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Judaism

Enhance your understanding and appreciation of Judaism through NJOP’s Crash Courses, Articles, Lectures, and more! See how Judaism is not only a part of your life, but creates the person you are.

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Jewish Treats Jewish History

Discover Judaism in ways that you may not have known before. NJOP's Jewish Treats articles are created to educate others of their Jewish Heritage.

Jewish Treats Judaism

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Jewish Treats Judaism

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Judaism

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Judaism

Enhance your understanding and appreciation of Judaism through NJOP’s Crash Courses, Articles, Lectures, and more! See how Judaism is not only a part of your life, but creates the person you are.

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Classes

Learn or teach about the readily available Basic Judaism Crash Courses provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Jewish Treats Jewish History

Discover Judaism in ways that you may not have known before. NJOP's Jewish Treats articles are created to educate others of their Jewish Heritage.

Jewish Treats Judaism

Browse our collection of Judaism Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about Judaism.


Hebrew Literacy Jewish Treats

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Hebrew Literacy

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Hebrew

Throughout Jewish history, Hebrew has been a connection between Jewish communities around the world. For many modern Jews, learning Hebrew is the first step to reconnecting with their roots.

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Hebrew Reading

NJOP has already taught more than 250,000 North American Jews how to read Hebrew through our innovative Hebrew Reading Crash Courses (HRCC).

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Hebrew Writing

NJOP’s Hebrew Writing Crash Course is specially developed to give students Hebrew writing skills while reinforcing previous reading lessons.

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RHA/C

Read Hebrew America and Canada (RHA/C) is NJOP’s continent-wide Hebrew literacy campaign to win back the hearts of North American Jews.

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Shabbat Jewish Treats

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Shabbat

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Shabbat

The Jewish Sabbath has been called an “oasis in time.” This heavenly gift is a unique opportunity for spiritual and psychological renewal that comes every week!

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Discover, read, share and download our Jewish Treats Guide to Shabbat, a fantastic resource to the Day of Rest.

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Shavuot Jewish Treats

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Shavuot

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Shavuot

The Festival of Weeks, Holiday of the First Fruit, Time of the Giving of the Torah – the many names of Shavuot describe it well.

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Shavuot Essentials

Browse our collection of Jewish Treats on Shavuot, find recipes and learn about the holiday of many names.

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Jewish Treats Purim Articles

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Purim

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Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

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High Holiday Jewish Treats

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The High Holidays

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High Holidays

Participate in one of our renowned, interactive High Holiday Beginners Service programs or workshops this holiday season.  We’ll help you host a program with our comprehensive materials and videos or find one to attend.

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Rosh Hoshana

The Jewish New Year starts with a celebration of the very creation of the world and a recognition of humankind’s relationship to the Creator.

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Yom Kippur

The High Holidays culminate with The Day of Atonement.
There is a mysticism in that almost all Jews recognize the holiness of the day.

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Sukkot Jewish Treats

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Sukkot

Sukkot is a time for celebration! Immediately following Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is the week-long holiday of Sukkot, also known as the Feast of the Tabernacles.

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The Story of the Modern Day Maccabees

The Story of the Modern Day Maccabees

Relive the miraculous 1976 Operation Entebbe which was carried out by a group referred to by former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin as the “Modern Day Maccabees.”

The Story of the Modern Day Maccabees is presented by Rabbi Steven Weil, the Senior Managing Director of the OU.

2016 represents the 40th anniversary of the Israel Defense Force’s miraculous rescue of over 100 hostages whose Paris bound Air France Airbus was hijacked by cruel terrorists. After their heroic return, Menachem Begin referred to the Israeli commandos who risked their lives flying thousands of miles from home as “Dor Makabim Bi’yameinu” modern day Maccabees. NJOP presents the story of this heroic rescue mission, told by Rabbi Steven Weil, Senior Managing Director of the OU. The rescue of many Jewish lives at Entebbe is the equivalent of a modern day Chanukah miracle, mirroring the original miraculous events that we celebrate each year.

 

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Chanukah

On Chanukah, Jewish families around the world gather together in their homes and light the Chanukah candles. Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, celebrates the great miracles that happened during the Maccabee revolt in the time of the Second Temple period.

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Chanukah Jewish Treats

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Chanukah

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Chanukah

On Chanukah, Jewish families around the world gather together in their homes and light the Chanukah candles. Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, celebrates the great miracles that happened during the Maccabee revolt in the time of the Second Temple period.

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Programs and Classes

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Passover Jewish Treats

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Passover

The holiday of Passover commemorates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt which led to the birth of the Jewish nation at Sinai. The Passover Seder, which is held on the first (and second night outside of Israel) of Passover, is perhaps the most widely observed Jewish practice. This outline will provide you with the basics of the Passover holiday, laws and customs.

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Kinnot

Kinnot

Many devastating events took place on the 9th of Av. This is why the Jewish people consider it the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. Here is a brief description of some of the major events that transpired over the centuries that we mourn on this day.

Events and Tragedies Mourned on Tisha B’Av

Many devastating events took place on the 9th of Av. This is why the Jewish people consider it the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. Here is a brief description of some of the major events that transpired over the centuries that we mourn on this day.

When ten of the twelve scouts who were dispatched by Moses to survey the Promised Land returned with a negative report, God’s anger was kindled. The Almighty decreed that the adults of that generation would die in the wilderness without entering the Promised Land. God told the believers of that evil report that their tears on that day, as described in the Torah (Numbers 14:1), would be manifest in history in multiple tragedies. “Rabbi Yohanan said: That night was the night of the ninth of Av. God said to them: ‘You wept needlessly that night, and I will therefore establish for you a true tragedy over which there will be weeping in future generations’” (Talmud Ta’anit 29a).

Indeed, as our sages have taught, on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, the First and Second Temples were destroyed, the city of Betar was conquered, quashing the Bar Kochba revolt, and the Roman General Turnus Rufus plowed the City of Jerusalem. These were the events that the rabbis of the Talmud, who lived prior to the year 500 CE, could identify, that occurred on Tisha B’Av.

But, God’s promise did not end a millennia-and-a-half ago. Prior to the Spanish expulsion of its Jews, King Edward I expelled the Jews from England on July 18, 1290, an edict that stood, un-repealed, until 1656. July 18, 1290, the pre-cursor of all European expulsions, corresponded to the 9th of Av, 5050. Two centuries later, the Golden Age of Spain came to an end. On March 31, 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain officially banished the Jews from Spain, giving them exactly four months to leave. The deadline, four months later, July 31, 1492, also corresponded to the 9th of Av.

More than four hundred years later, on August 1, 1914, the 9th of Av on the Jewish calendar, World War I began, which really set in motion a thirty-year European tailspin, culminating with the allied invasion of Europe and the end of World War II. The start of those 30 years, which destroyed much of what Europe had been, led ultimately to the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust, according to most, by far, the worst tragedy the Jews have ever experienced.

Even closer to home, on July 18th 1994, corresponding to the tenth of Av, a bomb destroyed the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, killing 87 and injuring 100.

Jews worldwide are more cautious during the days leading up to Tisha B’Av, given the promised “crying” ascribed to that specific time period. It behooves us to learn our history, and to take great strides to improve, and repair our relationship with God.

This is but a brief summary of tragic events that befell the Jewish people on Tisha B’Av throughout the generations.  To learn more about these and other historical events, please click on the links below.

An Explanation of Tisha B’Av Kinnot

One of the ways that we help ourselves mourn on Tisha B’Av is by learning about, and reading the kinnot (elegies, mourning the destruction of the Temples and other great Jewish tragedies). There is great benefit to studying the Tisha B’Av kinnot, so they can be absorbed and experienced more meaningfully on Tisha B’Av day.  Here is a brief explanation of what the kinnot are and thereafter, offer an in-depth look at several of the particularly significant mournful poems

Elegies (Kinnot)

An elegy is defined as a mournful poem or a lament. In Hebrew, an elegy is known as a kinnah. On Tisha B’Av, when the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, it is customary for kinnot to be read at both the evening and morning services. Kinnot traditions may vary according to one’s community, specifically as to which kinnot are recited, by whom and using which type of chant or tune.

The majority of the kinnot are lamentations over the loss of the Temple – odes to that which was lost and to the horrors that occurred in Jerusalem at the time of the destruction. Some kinnot are poetic reiterations of chapters from the Book of Lamentations and the Book of Ezekiel, and others express a longing to return from exile to the Promised Land. Although the majority of the kinnot focus on the loss of the Temple, later authors added elegies for other tragic events such as the First Crusade (1096), the burning of the Talmud in Paris (1242) and the expulsion from Spain (1492). More recently, several kinnot lamenting the tragedy of the Holocaust have been included in the Tisha B’Av service.

The kinnot are divided into three basic categories:

  1. The destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem and the impact it had on the Jewish people.
  2. The destruction of individuals and communities.
  3. The beauty of Jerusalem before it was destroyed.Of the kinnot whose authorship is known, many were written by Rabbi Elazar Hakalir (c. 600 C.E.), whose poems often include complex patterns of acrostics, rhyme and repetition. His elegies mostly address the destruction of the Temples (category #1). Other well-known authors of kinnotare Rabbi Yehuda Halevi (1075-1141), (who composed many elegies regarding the beauty of Jerusalem that was lost, i.e.. category #3),  Rabbi Meir ben Baruch (Maharam of Rothenberg 1220-1293) and Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam (Bobover Rebbe 1908-2000), who wrote a gut-wrenching kinnah based upon his first-hand experiences with loss during the Holocaust (category #2).

Tisha B’Av Night
Here is a selection of Kinnot that we recite on Tisha B’Av.

5th Kinnah

In addition to the lengthier recitation of kinnot recited on Tisha B’Av morning, five kinnot are recited at the evening service, upon the conclusion of reading Megillat Eichah, the Book of Lamentations. The 5th of those kinnot is structured upon the signs of the Zodiac, mourning the destruction of Jerusalem. Although some may be surprised that astrology commands oxygen in Judaism, the sages saw the astrological signs as part of the tradition, and images of the zodiac can be found in synagogues dating back thousands of years. (Attempting to predict one’s future via a zodiacal reading, however, would not fall within the parameters of the Jewish tradition.)

The author of the kinnah (according to some is Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra) presents that Aries wept for her lambs who were led to the slaughter; Taurus bellowed; Gemini seemed torn in half; Cancer climbed to the shore due to thirst; the heavens shook when Leo roared, as the Jews’ prayers were unsuccessful in reaching heaven; Virgo mourned the murder of the chaste; Libra tipped her scales in prayer; Scorpio became scared as God condemned the Jews to death by sword; our eyes overflowed with tears, as the rainbow (Sagittarius) was denied; Aquarius provided water to the heavens, but not to the parched mouths of the Jews; The Capricorn sin offering was offered but was not accepted; Pisces, which represents fertility, averted her eyes as mothers saw their children’s demise.

The kinnah begins “How long must Zion cry and Jerusalem mourn? Pity Zion, rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.” The elegy ends with words of consolation taken from the book of Isaiah (51:3): “For the Lord shall comfort Zion: He will comfort all her waste places; and He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness shall be found in it, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.”

Tisha B’Av Morning Kinnot

Kinnah #11

Aside from the opening and closing scenes in Stephen Spielberg’s 1993 Academy Award winning “Schindler’s List,” the entire movie was presented in black and white, except for one girl’s red coat depicted in a scene taking place in the Krakow ghetto. The camera followed this young girl as the haunting tune of the famed Yiddish tune, “Oyfn Pripetshik” 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.

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 practice. On one fortuitous occasion, he 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 outreach movement. As he lay dying, Jeremiah hears the king declare that God is righteous.

Kinnah #17

The Prophet Jeremiah, lived during the destruction by the Babylonians of Solomon’s Temple, and served as the Jews’ chief consoler as they were being exiled out of Jerusalem. Jeremiah’s narrative describing the devastation to the Jews and the barbarism of the Babylonians is recorded in the Biblical book of Lamentations. One of the most unspeakable and jarring images provided by Jeremiah can be found in the second chapter: “Behold, O Lord, and consider to whom you have done this. Shall the women eat their fruit, their cherished babies? Shall the priest and the prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord?” (Lamentations 2:20).

The 17th of the kinnot (elegies), read on Tisha B’Av morning, addresses this disturbing image. Each stanza ends with the Hebrew “a’le’lay li,” woe is me, a quote from the tragic epistle of Job (10:15). The phrase describes the ravishing hunger and degradation of the Jewish people, which was a consequence of the Babylonian siege and seizure of Jerusalem. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who popularized explaining the kinnot on Tisha B’Av day, rather than just reciting them by rote, strongly suggested reading this elegy in English. Rabbi Soloveitchik would usually share a Holocaust story at this time as well.

Rabbi Yisrael Zev Gustman (1908-1991), a towering Lithuanian scholar in pre-war Europe, survived the Nazi onslaught and rebuilt his shattered life in Israel. Rabbi Gustman once commented, “I witnessed in the Vilna Ghetto all of the atrocities mentioned in the Tisha B’Av kinnot.” The Gustman’s only son, Meir’el, six at the time, was murdered before their eyes. Rabbi Gustman recalls seeing in the ghetto, a starving elderly woman lying in the filthy street. As he approached, he was shocked to learn that the woman was none other than the widow of the famed Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, the leading Torah scholar of pre-Holocaust Europe, who had died earlier in 1940. This woman was royalty in the enormous Vilna Jewish community. She was so sick, that she was unable to consume the carrot that Rabbi Gustman gave her, until he first chewed it for her.

