in the New World

The history of the conversos, those Spanish and Portuguese Jews who hid their identities by publicly behaving as observant Catholics, is tragic not only for the horrible auto-de-fes (mass executions at which those convicted of heresy were burned at the stake), but also for the fear and instability with which these hidden Jews lived. Conversos who managed to leave Spain or Portugal, often had to flee the next country of residence in fear of the Inquisition that often followed recent Spanish conquests. The same story was played out in Europe, India, South America and even in colonial Georgia.

When the first Jews arrived in Savannah, Georgia, in 1733, they were welcomed by the British founding governor, James Oglethorpe. Of three dozen or so new immigrants, most of them were Jews of Sephardic origin who had traveled the difficult path of so many other conversos. For example, Samuel Nunes was born Diogo Riberio in 1668. He was a physician in Lisbon (Portugal) until he was arrested for supporting Judaism. When he was released from the Inquisitors' jail, he was mandated to remain in Lisbon. Instead, Nunes fled to England (the way having been opened up by Menashe ben Israel in 1656) and from there to the New World.

In 1739, however, England and Spain entered the War of Jenkins' Ear. Hostilities were fought on both sides of the Atlantic as the British had newly settled in Georgia, while the Spanish controlled Florida.

On July 5, 1742, much to the horror of the Sephardic Jews of Savannah, Spanish governor Don Manuel de Montiano led 5,000 troops to occupy Fort St. Simons on St. Simons Island, about 80 miles south of Savannah. While Oglethorpe and his troops routed the Spanish, the Sephardim had their scare. Most fled north to South Carolina, although some went to other colonies. Only the Minis and Sheftall families, both Ashkenazim, remained in Georgia.

This Treat was originally posted on July 5, 2012.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Study History

Read about the challenges faced by the conversos, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were often forced to disguise their true identity in order to survive.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Jonas Phillips: Living in the Revolution

A few weeks after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the British blockade intercepted a communication from Jonas Phillips to a relative on the Dutch Island of St. Estatius. Because the letter was written in Yiddish, the British assumed it was a code. They were not wrong. If they had translated the letter, they would have found that it was actually a list of needed supplies written by a blockade runner.

The author of the letter was an ardent patriot. Born in Germany, Jonas Phillips (1736-1803) came to the American colonies in 1756 as a servant indentured to Moses Lindo, whom he had met in London. After completing his term of service in South Carolina, Phillips, now free, moved to Albany, NY, and then to New York City, where he married Rebecca Mendez Machado. The first years of their lives were difficult. Having failed in business, the devout Phillips was employed by the New York community as a shochet (ritual Jewish slaughterer). The Phillipses had a quickly growing family (in total they had 21 children), and, after several years without a raise, he left the position and tried his hand at business again, this time with far better success.

While Phillips was an early supporter of the independence movement, he was also wise enough to know when to flee. When the British Troops came to New York, Phillips convinced the community to close the synagogue before he and many of the other prominent Jews of New York moved to Philadelphia. In 1778, he himself took up arms and joined the Philadelphia militia under Colonial William Bradford.

Following the war, Phillips remained in Philadelphia and was active in Congregation Mikveh Israel's building campaign. He is noted for petitioning the government to abolish a religious oath acknowledging the Divinity of the New Testament as a requirement for holding public office, and, in 1793, he refused to testify in court on Saturday. Jonas Phillips passed away on January 29, 1803. 

Among Phillips descendants were Commodore Uriah P. Levy and Mordecai Manuel Noah.

This post was originally posted on July 4, 2014.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Be Thankful

As Americans, we should appreciate that we live in a malchut shel chesed, a country whose underpinnings are in kindness that has allowed for the free exercise of Jewish religious practice.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Does the Torah Support the Belief in Extraterrestrial Life?

Today, July 2nd, is celebrated world-wide, as "World UFO Day."

It all started on July 2, 1947, when W.W. "Mac" Brazel discovered a metallic object on his Roswell, NM ranch. The U.S. government claimed that it was a high altitude balloon. Conspiracy theorists, however, claim that the government covered up an alien invasion. For thousands of years, UFOs and ETs have captured the imagination of human minds and literature. Humankind has always been obsessed with knowing if other creatures inhabit other parts of our vast universe. What is the Jewish attitude toward extraterrestrial life? Surprisingly, there are Jewish sources which may support life on other planets.