Woe is me. Woe is us!

Kinnah #21

The 21st kinnah describes the martyred death of eight of ten leading rabbis during the Hadrianic persecutions of the first century CE. The death 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.

Kinnah #23

The theme of “unconditional love” can be found in the Tisha B’Av kinnot, as the ideal that was absent during our history’s lowest moments.

Kinnah number 23 cites a tragic story recounted in the Talmud (Gittin 58a). At the time of the Temple’s destruction, seven Jewish slaves could be purchased for the price of one horse. The son and daughter of Rabbi Yishmael, the High Priest, who were both of attractive countenance, were sold to two separate Roman patrons, who, seeing their beauty, suggested breeding them. They were placed in a dark room together, each in his own corner, crying over their predicament. As the sun rose and they recognized one another, they died of heartbreak in each other’s arms. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (1910-2012, Jerusalem) suggested that too often we remain in our own corners and label others slaves and maidservants. Only when the light appears do we see these slaves and maidservants as our own brothers and sisters.

It is clear that one of the most important takeaways from Tisha B’Av is that we destroy ourselves when we hate each other. Conversely, when we love one another, we rise and succeed.

Kinnah #26

In Kinnah number 26, the author, Elazar HaKalir, invokes a Midrash (Eicha Rabbati, peticha 24) where the prophet Jeremiah, arouses the matriarchs and patriarchs from their eternal rest, begging them to intercede with God to prevent the utter destruction of the Jewish people. He approached Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all of whom pleaded with the Almighty to spare their beloved Jewish children for the sake of their holy actions. “Is it in vain that I suffered ten trials?” cried Abraham. “Was it in vain that I was inscribed to be slaughtered?” offered Isaac. Jacob, Moses, and Leah too were unsuccessful in their entreaties. It was only Mother Rachel who aroused God’s mercy, for Rachel famously showed great unconditional love for her sister Leah. The Bible recounts that Jacob was slated to marry Rachel, but Laban, Rachel’s wily father, believed that Leah needed to be married first, as she was older than Rachel, and intended to deliver Leah to Jacob, during his wedding with Rachel. Knowing her father’s predilection for subterfuge, Rachel concocted a code with her beloved Jacob, to assure that Laban would not try to marry Leah to Jacob. When Rachel learned that Laban was indeed engaging in that deception, she had mercy upon her older sister, and revealed to her the secret code that she had set with Jacob, so Jacob would indeed marry Leah first.

Kinnah #34

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.

Kinnah #45

The Jewish sages taught that there can be no mourning process without a consolation process. For centuries, Jews have spent Tisha B’Av morning surrounded by sadness, tragedy and hopelessness. But, immediately following this “morning of mourning,” begins a process of consolation.

Kinnah #45, Eli Tzion, is traditionally sung as the final elegy of the morning, to help console the distraught Jew and serve as encouragement to begin contemplating the future. “Wail for Zion and her cities like a woman giving birth, and like a bride dressed in mourning for her husband on her wedding night.” The author (some claim it to be Rabbi Judah Halevi) employs two examples of people who cannot be consoled: a women in the midst of the pains of childbirth and a widowed bride. The idea with which we end the “morning of mourning” is to tell ourselves that even though Tisha B’Av will end and we will ultimately rise up from our bereaved state, we will bring this awareness of sin, exile and national tragedy with us to our post-Tisha B’Av lives of normalcy.

The Jewish people are able to move on only because we hope and pray for an end to the bitter exile. Jacob was never consoled over the death of Joseph. So long as he believed Joseph was dead he was unable to prophesy. Why not? Some commentators argue that he could not be consoled because, in reality, Joseph was not dead. A pillar of Jewish faith is to pine for redemption, even though we may not be consoled, but we must be comforted knowing that our current status is only temporary.


History of the State Since 1948

THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE

From May 1948 until July 1949, the newly declared Jewish State waged what seemed to be a war for survival against impossible odds. Out-manned, out-gunned and nearly friendless, the survival of the fledgling state was unlikely. The trained armies of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and contingents from both Saudi Arabia and Iraq, together with an untold number of reinforcements, battled against a make-shift army composed of sabras (native-born Israelis) and refugees, many just arriving from European DP camps.

While the odds were vastly against them, the Jewish fighters had two major advantages: the desire to survive and unity. With victims of the Holocaust streaming in with tales of horror and despair, the Jews understood that independence was their only option. If they were defeated by the Arab nations, they would be massacred, and those who survived would have no place to go. And while the Arab nations were unified in their hatred of Israel, they fought amongst themselves, each seeking to expand its own territory.

Battling for every dunam of land, the Israelis slowly drove back the Arab armies, overcoming the impossible odds and breaking the siege on the roads.
In July 1949, armistice agreements were signed with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. At the end of the war, the borders of the State of Israel encompassed a slightly larger territory than originally mapped out by the UN partition plan, but the city of Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan.
While the fighting was over, there was no real peace. The Arab nations refused to recognize the State of Israel. In the divided capital of Jerusalem, gun shots often rang out. The captured Jewish quarter of the Old City was laid to ruin as the Jordanians destroyed synagogues, schools, homes and even cemeteries. The holy Western Wall was rendered inaccessible to all Jews.

POPULATION SHIFTS

Certain of their victory in the war, the attacking Arab nations encouraged the Arabs living within Israel to flee, telling them that the Jews would surely massacre them, and assuring them that after the Zionists were defeated they would have priority in acquiring the Jewish lands. Many hundreds of thousands of Arabs believed their comrade’s propaganda and fled. When the Arabs lost the war, these Arabs were now without a home. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan…all refused to take them in and declare them citizens. Instead, they created refugee camps, vowing that they would soon disgorge the Zionist enemies and “drive them into the sea.”

But the Arabs who fled Israel during the War of Independence were not the only ones who suddenly found themselves displaced. An almost equal number of Jews who had been living in Arab countries now found themselves regarded as enemies in their own countries. Driven from their homes, these Jews were resettled in Israel.

For the next decade, Israel continued to grow. The population constantly increased by a flow of Jews from around the world. Life in Israel was not easy. Basic amenities were looked upon as luxuries, and constant infiltrations by Palestinian Arab terrorist groups called “Fedayeen” took the lives of over 1,000 Israeli citizens.

1956- THE SINAI CAMPAIGN

During the early 1950s, on top of the continued Fedayeen attacks, Egypt disrupted Israeli trade by blocking shipping routes in the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal. At the same time, Egypt nationalized the Suez canal, angering the French and English.

At the end of October 1956, Israel launched the Sinai Campaign, capturing the entire Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. Two days later, France and England joined the battle. By early November, the campaign was over, Egypt was humbled and an uneasy truce prevailed. At the insistence of the United States and the UN, Israel withdrew from Gaza and Sinai. UN troops were stationed on the Egypt-Israel border, but the Egyptians continued to hinder Israeli shipping.

1967 – THE SIX DAY WAR

In 1967, military movements throughout the Arab nations surrounding Israel made it apparent that a major Arab military attack was imminent. Egypt ejected the UN peace-keeping forces that had served as a buffer at the Israel-Egypt border, and blocked Israeli shipping in the Straits of Tiran, an action Israel had warned would lead to war. At the same time, infiltration attacks increased on the Syrian border at the Golan Heights and large troop movements in Syria alarmed the Israeli Defense Force. Throughout the Middle East there was an increase in troop movements and anti-Israel rhetoric. Soldiers arrived in Jordan from Iraq, Algeria and Kuwait.

Using diplomatic channels, Israel tried to re-open the international shipping routes to their vessels. The previously pledged support by allies, France and Britain, evaporated, and the United States was unable to create an international force to pressure Egypt to back down. Faced with a major international challenge and surrounded by increased troop movements in enemy countries, Israel launched a pre-emptive attack on June 5, 1967, swiftly capturing the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. Ignoring Israeli pleas not to join the war, Jordan launched heavy artillery attacks on western Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Israel responded with a hard defensive push and gained control of all of Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank). When the Syrians attacked from the north, Israel fought back and succeeded in capturing the Golan Heights from which the Syrians had been launching terror attacks since the creation of the State.

The war ended on June 10th, again without any official peace. The State of Israel had added to its territory the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank, all areas from which there had been constant attacks against Israel’s civilian population.
Perhaps the greatest moment in the 1967 war was the unification of Jerusalem. On June 7, 1967, for the first time since 1948, Jews stood before the holy Western Wall and were free to pray. Since the unification of the city, Jews, Christians and Muslims have all had open access to the holy sites of the ancient city.

1973 – THE YOM KIPPUR WAR

Despite the noted increase in movements of Egyptian and Syrian troops, the Israeli Defense Forces deemed the situation secure enough to allow the majority of Israeli soldiers to return home and spend Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, with their families.

When the Syrians and Egyptians attacked on the holiest day of the Jewish year (October 6, 1973), the Israelis were taken by surprise, which nearly cost them the war. The Egyptians and Syrians were supported by troops from other Arab nations as well as extensive training and arms from the Soviet Union. What was originally a regional Mid-East conflict, became a battle ground for Cold War issues as the Soviet Union backed Egypt and Syria, supplying them with airlifts of weapons and advisors. At the very last moment, in response, the United States, sent Israel the military replacement parts it needed to recover from its initial losses. Israel eventually struck back and recovered, but only after suffering extraordinarily heavy losses.

Technically, the war ended on October 22, 1973, but fighting continued on the Egyptian-Israeli front. When the cease-fire went into effect, Israel had captured an additional 165 square miles of territory from Syria, and had encircled the Egyptian Third Army on the west bank of the Suez Canal. Egyptian forces held two areas of Israeli territory along the east bank of the canal. Israel, Egypt and Syria all held prisoners of war. After months of diplomacy, Israel withdrew from the area it seized from Syria during the 1973 war, in addition to some area gained in 1967, as well as from parts of the Sinai. Prisoners of war were exchanged.

THE BEGINNINGS OF PEACE

The visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in November 1977 was a monumental moment in Mid-East history. Sadat’s two-day visit, at the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, began a process that ended two years later at Camp David, Maryland, when, through the good offices of American President Jimmy Carter, a peace treaty was brokered. It was the first time in history that an Arab nation recognized the State of Israel. As a result of the treaty, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt.

LEBANON

In the late 1970s, southern Lebanon became a formidable launching zone for terrorist attacks against Israel. The continued attacks became untenable and all diplomatic resources failed to secure peaceful living conditions for the residents of Northern Israel. In 1982, Israel could endure no more, and entered Southern Lebanon to do battle with the Palestinian Liberation Organization. While numerous cease-fires were arranged in the 1980s and 1990s, each time fighting broke out again, and the security of Israeli citizens was continually at risk. In June 1985, the majority of Israeli troops were withdrawn from Southern Lebanon. A small residual Israeli force and an Israeli-supported militia remained in Southern Lebanon in a “security zone,” which Israel established to serve as a necessary buffer against attacks on its northern territory.

In the summer of 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak unilaterally withdrew Israeli troops from Southern Lebanon. Hundred of members of the Southern Lebanese army, that had allied itself with Israel, fled to Israel for protection from retribution from anti-Israel forces. Since the unilateral withdrawal, there has been an increase in attacks by Hizbullah, the major terrorist organization.

THE GULF WAR

During the Gulf War, despite its non-involvement, Israel once again came under attack as Scud Missiles were launched at Israeli territory from Iraq. In total, 39 scuds landed in Israel, many of them on homes and other occupied buildings. Pressured by the United States and other international influences, Israel did not respond to the attacks. Miraculously, Israel suffered only one death.

THE INTIFADA and OSLO ACCORDS

In 1987, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), recognized internationally as a terrorist organization headed by Yassir Arafat, led an internal uprising known as the Intifada. A non-conventional war, the Intifada continued until the mid-1990s. The methods of the Intifada included guerilla warfare, terrorist attacks, stabbings and highjackings.

As the situation became unbearable for both sides, Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin agreed to meet with PLO chief Yassir Arafat. Thus began the Oslo Peace Process in 1994. Under the Oslo agreement, Israel agreed to trade land for peace. Included in the terms of the Oslo agreement were: the removal of troops and the creation of self-governed Palestinian areas, the creation (and arming) of a Palestinian police force, as well as the removal from the PLO charter of the declaration of violence against Israel. Critical to the furtherance of the peace process was an educational system based on peace. The agreement was designed to slowly move towards a separate Palestinian entity governed by the Palestinian Authority, but only after accepted steps and signs of change on both sides. Important “final status” issues were left unresolved until the initial agreement had been fulfilled.

Over the five years during which the “land for peace” transfers were expected to build mutual trust and confidence, the two sides would proceed with negotiations on the “final status” issues left unresolved at Oslo. These included some of the thorniest issues dividing the two sides: Palestinian statehood, Jerusalem, and the right of Arab refugee return.

The Oslo period lasted from 1994 until 2000. Peace talks and negotiations gave Israelis hope that peace would soon be achieved. Yet the agreements being made by the leaders of both sides were not necessarily acceptable to their constituents. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations continued to disrupt any hopes for peace, staging numerous bus bombings and other attacks. Right-wing Israelis fought for their voices to be heard as they countered that “land for peace” would not bring peace. Still, the talks continued, and in the summer of 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak, at the behest of President Bill Clinton, offered chairman Arafat control of over 90% of the West Bank, Gaza and a shared capital in Jerusalem. The offer was rejected. Arafat wanted all or nothing.

THE AL AKSA INTIFADA

Just before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, in September 2000, violence again erupted in what is now called the Al Aksa Intifada. The Israeli people wearied by concessions that did not bring peace, elected Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister in the elections in February 2001.

The Al Aksa Intifada took the lives of hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians. Every time it appeared that peace-talks would resume, and that the Palestinian Authority might make a serious attempt to deter the terrorism, there was another attack: suicide bombers attacked pizza shops, night clubs, cafes and Passover Seders, killing young and old indiscriminately. Gunmen infiltrated Bar Mitzvah parties, bombers blew up commuter buses — the one common thread was that the Palestinian terrorists made no distinctions. Even Arabs were murdered. Entire families were wiped out and many children were left without parents.

In 2002, Israel began constructing a Security Fence. While this move was controversial internationally, statistics have shown that there was a significant (90%) decrease in terrorist attacks from the areas where the wall was completed. The protection of human life, however, has come at a cost, as those Palestinians wishing to cross into Israel proper for legitimate reasons of work or recreation, are impeded by long backups at check points.

The Al Aksa Intifada definitively came to an end when Yasser Arafat died in November 2004. In January 2006, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke, effectively ushering in a new generation of political leadership to this seemingly never ending struggle. Mahmoud Abbas became the President of the Palestinian Authority, while Ehud Olmert assumed the Prime Ministry of Israel.

DISENGAGEMENT

Perhaps the most significant action of Ariel Sharon’s government was the unilateral withdrawal of Israel from Gaza and the removal of its settlers from Gush Katif and other Gaza settlements. Over 8,000 Jews were evacuated from their homes so that the Palestinians could govern themselves in Gaza.

In preparing for the Palestinian takeover, the Israeli army bulldozed every settlement structure except for several synagogues, Israeli soldiers formally left Gaza on September 11, 2005, and closed the border fence at Kissufim. The synagogues were later looted and burned to the ground.

The absorption of the former residents of Gush Katif into Israel proper was not smooth. Housing and employment still remain a problem for many who were relocated.

Gaza itself degenerated into chaos. In 2006-2007, it became the focal point of a power struggle between Hamas and Fatah. In June 2007, Hamas, a group recognized worldwide as a terrorist organization, seized control of Gaza from Abbas’ Fatah military entity. The smuggling of arms from Egypt and constant rocket firing into Western Israel – most notably the city of Sderot – have become the norm.

THE SECOND LEBANON WAR – Summer 2006

While Israel had withdrawn its troops from southern Lebanon in 2000, the northern border was still a hotspot for violence. Hezbollah regularly sent katusha rockets into northern towns – thankfully, they often missed. In July 2006, Hezbollah terrorists attacked two Israeli border patrol Humvees, killing 3 Israeli soldiers and kidnaping 2 more, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev . This incident followed only a few weeks after Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, had been kidnaped in Gaza by Hamas. The Hezbollah kidnaping and Israel’s desperate attempts to have the soldiers returned was the starting point of the Second Lebanon War

The Second Lebanon War lasted 33 days and was ended by a United Nations Cease-fire. All told, over one thousand people were killed, including many civilians. Over one million people on both sides were displaced from their homes during the fighting, though most were able to return when the hostilities ended.

* In August of 2008, the bodies of Goldwasser and Regev were returned to Israel in a prisoner/body exchange. The two Israelis were believed to have been dead even at the time of the Lebanese action.

OPERATION CAST LEAD

While the U.N. cease fire was upheld on the Lebanese border, the violence throughout the rest of the country did not cease. On March 6, 2008, a gunman entered Yeshivat Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem and killed 8 students and wounded 11 others. Rocket attacks out of the Gaza Strip increased, and over 12,000 rockets were launched into Israel between 2000 and 2008. As the vast majority of these rockets did not, miraculously, take any lives, the ongoing bombardment was not widely noted and condemned.

In December 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a three week military air and infantry operation in Gaza meant to end the ongoing rocket attacks and to weaken Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the region. The operation concluded with a unilateral cease-fire.

MORE RECENT HISTORY

Over the course of the last decade, Israel has faced the challenge of negative public relations and has lost important support from the North American Jewish community. Incidents such as the 2010 Gaza Flotilla raid in which Israel forcibly stopped a group of Turkish ships trying to illegally enter Gaza created much negative publicity, even if they were within their rights. One anti-Israel campaign that has gained particular popularity is the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state. Jewish university students have had to fight for Israel’s legitimacy in light of numerous calls for boycotts on Israeli products.

On a more positive note, after a 5 year multi-national pressure campaign, Gilad Shalit, who had been abducted on the Gaza border in 2006, was returned to Israel in 2011 in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners.

Our Sages have taught us that the actions of every Jew have a direct impact on the entire nation. What Jews do in America, in Canada, in Russia, in any part of the world, can help our brothers and sisters in Israel find peace.


The Nine Days

July 20, 2020

The Nine Days

Rosh Chodesh Av (the beginning of the month of Av) through Tisha B’Av is the period known as the “Nine Days,” during which the mourning is intensified. The “Nine Days” sensitize us to the depth of sadness necessary to fully relate to the tragedies of Tisha B’Av.

The “Nine Days” sensitize us to the depth of sadness necessary to fully relate to the tragedies of Tisha B’Av. To this end, in addition to the prohibitions of the Three Weeks, the rabbis prohibited the following:

  1.  Buying, making, or wearing new clothing
  2. Washing, laundering and cleaning clothes (unless one owns only one set of clothing)
  3. Rejoicing and things which lead to rejoicing, such as the planting of trees or the building of a new home
  4. Celebrations with music and dancing
    •  It is, however, permitted to get engaged during the Nine Days, but the engagement celebration must be postponed until after Tisha B’Av
  5. Bathing
    • This refers to bathing for pleasure, such as in a bubble bath, jacuzzi or taking a long, hot shower. It is permitted to bathe for personal cleanliness.
  6. Eating meat and drinking wine
    • While meat is generally not eaten, an exception is made for Shabbat or a Seudat Mitzva, a festive meal in celebration of a bris, pidyon ha-ben (redemption of the first born), bar mitzvah or conclusion of the study of a Talmudic tractate. Wine is permitted on Shabbat.


The Three Weeks

July 9-30, 2020

The Three Weeks

The Seventeenth of Tammuz marks the beginning of a period known as the “Three Weeks.” Exactly 21 days (3 weeks) after the fast day is Tisha B’Av, a full day of mourning over the destruction of both Temples and the other great tragedies throughout history that correspond with the date. More than just a “bridge between two fast days,” the Three Weeks are, historically, a time of continuing tragedy.

How We Mourn During the Three Weeks

    1.  During this period of mourning, certain restrictions have become customary. These restrictions intensify at the beginning of the Month of Av during the period known as the “Nine Days.”
    2. The following activities are avoided or prohibited during the three weeks:
      •  Weddings (according to Ashkenazic custom)
      • Listening to live music
      • Dancing to music (instrumental)
      • Pleasure-trips
      • Hair cuts (Sephardim only prohibit haircuts during the Nine Days)
      • Saying a Shecheyanu, the blessing said over a new fruit or new outfit


Ki Tisah

Ki Tisah

In the parasha, Parashat Ki Tisah, we read of the infamous episode of the Golden Calf.

In preparation for the Revelation, Moses had gone up to Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights to study Torah with the Almighty. But, because of a miscalculation regarding the date of Moses’ return, the People of Israel thought that Moses had abandoned them, and demanded that Aaron produce a new leader. Aaron tried to delay them, but eventually the Golden Calf is created. The crazed people cry out to the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:4) “Ay’leh Eh’lo’hecha Yis’rael,” This is your G-d, O’ Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!

G-d is furious at the people’s actions, tells Moses to descend from the mountain, saying that the people that he (Moses) has brought up from Egypt have become corrupt. G-d, in anger, denounces the people, saying in Exodus 32:9, “Rah’iti et ha’am ha’zeh, v’hinei am k’shey oref hu,” I have seen this people and behold, they are a stiff-necked people. And now Moses, says G-d, desist from Me, let My anger flare against them, and I will annihilate them, and shall make of you (Moses) a great nation.

Moses pleads to G-d that the destruction of Israel will be seen by the other nations as G-d’s lack of omnipotence. G- d, so to speak, reconsiders, and Moses comes down the mountain with the two tablets of testimony in his hands. When Moses sees the people dancing around the Gold Calf, his own anger flares. He throws the tablets from his hands and shatters them at the foot of the mountain (Exodus 32:19).

Moses then calls out: (Exodus 32:26) Whosoever is for G-d join me. All the Levites gather around him, and wreak vengeance on those who had led the rebellion of the Golden Calf. Three thousand men of Israel fall that day at the hands of the Levites. Moses pleads to G-d on behalf of the Jewish people, but G-d strikes the people with a plague.
Moses spends the next forty days praying that G-d restore Israel to its previous state of eminence. The second set of tablets are delivered to the Jewish people. G-d reveals His thirteen attributes of mercy, and so the story ends.

Although we have not yet completed the reading of the Book of Exodus (the second of the Five Books of Moses), one could already get the impression that the G-d of Israel is a vengeful G-d. This is the G-d who destroys the world by means of a Flood; the G-d who asks Abraham to sacrifice his son; the G-d who enslaves the Jewish people in Egypt; the G-d who kills Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s sons, on the greatest day of Aaron’s life, at the investiture of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle; the G-d who swallows up Korach and 250 of his men as the earth opens; the G-d who decrees that the Jewish people will never be allowed to enter the Land of Israel because of the sin of the spies; the G-d who says to Moses that he will never enter the Land of Israel because he hit the rock, rather than speak to the rock. The seemingly unending anger and acts of retribution are perhaps why the nations of the world refer to the G-d of the Hebrew Scriptures, the so-called “Old Testament” G-d, as the G-d of Vengeance, while the G-d of the Christian Bible is often called the god of love or the god of mercy.

The Torah in Leviticus 19:18 clearly forbids vengeance. “Lo tikom, v’lo titor et b’nei ameh’cha,” You shall not wreak vengeance nor bear a grudge toward the people of your nation. The Talmud, in Yoma 23a, defines vengeance, citing the following example: If one farmer asks to borrow a hoe from a second farmer and is refused, that first farmer is not permitted to refuse the use of a spade to the farmer who was unkind to him. In Leviticus 19, however, the Torah goes further. Do not bare a grudge, explains the Talmud–one is not even permitted to say to that farmer who was unkind yesterday: “I’m not like you, I’m not a low-life. Here, take my spade and use it in good health!” And yet, our G-d seems to be a vengeful and grudge-bearing G-d. How could that be?

Of course, there is a profound difference between people being unnecessarily vengeful, and a G-d who demands accountability. One cannot equate a valid and deserving punishment meted out to a wicked person, with vengeance against an arrogant or mean neighbor.

As the story of the Golden Calf concludes, a second set of tablets are carved out. In Exodus 34:4, Moses rises early in the morning and ascends Mount Sinai. G-d descends in a cloud and stands with Moses. Moses calls out the name of G-d as G-d proclaims: “Hashem, Hashem, G-d, G-d, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to Anger and Abundant in Kindness and Truth, Preserver of Kindness for Thousands of Generations, Forgiver of Iniquity, Willful Sin, and Error, and Who Cleanses but does not Cleanse Completely, recalling the iniquity of parents upon the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.” These so- called 13 attributes of G-d’s mercy represent the ultimate level of forgiveness. By invoking the 13 attributes, G-d gives the Jewish people a second chance.

Let’s look at this again! There is an inconsistency, a blatant inconsistency in the thirteen attributes!! Exodus 34:7 reads “V’nakay lo y’nakeh, po’hkead avon avot,” the verse tells us that G-d does not entirely cleanse. In fact, He recalls the iniquity of the parents on the children and the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations!
The brother of the Chazon Ish, Rav Avraham Yishayahu Karelitz, the great Jewish sage who led the religious community in Israel in the 1940s and 1950s, was asked a question: If we are supposed to cling to G-d, “V’da’vakta b’id’ra’chav,” if we are supposed to imitate G-d, then perhaps we, humans, should be vengeful, since we see that the last of G-d’s 13 attributes of mercy is vengeance and not cleansing completely? He answered: If a human being’s act of vengeance is preceded by 12 qualities of mercy, then perhaps that person is truly entitled to be vengeful as well.

In real life there is vengeance that is entirely legitimate. In fact, sometimes legitimate vengeance is not cruel at all, but may actually be a reflection of mercy. There comes a time when people in authority need to say, “Enough is enough!” G-d also says: “Enough is enough, this cannot continue, this must stop!” And by stopping the undesirable actions, we perform an act of mercy not vengeance. Stopping a cruel and wicked person certainly is an act of mercy for the victims. It may even be an act of mercy for the cruel and wicked person himself.