The Torah (Genesis 6:4) describes the existence of nefilim on the newly-created earth. According to the commentary of Yonatan ben Uziel, these beings were called nefilim because they literally "fell from heaven." Rabbi Yehudah ben Barzilai Nasi (11th century Spain), who wrote a commentary on the esoteric and enigmatic Sefer Yetzirah (the Book of Creation), opines, based on these verses, that there is indeed intelligent life on other planets.

In the victory song commemorating Barak and Deborah's conquest over Sisera and his troops, one of the verses states, "Cursed is Meroz, cursed are its inhabitants" (Judges 5:23). Prior to this (Ibid verse 20), Barak and Deborah claim, "they fought from heaven, the stars in their courses fought against Sisera." The Talmud (Moed Katan 16a) asks, what is Meroz? The Talmud answers that some say that Meroz was an individual, but others claim it is the name of a star that fought against Sisera.

Based on a verse in Ezekiel 48:35, the Talmud (Avodah Zara 3b) records that "God flies through 18,000 worlds." The mystical source, Tikunei Zohar suggests that these 18,000 worlds are planets ruled by tzadikim, righteous individuals. Another Talmudic source (Sanhedrin 92b) claims that these righteous people are given wings to travel from planet to planet.

Other Jewish sources appear to negate any possibility of extraterrestrial intelligent life. Midrashic sources note that God created this world - i.e. earth - in order to give the Torah to the Jewish people (Bereshit Rabbah 1:4 and 3:7). The seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who was familiar with the mystical literature on extraterrestrial life, asserted that intelligent life is defined by the ability to distinguish right from wrong. Free will, he proclaimed, can only take place with the existence of the Torah. Absent God's blueprints, there cannot be intelligent life. The Rebbe also claimed that it would be impossible to have a second Torah, since Torah is truth, and truth can't be duplicitous.

While Jewish sources may allow for extraterrestrial life, our role is to follow the Torah, which came from God in Heaven, and to try to perfect and protect the earth which humankind inhabits.

Happy 'World U.F.O. Day."

This Treat was originally posted on July 2, 2019.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

It's All There

In Ethics of the Fathers 5:22, we are taught "Turn it and turn it again for all is in it." Study the Torah, the blueprint for life, and explore the many mysteries of life from a Jewish perspective.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Appointed by Trudeau

In honor of Canada Day (July 1st), Jewish Treats proudly presents a brief biography of the first Jewish member of the Canadian Supreme Court, Bora Laskin (1912 - 1984).

Born in Fort Williams (now Thunder Bay), Ontario, Laskin's parents were Russian Jewish Immigrants. Laskin's first language was Yiddish, and he was fluent in Hebrew as well. After studying at the University of Toronto, he received his law degree at Osgood Hall Law School and then earned a Masters of Law at Harvard Law School.

Returning to Toronto, Laskin discovered that his outstanding academic record meant nothing to the law firms, who ignored him because he was Jewish. This elitist anti-Semitism pushed him toward a career in academia at his two Canadian alma maters.

In addition to teaching, Laskin served as a labor arbitrator, an associate editor of the Dominion Law Report and Canadian Criminal Cases, and was a prolific writer (6 books, 7 commissioned reports and dozens of articles). A founding member of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, he also helped found the Canadian Association of University Teachers. Additionally, Laskin was the chair of the Legal Affairs Committee of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

In 1965, having never practiced law, Laskin was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeals, where he served with distinction. In 1970, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau appointed him to the Canadian Supreme Court, and three years later he was appointed Chief Justice, even though he was the second most junior member of the court.

Laskin was the first Jew appointed to the Canadian Supreme Court. At first, he was part of the liberal minority (which became a majority), and earned him the nickname "The Great Dissenter." While on the court, Laskin also served on the board of several universities and was the chancellor of Lakeland University from 1971-1980. Laskin received 27 honorary degrees. He was a member of the Royal Society of Canada and a Companion of the Order of Canada.

This Treat was originally posted on July 1, 2016.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Happy Canada Day

Recognize the many positive contributions that Jewish Canadians have made to Canada.