Let’s face it, Judaism’s goals are radically different from the conventional world. Judaism sees the world differently and values the world differently. Our G-d, the G-d of the Hebrews, is surely a G-d of love, but also a G-d of accountability. In the Jewish religion, one doesn’t just walk away from one’s misdeed. People are held accountable, responsible, and expected to mend their ways when they err; and if they don’t, there’s a price to be paid by us all for improper actions.

Yes, our G-d holds us to a strict account, but by holding us to a strict account, He performs for us an act of mercy. As a result, we become better, stronger, more knowledgeable and even more merciful people, especially when we ultimately see the toll that sinfulness exacts on us.

Yes, as the brother of the Chazon Ish said: If vengeance is preceded by 12 qualities of mercy, then perhaps vengeance is indeed justified!

May You Be Blessed.

Originally aired 2/26/2000


Passover Around the World

Passover Around The World

Throughout the 2000 years of exile, the Jewish nation has dwelled in almost every corner of the world. England, Syria, Russia or Shanghai, no matter the country, Passover has been a time of sacredness to all Jews. Whether from an Ashkenazi or a Sephardi background, the matzah, the maror and the text of the Haggadah unify the Jewish nation. But distance between communities has spiced the flavor of every Seder. While njop.org has presented basic guidelines, below are some unique customs from communities around the world.

Charoset: A tasty food that represents the mortar the Jewish slaves used to build Pharaoh’s cities, the recipe varies between communities. Most Ashkenazic communities make their charoset based on walnuts, apples and wine. The Persian community mixes spices with such fruits and nuts as bananas, oranges, pistachios, pomegranates and dates. Another Sephardic charoset recipe is made by boiling dates into a thick liquid, straining it and adding chopped walnuts. Venetian Jews blend chestnut paste and apricots.

Gebrachts: In Yiddish, the word gebruchts means broken and refers to foods prepared by cooking or baking matzah or matzah meal with liquids. This stringency, adhered to by most Chasidic communities, as well as many non-Chasidic Ashkenazim, is based upon the fear that raw flour may still be found in the cooked matzah and, when mixed with a liquid, will become chametz. For those who choose to not eat gebrachts matzah balls and matzah brei, favorites throughout the Ashkenazi world, are off the menu.

Yachatz (The Breaking of the Middle Matzah): In some Sephardi communities, the Seder leader attempts to break the middle matzah into the shape of letters. Syrians break the matzah in the shape of the Hebrew letters dalet and vav. Maghreban break it to form the 2 components of the Hebrew letter heh. (Note: hiding and stealing the afikoman is an Ashkenazi, not a Sephardi tradition

Re-enacting the Exodus: A pervasive custom throughout the Sephardi communities is to dramatize the Exodus. Generally this takes place immediately following Yachatz, the breaking of the middle matzah, or after Ha Lachma Anya, the first paragraph of the Maggid section.

The basic script for this dramatization is as follows:

Person holding the afikoman: “Their remaining possessions tied up in their bags on their shoulders and the children of Israel did as Moses commanded.”

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

Afikoman holder: “From Egypt.”

Participants: “Where are you going to?”

Afikoman holder: “To Jerusalem.”

Participants: “What are your supplies?”

Afikoman holder: “Matzah and Maror.”

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

Re-enacting the Exodus–a second version: In the Yemenite community, the Seder leader rises, throws the afikoman bag over his shoulder like a knapsack and circles the table while leaning on a cane. As he walks about the room, the leader tells the other participants about his experiences and the miracles he witnessed as he came from Egypt.

Dayenu and Scallions: In Afghani, Persian, and other Sephardi homes, the singing of Dayenu is accompanied by the beating of scallions — Using bunches of scallions or leeks, Seder participants beat each other lightly on the back and shoulders to symbolize the taskmasters whip.

The End of Passover: The last day of Passover is the day on which G-d parted the Reed Sea. Many communities commemorate this great event by gathering together at midnight and reciting the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15).
This is a brief survey of some of the varying traditions within the Jewish community. If you feel NJOP has left off a valuable custom from your community, please email us at [email protected]

Passover

The holiday of Passover commemorates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt which led to the birth of the Jewish nation at Sinai. The Passover Seder, which is held on the first (and second night outside of Israel) of Passover, is perhaps the most widely observed Jewish practice. This outline will provide you with the basics of the Passover holiday, laws and customs.

Learn more

Programs and Classes

Host or attend the exciting Passover programs and classes provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover, read and download our comprehensive guides and walkthroughs, watch videos and learn about the various aspects of Passover.

Articles

Browse our collection of Passover Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about the histories and traditions of Passover.


Festival Facts

Articles

Table of Contents

Matzah Baking

To guarantee that matzah is Kosher for Passover, it must be produced in under 18 minutes. That means from the moment the water and flour come in contact, through the kneading and rolling, until it is removed from the (degree) oven, no more than 18 minutes can have passed. When the 18 minutes are over, any unused dough is removed, the baking area is cleaned of left overs, and all workers scrub their hands to ensure that no dough is caught between their fingers.

Where is Moshe (Moses)?

Central to the story of the Exodus is the dynamic leader who spoke with G-d, confronted Pharaoh, led the Jews out of Egypt and guided them through the wilderness for forty years – Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our great teacher). As integral a part as Moshe played in the Exodus from Egypt, one would think that his name would be all over the Haggadah. But it isn’t. In fact, he is mentioned only once, and then merely in passing. Why isn’t Moshe part of the Haggadah?

While Judaism ranks no leader or teacher higher then Moshe, he is not, and cannot be deified, and this is why he is not part of the Passover Seder. On Passover we celebrate the fact the G-d brought us out of Egypt with “a strong hand and an outstretched arm.” As the Haggadah states: ” I [G-d] and not an angel. I [G-d] and not a messenger.”
No human being has ever come as close to G-d as Moshe, but in the end we must remember that he was still a human being. In fact, G-d recognizes the human capacity for deification and when Moshe dies, the location of his death and his burial site remains unknown to all. G-d wanted the Jewish people to understand that Moshe was a messenger of G-d, not the deity himself. The sages, therefore, when formalizing the text of the Haggadah, did not introduce Moshe into the text, out of fear that this could lead to Moshe’s deification.

How Pharaoh Enslaved The Children of Israel

Upon reading the Book of Exodus, one might wonder at the swift descent of the Jewish nation from the esteemed family of the Viceroy, Joseph, to slavery. Xenophobia, the fear of foreigners, is a common historic phenomenon, but one would think that transforming a nation into slaves would cause an uprising or take generations. The sages teach, however, that the Egyptians were cunning and enslaved the Jews through artifice. This is understood from Pharaoh, whose name can be broken up to mean peh rah, which means evil speech and can be understood to relate to peh rach, soft speech – Language is a powerful tool and even Pharaoh understood this. When he decided to enslave the Jews he declared a national week of labor on which all good citizens of the realm were to come and help in the building of the great store cities of Pithom and Ramses, with Pharaoh himself in the lead. The Jews, wanting to show their loyalty to their host country, joined in enthusiastically. The next day, however, when the Jews arrived to building sites, the Egyptians did not return. Shortly thereafter, the Jews found themselves surrounded by taskmasters who demanded that they produce the same amount of work that they had done under their own volition the day before. It was through soft, gentle and cunning words that Pharaoh lured the Jewish nation into slavery.

Passover

The holiday of Passover commemorates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt which led to the birth of the Jewish nation at Sinai. The Passover Seder, which is held on the first (and second night outside of Israel) of Passover, is perhaps the most widely observed Jewish practice. This outline will provide you with the basics of the Passover holiday, laws and customs.

Learn more

Programs and Classes

Host or attend the exciting Passover programs and classes provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover, read and download our comprehensive guides and walkthroughs, watch videos and learn about the various aspects of Passover.

Articles

Browse our collection of Passover Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about the histories and traditions of Passover.


Passover Writings

Order in Ten Plagues- Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

The great German rabbi and Biblical commentator (1808-1888), Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch offers a compelling interpretation of the 10 plagues. In the Haggadah we read that Rabbi Yehuda ha’yah notayn ba’hem see’maneem, “Rabbi Yehudah used to form acronyms (of the 10 plagues) by their initials”:

D’tzach, A’dash, B’ah’ch’av. Rabbi Hirsch asserts that Rabbi Yehuda’s breakdown of the plagues into three sets of three (Makkat B’chorot – the slaying of the first born is in a category of its own), is not at all arbitrary. In fact, it is based on the Brit Bayn Hab’tarim, the Covenant Between the Pieces (Genesis 15) where G-d tells Avraham: Ya’do’ah tay’dah, “You shall surely know that your children will be gerim, exiles, in a land that is not theirs,” va’avadum, ” they will be enslaved,” v’eenu otam “and they will be persecuted,” arbah may’ot shana, “400 years.”

Rabbi Hirsch underscores the three elements of the Covenant Between the Pieces: exile, enslavement and persecution. Elaborating on the structure of the 10 plagues, Rabbi Hirsch points out that the first plague of each triplet: dam, blood, arov,wild animals, and barad, hail, always takes place at the riverside. The first plagues of each triplet represent galut, exile. Just as the Jews in Egypt experienced exile, so the Egyptians must experience exile. The Nile is no loner the Nile. The most highly identified feature of Egypt is now a river of blood. The land is overrun with wild animals. It is no longer Egypt. Suddenly this country of hot climate is stricken with barad, hail. It is no longer Egypt.

The second of each triplet, says Rabbi Hirsch, always takes place at Pharaoh’s palace. Tz’pharday’ah, frogs, deh’ver, death of the animals, and a’rbeh, locust, all represent avdut, enslavement. The Egyptians are overrun by timorous frogs who control their lives and enslave the citizens. The plague of the animals requires the Egyptians to serve as clean-up laborers. And a’rbeh, locusts, the little bugs control and in effect enslave the Egyptians.

The final plague of each triplet always takes place without any warning to Pharaoh. Kinim, lice, sh’chin, boils, and cho’shech, darkness, represent the third aspect of the Covenant Between the Pieces — physical persecution. Physical persecution from lice, boils and darkness. The darkness, as the rabbis interpret it, was so fierce that the Egyptians were literally imprisoned, and they could not physically move.
Now we understand why Rabbi Judah would break the plagues up into three categories–because the 10 plagues truly served as a fulfillment of the Covenant Between the Pieces. We also see that there is magic to the structure of the Torah — what seemed to be ten arbitrary plagues have deep and profound meaning when understood in the proper context.

Demystifying...Bedikat Chametz (The Search for Chametz) - Sarah Rochel Hewitt

Tis the night before Pesach
and all through the place
we must search for our chametz,
in every corner and space.

We’ve emptied our pockets,
and vacuumed the floor,
every inch has been dusted,
we can clean no more!

With a feather and a candle,
in the dark of the night,
we look for any chametz
that was hidden from sight.

Next day after sunrise
all the chametz must be
burned out of existence
to set ourselves free.

On Passover, Jews are commanded to get rid of all “chametz” (see definition of chametz in overview) which may be in their possession. Weeks are spent cleaning and scrubbing. To confirm the effectiveness of these efforts, a special search for chametz, called Bedikat Chametz, is held on the night before Passover.

Shortly after nightfall, Bedikat Chametz begins. The search is conducted by the light of a candle, in order to look in all the nooks and crannies (if the candle might cause danger, for instance when searching near draperies, one may use a flashlight). It is also customary to “sweep” the chametz away with a feather.
Before the search begins, the following blessing is recited:

Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu melech Ha-olam, asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzeevanu al Bee’oor chametz.
Blessed are you L-rd, our G-d ruler of the world, who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us concerning the removal of chametz.

From the recitation of the blessing until the search begins, there should be no talking. Likewise, during the search, conversation should be limited to matters which pertain to the search.

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

All chametz that is found should be placed safely in a bag for disposal the next morning. You may, however, put aside chametz to eat for breakfast, making sure to clean up any leftovers and to add them to the chametz bag afterwards.

When the search is over, a general declaration is made stating that any unknown chametz is hereby declared ownerless:

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

On the morning before the Seder, all chametz found during Bedikat Chametz, or left over from breakfast, is burned. In larger communities, there are often communal chametz burning barrels.
After the burning of the chametz, since the time for eating chametz has passed, we make a more comprehensive declaration nullifying ownership.

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

The removal and destruction of chametz is now complete.

A Deeper Look at Bedikat Chametz

On Passover, the festival of freedom, we commemorate our liberation from slavery. In the 21st century, most people often think of freedom as a lack of restrictions and obligations. With the intensive cleaning and obligatory preparations, Passover seems to be in direct contradiction of freedom. After all, how can we be considered free, when we are obligated to “slave away” cleaning every corner of the house?

While our release from slavery occurred on Passover, the Jewish nation was not wholly free on the day they left Egypt. Although they were no longer subjugated to taskmasters, the Israelites retained the slave mentalities which they had acquired. Slavery, after all, denies a person free will. Lack of free will often causes a person to lose a sense of responsibility. Proof of this can be seen in the fact that throughout their journey in the wilderness, the Jews rebel and cry-out that it would have been better to still be slaves in Egypt! While in slavery, they did not have to choose how to act, their masters told them what to do.

Yes, the Jewish nation was redeemed from Egypt in order to be free, free to serve G-d! Thirty three centuries later, our mission has not changed. Passover is the time for setting ourselves free from that which today enslaves us. While the slavery of the 21st century is not the physical hardship we faced in Egypt, today’s bondage is even more subtle and powerful. Today many Americans are enslaved to their jobs, to money, to power and to technology.

How many Jews will miss attending a Sedera this year because they “just couldn’t get off work” (In America, one can’t really loose his/her job for taking time off for a religious holiday!!) How many Jews are aghast at the idea of no TV, pager or cell-phone for 25 hours on Shabbat. And how many Jews balk at the idea of keeping kosher because of the fear of appearing different from others? Is this freedom?
Perhaps the root of enslavement is pride. The popular idiom of modern life, “He who has the most toys, wins,” is, unfortunately, hardly a maxim for living life to the fullest. It is probably more a means of showing superiority over others. Does anyone really need a cell-phone/pager/internet with a video screen? The human race has survived without it for millennia. But oh, to be the first one on the block to own one!

Our sages tell us that Chametz (any combination of water and flour which is allowed to ferment) represents “pride,” comparing the “puffing-up” of the dough to the “puffing-up” of the ego. We are proud of our business accomplishments, our social coups, and even our “righteousness.” Pride and arrogance, however, are allies of the evil inclination, the Yetzer Harah. When a person places too high a value on him/herself, the importance of G-d is diminished and is more likely to sin. As the holiday of our redemption approaches, we are reminded that the People of Israel attained freedom by having faith in G-d and accepting that it is G-d who ultimately runs the world and performs miracles.

Searching for chametz is symbolic of battling the evil inclination. We search every corner of our souls for pride and arrogance. It is only then, when we have labored to rid ourselves of these negative character traits, that we are able to appreciate the freedom that was given to us when we left Egypt.

The actual search, during which pieces of chametz are “hidden” in the house, reminds us that we must still search even when we think that the cleansing is complete. One should never glory in one’s “righteousness,” after all, no one is ever completely cleansed of “chametz.” Isn’t the best Jew the one who is always trying to be a better Jew?
The Jewish concept of freedom is not a world without laws. Freedom is the removal of obstacles in the path of serving G-d. Free will is G-d’s gift to humankind, but the freedom to use it properly must be learned and earned.
May you have a successful search and a joyful Passover.

Pesach Sheni / The Second Passover

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

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

Contact with the dead rendered a person tamei, spiritually impure, and any person who was tamei was forbidden to partake of the Passover lamb.

In response to their plea, Moses sought instruction from God. God responded that anyone who was tamei due to contact with death or who was on a distant journey at the time of the Passover offering (14th of Nisan), was then obligated to offer the Passover lamb one month later, on the 14th of Iyar. Those celebrating Pesach Sheni (the Second Passover) must eat the meat of the sacrifice together with matzah and maror, exactly as on a regular Passover.

Today, without a Temple, no one is able to bring a Passover sacrifice and everyone is in some state of tumah (ritual impurity). Thus the laws of Pesach Sheni have little practical effect in day to day Jewish life. However, there is a custom to eat some matzah on the 14th of Iyar to mark the date of Pesach Sheni for ourselves and for future generations.

Celebrating the Seder with Abba
by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

American Jews who have some traditional background usually speak of “conducting” a Seder. My friend, RL, once told me that most assimilated Jews who attend a Seder use a different expression: They “sweat it out!”

Abba’s vivid memories of Europe never seemed to leave him for even a moment of the 72 years he subsequently dwelt in the USA. My big sister, 12 years my elder, and my little sister, 2 years my elder, and I, watched with eyes aglow, as Abba, unusually late in February or early March, started taking down the special corrugated boxes marked “Pessach” in Hebrew, filled with the Passover dishes and utensils. By then, Abba had already prepared his special “Kosher for Passover sink” — a new wooden fruit box obtained from the local market. He built it to fit perfectly in the bathtub, where he washed each Pessach plate, glass, spoon, fork, knife and silver utensil with special care and heartfelt devotion.

Abba loved his Pessach dishware with a passion. Each year he would, on numerous occasions, excitedly call his wife and children into his Passover “kitchen” to kvell with him over the beautiful long stemmed exotically colored glass which he had just polished to a high sparkle. (Being one of America’s all time great bargain hunters, Abba had probably bought the glass for less than a nickel at Gimbel’s or Macy’s “double close-out basement remnant sale,” long before the cellar had become the fashionable boutique it is today.)

Mother prepared the Seder meal with great care, of course, according to Abba’s tastes and abundant instructions. There was a palpable sense of excitement when the Seder began, which is probably not uncommon in many homes. But Abba’s enthusiasm was so contagious, that each member of our family approached the Seder in an emotional state approaching ecstacy. We truly felt the Divine presence descending.

The Buchwald family did not “read” the Haggadah, we “chanted” the Haggadah text with the special chanting melody Abba had learned in Biala. All of us were expected to master that chant, and Abba would often repeat a portion of the Haggadah if one of the designated readers missed the proper intonation while leading the chanting. Many songs were sung, often in harmony, and amazingly Abba joyfully allowed his younger children to intrude on his Biala traditions by singing the Passover songs we had learned in the Soloveitchik Yeshiva choir. Everyone was expected to lead a portion of the Haggadah reading — even poor mother, whom my father often described as possessing the “dearest” (most expensive) Hebrew, having taken countless Hebrew Ulpan classes with limited success. Inevitably, we would convulse with laughter to tears when mother really savaged a particular Hebrew word in her assigned reading.

Each year Abba would tell the same stories — about the old widow who opened the door for Elijah the Prophet. The sudden light startled the bearded goat who was resting in the backyard. The goat jumped into the old lady’s hut, and made shambles of the table. The little old lady, who had already imbibed three cups of wine, begged the “guest”: “Reb Elya (Elijah), eat, drink — but please, don’t break the dishes!” Or the limerick about Pharaoh losing his pants. It was more than fun, it was more than spiritual, it was Fantasyland come true.

When we received a “slinky” or a climbing-ladder-man as a reward for returning the Afikoman — we children were ecstatic. (Much more excited by that gift, than the walkman or CD disc player kids receive today!)
We danced with great fervor at Leshana Haba’a Bi’rushalayim (Next Year in Jerusalem), and sang Adir Hu and Chad Gadyah until the wee hours of the morning. In his traditional steadfastness, Abba would announce each year that if he moved to Israel (which was his lifelong dream), he would insist on celebrating two Seders, because he did not feel that he could fully appreciate only one seder, being too exhausted from the preparations.

The last year of his life (1992), Abba celebrated his Pessach Seder for the first time without his beloved wife of 59 years. He refused to join me or my sisters in Israel, a hotel or at our homes. He wanted to be with his beloved Passover utensils. Sure enough, more than a month before Passover, he began his regular ritual of preparation — letting us know at each step how beautiful things looked. And so at age 88 1/2 years, he celebrated together with an elderly gentleman friend of his, whom he had invited over for the holiday, and regaled him with his customs, melodies, witticisms, Torah, and the delicious food he had cooked — the traditional Buchwald fare.

Pessach without Abba has never been the same — despite the wonderful traditions which he bequeathed to us as our legacy. When Moshiach comes, I have a sneaky suspicion that it will be Abba who will be called upon to lead the celestial Seder–making certain that the angels sing with the proper intonations when they chant the Haggadah.
Reprinted from Bereshith, the Beginners newsletter, March 1993.

Passover

The holiday of Passover commemorates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt which led to the birth of the Jewish nation at Sinai. The Passover Seder, which is held on the first (and second night outside of Israel) of Passover, is perhaps the most widely observed Jewish practice. This outline will provide you with the basics of the Passover holiday, laws and customs.

Learn more

Programs and Classes

Host or attend the exciting Passover programs and classes provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover, read and download our comprehensive guides and walkthroughs, watch videos and learn about the various aspects of Passover.

Articles

Browse our collection of Passover Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about the histories and traditions of Passover.


The Story of the Exodus

Going Down to Egypt

Passover celebrates G-d’s taking the Israelites out of slavery from Egypt and bringing them to the Promised Land. But what were the Israelites doing in Egypt in the first place, and how did they get there?

The children of Israel’s trek down to Egypt actually begins with their forefather, Abraham. Abraham was the first person to acknowledge a purely monotheistic G-d. As a consequence, G-d promises to make his descendants into a great nation. The making of a great nation, like the making of anything great, is a complex process. So G-d tells Abraham that in order to become one united nation, his children must experience common suffering that is to include exile, enslavement and persecution in a land that is not theirs. Only then will they come into their inheritance–the land of Canaan (Genesis 15:13).

Three generations later, the descent to Egypt begins with Joseph. Life is often an intricate weave of seemingly negative experiences that in hindsight end up being the perfect solution. When Joseph’s brothers sold him to a band of Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt as a slave, they certainly could not have foreseen that two decades later he would be the Egyptian Viceroy who would save all of Egypt and his own family from starvation. Once all the brothers were reunited, with five more years of famine still ahead of them, Joseph brought his father and the rest of the children of Israel to Egypt (a total of 70 souls) and resettled them in Egypt in the land of Goshen.

Slavery

In Egypt, Joseph was widely acknowledged as the people’s savior. After Joseph’s death, however, the Bible reports that a new Pharaoh came to power who “did not know Joseph.” Now saying that this new Pharaoh did not know who Joseph was, is like saying a person born in the 1970’s does not know who John F. Kennedy was. Rather it implies that Pharaoh chose not to acknowledge Joseph’s contributions to Egypt’s survival. He and his advisors set out to destroy the Jews, who were flourishing in the land of Goshen. They protested that the Jews were growing far too numerous and that, should there be a war, the Jews would be a fifth column, fighting against them from within.

How does one go about enslaving an entire nation with subtlety? Pharaoh called for a “National Unity Program” in which everyone was to volunteer to help build the new store cities of Pithom and Ramses (something along the lines of a community barn raising). At the beginning of the program, everyone came. Later on,however, only the Israelites came, perhaps to demonstrate how loyal they were to Pharoah. Over time, the one-time volunteers became forced laborers, and Pharaoh demanded of them the same yield that they had produced previously. Thus they were enslaved.

The Israelites lived in Egypt for 210 years, serving for many of those years as slaves. The Egyptians were harsh taskmasters, who relished in being cruel to the Israelites. Beyond the physical labor, the Israelites suffered moral degradation…men were forced to do the work usually done by women, and women were forced to do the work of men. Pharaoh’s astrologers predicted that the Israelites would be saved by a Hebrew boy yet to be born. Pharaoh could not allow this to occur. First he ordered the midwives that when an Israelite woman gives birth, “if it is a boy, you shall kill him, but if it is a girl, she may live” (Exodus 1:16). But the midwives refused to kill the children and told Pharaoh that the Jewish women gave birth without assistance. Pharaoh, however, then took the matter into his own hands and declared to his people: “Every boy that is born, you shall cast into the Nile, but every girl you shall keep alive” (Exodus 1:22).

The Israelite slaves were often forced to stay in the fields, separated from their families, but the women refused to allow their families to be torn asunder. When the men were exhausted from the physical labor and afraid to have children lest their children be killed, the women went out to the fields and “seduced” their husbands so that Israelite children would continue to be born, ensuring the continuity of the people.

Despite the Egyptian efforts to destroy them, the Jewish people continued to grow.
Into this desperate situation, Moses was born. Moses’ parents, Amram and Yocheved were both from the tribe of Levi. Before the decree to murder the male children, they already had two children, Aaron and Miriam. After the decree to drown every male child was issued, a second son was born, Moses. To save the life of their son, Yocheved put the babe Moses in a basket covered with pitch and set the basket in the Nile. Miriam followed her baby brother as the current carried him toward the bathing pool of Pharaoh’s daughter.
When Pharaoh’s daughter saw that the basket contained a baby boy, she knew that it was a Jewish child, but nevertheless decided to keep him and raise him as her own child. Miriam immediately hurried forth to volunteer Yocheved as a nursemaid for the baby. Thus until he was weened, Moses was raised by a Jewish nursemaid, who was really his mother, before returning to Pharaoh’s daughter.
Moses was a full member of the Egyptian court and was regarded by Pharaoh as a grandson. But Moses was also sensitive to the injustices that were being done to his brethren, the Jews. One day, Moses witnessed an Egyptian taskmaster mercilessly beating a Jew. He saw that there was no one about, and killed the taskmaster in order to save the Israelite’s life. Quickly, before there were any witnesses, he buried the body in the sand. The very next day, however, when he came upon two Jews arguing and tried to stop them, they threatened Moses by saying: Do you wish to kill us as you killed the Egyptian? Realizing that if even these two Israelite slaves knew of his actions, then so did Pharaoh.

Moses fled Egypt to Midian where he met Tzippora, the daughter of Jethro (a former high priest of Midian who had turned to monotheism). After marrying Tzippora, Moses became one of Jethro’s shepherds and lived a pastoral and peaceful life…but not for long.

One day, while shepherding the flocks, Moses followed a stray lamb and came upon a bush surrounded by flames, yet the bush was not consumed by the fire. At the burning bush (which was located on Mount Sinai), G-d first spoke to Moses and instructed him to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of slavery. Moses, however, did not believe that he was the right person for the task…after all, he had a speech impediment, and he had an older brother who was perhaps more appropriate for the job. But G-d had chosen Moses, and so Moses went back to Egypt where his older brother Aaron served as his spokesman.

Redemption From Slavery

Taking the Jews out of Egypt was no easy task. G-d warned Moses that Pharaoh’s heart would be hardened. In fact, after Moses and Aaron’s first visit to Pharaoh’s palace, Pharaoh ordered an increase in the workload of his slaves. The slaves would now be responsible for supplying their own straw for the manufacture of bricks. The Israelites groaned under the weight of their oppression and accused Moses and Aaron of making things worse.

But G-d strengthened Moses, and told him that now he would soon see the strength of G-d, which would result in Pharaoh’s freeing the Hebrews.

Now that Pharaoh had hardened his heart and refused to let the Israelites go, G-d could bring down his wrath upon Egypt. While it is true that G-d had told Abraham that his descendants would serve another people, and the Egyptians were therefore only fulfilling G-d’s command, they had gotten carried away with their divine role and were wicked and vicious beyond the call of duty.

When Moses and Aharon next went to the palace to request freedom for their brethren and were refused, G-d turned the Nile River into blood. Each of the subsequent nine plagues followed the pattern: Moses and Aharon requested permission to leave, Pharaoh refused, Egypt and the Egyptians were smitten with a plague, while the Israelites were spared. The Egyptians would then cry out, and Pharaoh would beg for mercy and agree to let the Israelites go. Then Pharaoh would change his mind, and the next cycle would begin.

What exactly were the ten plagues?

BLOOD – The Nile River turned to blood. But it wasn’t just the river that turned to blood, it was all the water in Egypt. People would go to get something to drink from their barrels of stored water, but it had turned to blood. People would take a drink from what they thought was a clean source, and it would be blood. However, when an Israelite took water from the same source, it would remain water. The plague of blood was particularly distressing to the Egyptians because they worshiped the Nile.

FROGS – The land of Egypt was overrun by frogs. This may not seem like a big deal at first glance, after all, some people think frogs are cute, but the frogs were truly everywhere! There were frogs in the beds, frogs in the cupboards, frogs in the pots, even frogs in the oven. And whenever the Egyptians would hit a frog in order to kill it, the Midrash tells us, that the frog would split into two, producing even more frogs.

LICE – To initiate the plague of lice, G-d commanded Aharon via Moshe to hit the ground with his staff. The dust on the ground turned to lice and spread throughout Egypt.

WILD BEASTS – “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” Wild animals of all sorts crossed over the borders of Egypt and ravaged the land. The Egyptians couldn’t leave their homes, for fear of being attacked, yet the wild animals would walk right past the Israelites without harming them.

PESTILENCE – The Egyptian cattle that had survived the ravaging of the wild beasts, were struck with pestilence and died. No Jewish owned cattle died, even those in close proximity to the Egyptian cattle. The first five plagues taught the Egyptians that their possessions were lost and their wealth ephemeral.

BOILS – From head to toe, the Egyptians were covered with painful boils.

HAIL – The hail storm of the seventh plague was a “fireworks” display of G-d’s power. The hail consisted of baseball-sized chunk of ice accompanied by fiery lightening. The physical destruction was immense.

LOCUSTS – Not much was left of Egypt by the time the plague of locust arrived. The cattle were dead, the buildings destroyed, morale was low, and then the locusts arrived. An enormous swarm darkened the sky and devoured anything that remained of the crops.

DARKNESS – For three days, total darkness descended on Egypt. The Sages taught that the darkness was so intense that it served as a physical restriction as well, leaving the Egyptians unable to move. The Jews, however, could see where they were going and were unaffected by the darkness.

DEATH OF THE FIRST BORN – By the time Pharaoh was threatened with the final plague–the death of all the firstborn of Egypt, his nation was begging him to release the Israelites. But Pharaoh was obstinate, and would not let them go. The night that the first born Egyptians died is the first night of Passover. Indeed, this was the only plague for which the Jews needed to prepare themselves so that they would not be harmed. In order to be “passed-over,” Moses instructed the Israelites to mark their doorposts with lamb’s blood. And in the darkness of the midnight hour, G-d smote all of the first born in the land of Egypt.

Crossing the Sea of Reeds

Pharaoh now demanded that Moses lead the Israelites out of his land immediately! The people quickly gathered their belongings, including the bread that had not had sufficient time to rise, the matzah, and hurried forth into the wilderness.

Once the Israelites had left, however, Pharaoh, looking out over his destroyed land, grew angry, and changed his mind. Calling forth his army of chariots, he set out after the Israelites.

Three days later, the Israelites were stopped dead in their tracks. Before them lay the waters of the Sea of Reeds (also called the Red Sea). Mountains loomed on either side. And behind them was the swiftly approaching army of the Egyptians. There was nowhere to turn, there was simply nowhere to go, so the Israelites…screamed at Moses.

“Aren’t there enough graves in Egypt? We should have stayed there,” they shouted. Indeed some of the people even suggested turning around and returning to Egypt. Moses pleaded with G-d for assistance, and G-d instructed him to tell the people to travel forth. When they arrived at the water, G-d told Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea and it would split. Moses did so. He instructed the people to go forward, but they hesitated. One man, Nachshon ben Aminadav, from the tribe of Judah, stepped forward and waded into the sea. The water came to his waist, to his shoulders, to his chin, but he continued forward as Moses stretched out his arm over the water. As the water reached Nachshon’s lips, the sea burst apart, providing a stretch of dry land on which the Israelites were able to cross.

The Israelites hurried across the sea, but the Egyptians were close behind. No sooner had the last Israelite stepped out of the sea, when G-d instructed Moses to once again stretch out his hand over the sea, and the water came crashing down.
The Egyptians, in their mighty chariots, were crushed in the swirling waters. According to the Midrash only one Egyptian survived, Pharaoh. The sea spit Pharaoh out on the far side of the water so that he could witness both the destruction of his own people, and bear testimony to the redemption of the Israelites.

Moving Forward

From the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, the Israelites continued into travel into the wilderness of Sinai. There, gathered at the base of Mount Sinai, the same spot when G-d appeared to Moses in the burning bush, the People of Israel received the Torah from G-d and were forged into a great and a holy nation….
And that is why we celebrate Passover.

Passover

The holiday of Passover commemorates the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt which led to the birth of the Jewish nation at Sinai. The Passover Seder, which is held on the first (and second night outside of Israel) of Passover, is perhaps the most widely observed Jewish practice. This outline will provide you with the basics of the Passover holiday, laws and customs.

Learn more

Programs and Classes

Host or attend the exciting Passover programs and classes provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover, read and download our comprehensive guides and walkthroughs, watch videos and learn about the various aspects of Passover.

Articles

Browse our collection of Passover Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about the histories and traditions of Passover.


Hanging Haman: The Commandment to Wipe Out Amalek

Hanging Haman:

The Commandment to Wipe Out Amalek

“The army of Amalek swooped down from behind them, attacking the old and the weak who were straggling at the rear. The commandment to remember Amalek, however, is more than just remembering that Amalek attacked the Jews in the wilderness, it is remembering that they are the very antithesis of Israel…”

On the Shabbat before Purim, generally known as Shabbat Parashat Zachor, Jews across the world gather in their synagogues to hear Deuteronomy 25:17-19 read at the end of Torah reading:

Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you went out of Egypt. That they encountered you on the way, and struck the hindmost, all that were weak at the rear; and they did not fear G-d. Therefore it will be, when the Eternal, your G-d, gives you relief from all your enemies, all around, in the land that the Eternal, your G-d, is giving to you as an inheritance to possess it, then you shall wipe out the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens; you must not forget.

What must the Children of Israel remember? Deuteronomy 25:17 refers to an incident in Exodus 17:8-16, just after the Children of Israel crossed the Reed/Red Sea. On their third day out of Egypt, as they traveled in the wilderness, the army of Amalek swooped down from behind them, attacking the old and the weak who were straggling at the rear. The commandment to remember Amalek, however, is more than just remembering that Amalek attacked the Jews in the wilderness, it is remembering that they are the very antithesis of Israel.

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

To understand Haman’s motives and the commandment of Zachor, it is necessary to first learn the history of Amalek:

Esav’s Successor – Initially, Amalek was an actual person who later became the leader of a clan, which became a nation of the same name. Amalek was a grandson of Jacob’s brother Esav.
In Genesis 36:12, the Torah introduces Amalek:
Now Timna was concubine to Elifaz, son of Esav, and she bore Amalek to Elifaz.
We later learn (Genesis 36:22) that Timna was the sister of Lotan who was a chieftain of the land of Seir where Esav went to live. Thus we see that Amalek was the scion of two powerful families, yet he was only a concubine’s son.
The Sages tell us that Amalek was raised in the tents of Esav, constantly hearing his grandfather bemoan his fate and how Esav’s brother, Jacob, had stolen his birthright (See Genesis 25).
Amalek absorbed Esav’s hatred of the children of Jacob, thus it became the nature of the nation of Amalek to hate the Jews.

Amalek versus the Children of Israel:

Exodus 17:8-16 – As noted above, three days after the crossing of the Reed/Red Sea, the Amalekites traveled many miles in order to attack the Jewish people from behind, attacking the weak and the stragglers. The Jewish people miraculously defeated the Amalekites in a one day war. This battle was significant because it showed the true nature of the Amalekites. G-d had just performed miracle after miracle, from the 10 plagues to the splitting of the sea, and not a single nation dared to attack Israel except Amalek. Lest one believe that Amalek was courageous, it should be noted that they did not risk a frontal attack.

Every nation has certain outstanding character traits. Amalek is known for its all consuming love of self and reliance on violence to prove its superiority.

The Sages teach that Amalek never denied the existence of G-d or G-d’s special relationship with the Jewish people. The Amalekites just didn’t care. In fact, their very understanding of G-d and His relationship with the Israelites was precisely why they felt the need to attack–Amalek clearly resented the existence of an opposing authority.
Amalek saw that no other nation dared to attack the Children of Israel and that the Jews had demonstrated that there can be power in peace. This went against the entire mind-set of the Amalekites, who preached and practiced the ideology that ‘might makes right.”

Amalek versus the Kingdom of Israel: Samuel I, Chapter 15

Not long after the unified Kingdom of Israel was formed under the reign of King Saul, the king, at the direction of the prophet Samuel, gathered his troops to fulfill the Biblical commandment to wipe out Amalek.
King Saul was a mighty warrior and was victorious over Amalek, virtually destroying the nation. But, “he took Agag, the king of Amalek alive…and Saul and the people had pity on Agag the king of Amalek,” and on the Amalekite flocks and cattle (Samuel I 15:8-9).
By having mercy on Agag, Saul went against the specific directive of
G-d, who was, needless to say, less than pleased.
The prophet Samuel rose early the very next morning, came to Saul and informed him that G-d was angered by his taking Amalekite sheep and cattle for spoils and for not fulfilling the commandment to utterly destroy Amalek.
After a brief and futile denial by Saul, the king admitted his transgression and Samuel ordered Agag brought to him. The prophet proceeded to kill the king of Amalek and concluded the matter.
The damage, however, was already done. In that one night, our sages teach us, Agag had relations with a maidservant (or his wife) who later, gave birth to a son. Thus, over a thousand years later the Jews were faced with mortal danger from Haman the Agagite.
It is interesting to note that just as Haman is a direct descendant of Agag, both Mordechai and Esther are descendants of Saul.

Why Amalek and Israel are in opposition, and how this relates to Haman:

The Talmud tells us that the wording in Deuteronomy 25:18, “asher kar’cha ba’derech” literally means that Amalek “happened” upon the Jews. This, the rabbis explain, is an explanation of the personality of Amalek: Amalek represents the philosophy of chance, of the haphazard dictates of “fate” and “destiny,” which oppose the Jewish philosophy of Divine control. Amalek philosophy negates the concept that there is a purpose to humanity or to creation itself–again the antithesis of Jewish philosophy.

The difference in philosophy between Amalek and Israel can be seen all the way back to the time of the nations’ forefathers, Esav and Jacob.
Esav was a hunter, he lived his life for the thrill of the game, the risk of danger and for moment-to-moment pleasure. Life had no particular purpose in Esav’s mind, which is demonstrated in his desire for Jacob’s lentils and his preparedness to sell his birthright. Esav easily parts with his birthright as first born (which would have given him the rights to the Land of Israel) merely because he was hungry at that very moment. When he gave the birthright away, he mocked Jacob’s desire for it by asking “What is the birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:27-34).

Jacob, on the other hand, planned for the future. He studied and tried to find the best way to serve G-d. For this reason, G-d communicated with him and made him the father of the twelve tribes, the future Nation of Israel.

Amalek’s attack on the Jews after they crossed the Red(Reed) Sea was motivated by this hatred of the Israelite belief in the Divine hand of G-d. Certainly Amalek, and the entire world, had heard of the great plagues that had struck Egypt, but they found reasons to scoff at these phenomenal events. While no other nation would dare attack the Jews with the cloud of G-d surrounding them, Amalek needed to attack in order to show that “might makes right” was still the natural order of the world. While they did not win in their battle with Israel, they certainly diminished the fear of the other nations for the Jewish people. The Midrash describes it as if the Amalekites cooled a hot bath, scorching themselves, but encouraging others to enter.

Haman:

Haman’s attempt to destroy the Jewish people is a direct result of the historical and philosophical battles of Amalek and Israel. As a descendent of Agag, King of Amalek, Haman is strikingly aware of the Jewish victories over Amalek, both in the wilderness and in the time of King Saul, as definitively recorded in Jewish texts. His desire to wipe out the Jews as a nation was a direct result of this historical battle between nations.

Haman’s conflict with Mordechai, however, was based on the philosophical differences of the two nations. Just as in the days in the wilderness, Mordechai (the Jews) stood as a symbol of Jewish strength and as a symbol of the Divine hand active in the world. As Haman himself points out to King Achashverosh, no other nation was so scattered, yet remained unified. And Mordechai defied Haman’s assertions of might makes right by refusing to bow to him just because he was Prime Minister. While the king of the land may have commanded all to bow to Haman, the King of the Universe commanded all to bow to no one but Him. Throughout the Megillah there is an underlying struggle of Haman trying to show that he controls his own destiny, and the destiny of the empire, only to be foiled by the subtle plans of G-d.

Fighting Amalek Today:

While we do not know who the descendants of Amalek are today, the sages teach that a part of Amalek can also be found in each of us–our natural inclination to do wrong. Every person must constantly fight the Amalek in his/herself which tends to rationalize their actions: For example, lashon harah, speaking evil or gossiping, can destroy another person, yet we constantly justify our gossiping by saying that our juicy tidbit must already be common knowledge or it is important that the other person know that Suzie was out with Joey. On a more personal level, for the modern day Jew, fighting Amalek may mean battling our own inclinations and remembering that G-d is always there and surely runs the world for our benefit.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

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The Mystery of Hester Panim

The Mystery of Hester Panim

“To the believer, it’s the Hand of G-d-Divine Providence moving behind the scenes to make certain the Jews are saved. This is Hester Panim…”

An Old Joke

It was a deluge, the likes of which had not been seen for years. A man who lived by the river saw that he was in danger of being flooded. He prayed to G-d, “Please save me.” A few minutes later a fire truck came by and told him to get on. He said, “No, G-d will save me.” The water continued to rise until he had to flee to the second floor. Again he pleaded with G-d. A few minutes later, a boat drifted by but again he refused human help. Finally, stuck on the roof with the water swirling around him, a police helicopter threw him a rope, but the man insisted that G-d would save him. As you may imagine, he also wasn’t the best swimmer. So up in the Heavenly Court he says to G-d. “I trusted in you, why didn’t you save me?” And G-d replies,” I tried, I sent you a fire truck, I sent you a boat, I sent you a helicopter…”

Of all the books of the Bible, the Book of Esther is unique in that it does not once mention G-d directly. One might ask, “Why, then, is it considered a holy book and included in the Tanach (the complete Biblical canon)?”

To understand the importance of the Book of Esther as more than just a history of the Jewish victory over a vicious enemy, one must look at the phenomenon of Hester Panim. Literally, Hester Panim means “the hiding of the face” and refers to G-d’s presence being hidden from direct human perception. Like the sun on a very cloudy day, however, just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The story of Purim teaches us that G-d is ALWAYS involved, even when we don’t see His hand.

After a casual reading of the Book of Esther, one might think it is a heroic tale about Mordechai and Esther saving the Jewish people from Haman through diplomatic skill. After all, Esther does deftly manipulate the emotions of King Achashverosh and Haman at her private wine-parties with them. Looking deeper, however, one is struck by the overwhelming “coincidences” of the right people being at the right places at the right times to save the Jews.

To follow one line of such “coincidences”:

*Esther was the beautiful niece of one of the leaders of the Jewish people.
*While women throughout the kingdom flocked to the beauty pageant, hoping to be chosen as queen, the Megillah tells us that Esther “was taken to the king’s palace” (2:8). Her beauty was noticed and she was brought, apparently by force, to the palace, for she would never have gone there of her own volition. Ultimately, she chosen to be queen.

*Because Esther is in the palace, Mordechai is able to get word to the king about the plot on his life, which was not remembered by the king until Haman’s plot was unraveling.

*If Esther had not been “taken to the king’s palace,” there would have been no “insider” to have Haman’s evil plan revoked. Even Mordechai points this out when he tells her: “Do not imagine that [you can] save yourself in the king’s palace from the fate of all the Jews. For if you indeed keep silent at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source, and you and your father’s household will perish. And who knows that but for a time like this you are in a royal position?!”(Esther 4:13-14)

Coincidence? Divine Providence? To the scoffer, it’s the former. To the believer, it’s the Hand of G-d–Divine Providence moving behind the scenes to make certain the Jews are saved. This is Hester Panim. Therefore, the Book of Esther is not simply the story of how the Jews were saved from Haman’s evil plot–it is a guidebook for future generations on how to view the world.

What role does Hester Panim play in the Divine plan? Why would G-d choose to hide Himself from humanity? Hester Panim is actually a Divine gift that allows humanity freedom of choice. If a child is told not to eat a cookie by its mother, but the mother remains in the kitchen to watch, then the child isn’t going to take the cookie. Once mother leaves the room, though, it is the child’s free choice that determines what happens to the mother’s ruling. At the same time, when mother leaves the room, she is aware of her child’s behavior, listens for danger and is ready to jump to the rescue. So too, G-d leaves us to give us space and allows us to make our own free choices, but He is always waiting on the periphery to protect us from ultimate harm.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

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Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

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Drinking on Purim

Articles

“A person should drink on Purim until the point where they cannot tell the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed is Haman.’
Talmud-Megillah 7a/Shulchan Aruch
(Code of Jewish Law)

On Purim, one is commanded to drink wine to a point of inebriation. This is usually fulfilled during the course of the festive meal, although many also attempt this on Purim night, as well.

How much should one drink?

The purpose of drinking on Purim is not to get so drunk that one is unable to function. It is generally agreed that the requirement is limited to the point of not impairing one’s ability to recite blessings and fulfill the necessary mitzvot of Purim.

Most opinions agree that one should drink more than one is accustomed. The Talmud actually suggests as well that the mental blurriness necessary can also be fulfilled by a drink-induced nap.

What does it mean, “cannot tell the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed is Haman?'”

On a simple level, this is just a description of a level of intoxication, a point at which one has trouble making clear distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad.

Not being able to tell the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed is Haman’ accentuates one of the major themes of Purim, which is role reversal.

On a more philosophical level, when ‘Blessed is Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed is Haman’ become indistinguishable, one has grasped a higher concept that even the negative which happens is good, that it comes from G-d and, in the end, makes us better people.

Why do we drink on Purim?

When reading the Purim story, one sees that wine plays an important role in events that transpire:

      • King Achashverosh is drunk when he calls for Vashti and when he orders her banished (*Targum and Rashi both say she was killed).
      • Esther invites the King and Haman to a banquet, which the Megillah refers to as a wine-banquet.
      • The Megillah describes the 14th and 15h of Adar as days of “feasting and joy,” inferring that the Jews celebrated with feasts of wine.

IMPORTANT NOTICE

While drinking on Purim is a mitzvah, risking one’s life is not. Whether host or guest, it is important to be responsible:

      • DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE
      • Beware of underage drinking. While Purim is a religious holiday, and underage alcohol consumption is allowed for religious occasions, adults are still responsible for minors. Please do not give young people any alcohol beyond the bare minimum of wine, if at all. Remember, our children are deeply influenced by our own behavior.
      • While Purim is a religious holiday, and underage alcohol consumption is allowed for religious occasions, adults are still responsible for minors. Please do not give young people liquor beyond the bare minimum, and remember, our children are influenced by our behavior!

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


A Brief Synopsis of the Book of Esther

A Brief Synopsis of

The Book of Esther

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

The Book of Esther opens with a description of an enormous 180-day party thrown by King Achashverosh in his 3rd year as king of the Persian Empire, ruling over 127 provinces. As the days of feasting draw to a close, he summons his wife, Vashti, to show off her beauty (by appearing wearing only her crown!). But Vashti refuses to come and the king, following his ministers’ advice, has her banished.

Chapter 2

As time passes, Achashverosh realizes the consequences of his actions and misses his queen. The deed, however, is done. Seeing that their ruler regretted the action that they suggested, the ministers propose that he find a new queen via an elaborate beauty contest of all the kingdom’s beautiful maidens. From all over the 127 provinces, beautiful women are brought to the palace for the king to select his new queen.
In Shushan, the capital city, lives a beautiful Jewess named Esther (also called Hadassah). She is an orphan who was raised by her uncle, Mordechai, one of the leaders of the Jewish people in exile. When they come to take her to the palace, Mordechai, insightfully instructs her not to reveal that she is a Jewess or who her family is. Needless to say, after a 12 month process, Esther is deemed the fairest of them all. “The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she carried charm and favor before him more than all the other virgins, so he placed the royal crown on her head, and made her queen in place of Vashti”(Esther 2:17).

While Mordechai does not reveal his relationship to the new queen, he frequents the palace gates to hear news of Esther’s well being. One day he overhears two men plotting to murder the king and he quickly sends word to Esther, who reveals the plot to the king in the name of Mordechai. The plotters are caught and executed, and Mordechai ‘s name and deed are written in the king’s Book of Chronicles.

Chapter 3

In the meantime, Achashverosh appoints Haman the Agagite (An Amalekite) as Prime Minister and issues a decree that all should bow to him. Mordechai refuses to bow down before Haman. [The Midrash informs us that Haman wore a necklace with a large idol, which is one reason Mordechai refused to bow before him.] Mordechai’s refusal infuriates Haman. Already driven by his family’s historic hatred of the Jewish people, Haman goes to King Achashverosh (with 10,000 silver pieces) and asks for permission to destroy the Jews. He presents the issue to the king as a matter of loyalty, saying “There is a certain people, scattered and spread out among the peoples in all the states of your kingdom, their laws are different from other peoples and they do not observe the king’s laws, so it is not worth it for the king to leave them alive” (Esther 3:8). The king agrees and issues an edict to all 127 provinces saying that on the 13th of Adar, the Jews in all the provinces are to be exterminated and their property kept as plunder.

Chapter 4

Upon hearing this vile edict, Mordechai dons sackcloth and ashes. He quickly sends word to Esther that she must go to the king and stop this horrible decree from becoming reality. Esther, however, is afraid to approach the king. It is known that anyone who approaches the king without being summoned faces the chance of death. But Mordechai sees the bigger picture and tells Esther “Do not imagine that [you can] save yourself in the king’s palace from the fate of all the Jews. For if you indeed keep silent at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source, and you and your father’s household will perish. And who knows that but for a time like this you are in a royal position?!”(Esther 4:13-14) Summoning all of her courage, Esther agrees to go to the king but she first asks Mordechai to request all the Jews to fast for three days and repent for their own sins while praying for the heavenly decree against them to be reversed.

Chapter 5

With great trepidation and dressed in her most beautiful robes, Esther approaches King Achashverosh. As she walks towards his throne she prays that G-d has taken into account the three days of fasting and repentance and has nullified His decree against the Jews. Seeing the beautiful queen, the king holds out his golden scepter, a sign that she is welcome in his court, and offers to grant her any request. Modestly, Esther requests only that Achashverosh and his Prime Minister Haman join her for a private feast. Pleased at her minimal request, which shows him that she was a wise choice as queen, the King agrees. Haman is summoned and the three dine together. At the end of the feast, the king once again tells her to ask whatever she would of him and she only requests that the king and Haman join her for a second feast on the following day.
After the private feast, Haman sets out for his home well pleased with the great favor shown to him by the queen. On his way, however, he passes Mordechai, who once again refuses to bow, reigniting Haman’s fury. By the time Haman reaches his home, he is crazed with anger at Mordechai’s refusal to bow – after all, he is Haman, second to the king and so beloved even by the queen! He tells his wife, Zeresh, and his gathered friends “Even Queen Esther did not bring anyone else with the king except me, to the feast she prepared, and tomorrow as well, I am invited to her feast with the king. All this is worth nothing to me, every time I see Mordechai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate!”(Esther 5:12-13) . Zeresh, who equals her husband in wickedness, suggests that Haman immediately build a gallows on which to hang Mordechai personally. This Haman does, with the assistance of his ten sons.

Chapter 6

That night, King Achashverosh is unable to sleep. After tossing and turning, he calls for his ministers to bring him the Book of Chronicles and read it to him. The section is read that recalls the great service rendered to him by Mordechai for uncovering the plot on the king’s life and Achashverosh realizes that he has never rewarded Mordechai. Just as the king is deciding how to best reward a man who has saved his life, Haman enters. He has come, after building the gallows, to ask the king for permission to hang Mordechai. Before he can speak, however, the king asks his opinion on how the king can best honor a most loyal subject. Thinking that the king is referring to him, Haman suggests that the king dress the subject in the king’s finest robes and have him led around town on the king’s steed. Pleased with the suggestion, he orders Haman to dress Mordechai in the finest royal robes and to lead him around Shushan on his best stallion.

Chapter 7

After returning home feeling thoroughly humiliated, Haman is summoned to the palace to dine with the King and Queen. As the banquet comes to a close, Esther tells the king that someone seeks her death and the death of her people. Outraged, the king demands to know who this man is. Esther reveals her identity as a Jew and identifies Haman as the archenemy. Overcome by anger, the king went out to “the garden orchard, while Haman stood up to plead for his life from Queen Esther…The king then returned from the garden orchard to the wine feast chamber, [just as] Haman was falling on the couch on which Esther was lying. The king said, ‘Does he also intend to assault the queen in my presence here in the palace?!'” (Esther 7:7-8) The king will not be placated, and Haman is hanged from the very gallows that he built for Mordechai.

Chapter 8

Achashverosh now sees the damage that his late Prime Minister has caused and appoints Mordechai as his new Prime Minister. The very first edict that Mordechai and Esther issue grants the Jews the right to defend themselves against those who try to harm them.

Chapter 9

When the 13th of Adar arrives, the Jews successfully defeat their enemies throughout the provinces, although in Shushan the battle continues throughout the day of the 14th of Adar. The ten sons of Haman are killed and their bodies are hanged publicly. When their enemies are vanquished, the Jews celebrate their survival with great feasts, thus the 14th (outside of Shushan) and the 15th are the days for celebrating Purim.

Mordechai, as the spiritual leader of the Jewish people, and Esther, declare that henceforth the 14th of Adar shall be a day of feasting in all of the outlying provinces, but the 15th shall be a day of feasting in the city of Shushan, for these were the days on which the threat was abated. (The Great Sages amended this to give honor to the city of Jerusalem so that all cities which had walls at the time Joshua conquered the land of Canaan were given the same status as Shushan, thus in Jerusalem Jews celebrate Shushan Purim on the 15th.) Mordechai also codified the particular practices of the holiday of Purim: the reading of the Megillah, the festive meal, gifts of food and charity to the poor.

Chapter 10

“King Achashverosh then imposed a tax on the mainland and on the sea islands. And the entire account of his power and might, and the details of Mordechai’s greatness which the king promoted, are indeed recorded in the Book of Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia. For Mordechai the Jew was King Achashverosh’s viceroy, the leader of the Jews, and accepted by most of his brethren, promoting his people’s welfare and preaching peace for all their descendants” (Esther 10).

Important Characters in the Book of Esther

To understand the story of Esther, it is important to know a little more about the major players in the story.

Achashverosh: While some historian’s correlate Achashverosh to Cambys, son of Cyrus, or as the son of Darius the Mede, tradition identifies him as a pretender to the throne who gained power through deceit and/or bribery. No matter how Achashverosh achieved his kingship, he ruled over a vast kingdom, yet the Megillah itself shows us what sort of ruler he was. From the outset, it is apparent that he is easily swayed by the opinions of others. In the first chapter, he demands that Vashti come to the men’s party to display her beauty. Like a child, he must prove that he has the best. Nor is it Achashverosh’s own idea that she be banished when she refuses to come. He is angry, but it is his ministers who tell him that she must be gotten rid of, lest the women throughout the kingdom stop following the orders of their husbands! In fact, it is even the king’s servants who suggest how he find a new wife. Throughout the Megillah, one very rarely sees Achashverosh making a decision for himself. Achashverosh’s waffling (indetermination) is particularly apparent in his rewarding Mordechai for saving the king’s life, even though he had recently signed a decree to murder all of the Jews.

Another important aspect of Achashverosh’s character is his jealousy. The Midrash explains that one of the reasons Esther invited Haman to the private feast was to arouse the king’s suspicions. Indeed one Midrash notes that the reason that the king could not sleep that night because he was worried over the implications of Esther inviting Haman. One can only imagine his reaction when he returned to the room and saw Haman on the couch of the queen, even if he had accidently fallen there!

Vashti: By marrying Vashti, Achashverosh legitimized his right to the throne. Vashti was the daughter of Bal’shatzar (the last Babylonian king who was defeated by Darius and Cyrus) and the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzer (who destroyed the First Holy Temple and Jerusalem). As a descendant of this evil line, Vashti was the epitome of wickedness and licentiousness. In fact, the Midrash teaches that she did not refuse to come before the king because of modesty, but because her beauty was marred by a sudden affliction of a skin disease (leprosy). Had she not been thus afflicted, she would not have limited her behavior in any way. The Midrash also teaches us that while she was only 12 when her father was murdered by Darius the Mede (she was 18 at the time of Achashverosh’s party), she had already been inculcated with a deep hatred for the Jews. According to traditional sources, Queen Vashti used to force her Jewish maidservants to scrub the palace floors on Shabbat.

Mordechai: A descendant of King Saul (from the tribe of Benjamin), Mordechai was a prophet and a member of the Sanhedrin (the supreme court) in Jerusalem before the exile. He was considered one of the greatest Torah leaders of his generation and the Jews in exile looked to him for guidance.
Esther: Esther was a prophetess who possessed exceptional beauty and modesty. Esther was actually her Persian name, her Hebrew name was Hadassah, which means myrtle branch. She lived in the palace of the king without revealing her Jewish identity, which is alluded to by her Persian name, Esther, which means ‘hidden’ in Hebrew. After the Jews were saved, Esther helped Mordechai send out letters to all of the provinces instructing them on the commemoration of Purim. According to tradition, King Darius II, who allows the Jews to rebuild the Holy Temple, was the son of Esther and Achashverosh.
Haman: Haman is introduced in the Megillah as an Agagite, referring to his lineage as a descendant of Agag. Agag was the last king of Amalek, the national archenemy of the Jewish people. While the Amalekite nation was destroyed by King Saul (Samuel I), Saul disobeyed G-d’s commandment and had mercy on Agag, allowing him to live. When the prophet Samuel heard of this he was furious and killed Agag himself, but the damage was already done, for Agag had enough time to sow the seeds of future generations. For more information on Agag and the Amalekites, click here. Haman was married to Zeresh and they had ten sons and, according to the Midrash, one daughter, as well. His ten sons were hanged and his daughter committed suicide.

Zeresh: The wife of Haman is considered to be equal in wickedness to her husband. In fact, during the reading of the Megillah, many also boo and hiss when her name is read. Zeresh and Haman are prototypes for ‘like-marrying-like.’ What was important in their lives was honor and power, but only complete honor and power, as seen by their hatred of Mordechai. The Megillah shows Zeresh’s great importance in mentioning her as Haman’s consultant, demonstrating that they were as one in their thirst for power and their desire to destroy the Jews. Zeresh, however, was wise enough to see that the king’s order for Haman to lead Mordechai through Shushan as a certain sign that he is about to lose to the Jews, for she says: “If Mordechai, before whom you have begun to fall, is a descendant of the Jews, you will not be able to harm him, for you will surely fall before him” (Esther 6:13).

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


How To Keep Kosher

Introduction

We are living in quite unusual times, especially for Jews. Remarkably, perhaps miraculously, Jews of all ages and backgrounds, are now taking steps to return to the heritage of their ancestors. Hence, the growing interest in kashruth, and kosher homemaking. While you may or may not have already decided to kosher your home, it’s important that you realize that making your home kosher is not only the fulfillment of a religious precept, but also a vital social and national action. By making your home kosher, any Jew, from anywhere in the world will feel welcome in your home, and by taking this important step, you will also be saying that you wish to identify with the Jewish people, and be a part of their cultural legacy.

One can become obsessive about almost any activity in life. Koshering one’s home can seem overwhelming, but it need not be. In fact, with all the modern appurtenances, a home can be kashered in very few hours, and even if mistakes are made, now, or in the future, they can be readily corrected. Not only your rabbi, but also many observant lay Jews are knowledgeable enough to help you, and are eager to do so.

Whatever you do, do it slowly and considerately. Ask your rabbi or a knowledgeable advisor to come to your home and explain to you exactly what is going to happen. Let him/her inspect your pantry and examine the products, and teach you how to identify kosher products and the major kosher symbols. Let the advisor review the dishes, pots, pans, utensils, silverware and indicate to you the various actions which need to be taken for kashering, which utensils may be saved and which must be discarded. Kashering your home is a bonding action with the Jewish people, past, present, and future. Be calm, relish the experience, work diligently, and before you know it you will look upon the kashering process as a wonderfully meaningful memory.

The basic principle to bear in mind when kashering is: the way the non-kosher food substances are absorbed into the walls of the utensil, that is the way it is expelled. Hence, a pot used for stewing can be kashered by boiling; a pan used for frying or baking can be kashered only by blowtorching (direct contact with heat).

How To Kasher an Oven

Gas & Electric
The most difficult item to kasher properly is the oven, because it requires an absolutely thorough cleansing. Please note the following steps in cleaning:

  1. The oven should not be used for twenty-four hours prior to kashering.
  2. Spray all internal surfaces of the oven with a chemical cleanser to remove all surface dirt.
  3. Disassemble the inner parts of the oven: remove grates, the shelf separating the oven from broiler, remove the entire broiler and its drawer.
  4. Check all of the above surfaces for dirt. Use chemical cleanser a second time, scrub with steel wool, screwdriver, and/or a scraper to remove remaining spots. Carefully check difficult areas (use a flashlight, if necessary): internal corners, door edges, the area behind the flame burners, and the grooves of the broiler tray shelves. CAUTION: Do not disturb the thermostat wire. The interior of oven should look new.
  5. Reassemble the oven. Set the oven dial at top heat (broil) for 1« hours. Unless the broiler tray is blowtorched (or heated in a self cleaning oven cycle) food should never be placed directly on it. Cover the tray with the aluminum foil or place food in a pot or pan on the broiler tray.
  6. Some have the custom of blowtorching the interior surfaces of the oven in order to assure the removal of any remaining dirt.

Self-Cleaning
Self-cleaning ovens are self kashering. Kasher the oven automatically by putting it through one full cleaning cycle, (approximately 3 hours). Don’t forget to clean the top cooking area, as indicated below.

Gas Range Tops

  1. Disassemble and remove spiders, burner jets, drip trays, and the entire oven top if possible.
  2. Clean with steel wool, soap and water.
  3. Clean the entire surface under top of the oven.
  4. Reassemble the cooking surface and ignite the fire under the spiders at top heat until they glow red (15-20 minutes). If possible, invert spiders so that they get closer to the fire source.

Electric Stove Top
Follow the above cleansing procedures. Set the electric burners on the highest setting until they glow red after a few minutes.

Cooking In A Kosher Oven

There are various customs with respect to cooking milk and meat dishes in the same oven. Some people only cook meat in their ovens, and have small toaster ovens for milk dishes.
A second custom is to wait 24 hours between the cooking of milk and meat. The most lenient custom is to wait until the oven has cooled between the cooking of milk and meat. If the milk or meat is tightly covered (e.g. aluminum foil) it is not necessary to wait. If there is any spillage of meat, the oven may not be used for milk before it is cleaned thoroughly and set at top heat, and vice versa. It is wise to line the oven bottom and check the broiler for any spillage before cooking.

Microwave
Clean the microwave oven thoroughly and put a vessel with a few ounces of water in the oven. Allow the water to vaporize into steam.

How To Kasher Silverware

Silverware made of one piece of metal can be kashered. However, any utensils with a plastic, wood, or bone handle which will be damaged by boiling water cannot be kashered. If the plastic, wood or bone will not be damaged and can be cleaned properly. it may be kashered, employing the following procedure. Clean the utensils thoroughly of food and rust (especially at the joints). Wait 24 hours. Kasher the silverware by dropping them, one by one, into a vat of boiling water. Make sure that:

  1. The water is actually boiling when you place the silverware in the vat (Remember, that placing the utensils in the vat often lowers the temperature of the water below the boiling point).
  2. Large utensils may be purged in the water, one side at a time. But make certain that the part that you are immersing is completely surrounded by water.
  3. Remove the utensil and rinse in tap water. Use tongs or place a soft wire basket into the pot to help with removal.

How To Kasher Pots and Pans

  1. Metal (not enamel or teflon) pots and pans not used for frying, which can be thoroughly cleaned, can be kashered by the boiling method described above. If there is accumulated dirt under plastic pot handles, they must be removed before kashering.
  2. Frying and baking pots and pans can be kashered by slowly and deliberately glowing the utensil with a blowtorch,by placing them in a self-cleaning oven during a full cleaning cycle (not advised). It is usually very difficult to kasher them correctly. If possible, replace these utensils with new ones.

How To Kasher A Sink

A sink made of metal can be kashered by rinsing every square inch of the sink with boiling water (the water must be boiling right before you pour it.) Porcelain sinks cannot be kashered. In both instances it is wise to purchase plastic sink tubs, one for milk dishes and one for meat dishes.

How To Kasher Counters

Counters made of nonporous material can be kashered. (Anything porous like butcher-block counter must be sanded down and then kashered.) Simply follow the procedure applicable to sinks. It is preferable not to place hot utensils directly on the counters.

How To Kasher Dishes

China, earthenware, porcelain, corningware, corrella, pyrex, duralex enamel, glazed stoneware, may be kashered only by reglazing in a kiln at 900 F for one minute, or in a self-cleaning oven for an entire cycle. Extreme caution should be exercised since very delicate items may not be able to withstand the intense heat. Valuable porcelain dishes which were not used for one year, may, in consultation with your rabbi, be kashered by dipping in boiling water 3 times.
Glassware used for cold, or for tea and coffee may be kashered by soaking in room temperature water for 72 hours, changing the water every 24 hours.

How To Kasher A Refrigerator

A refrigerator may be made kosher by thoroughly cleaning with soap and water.

The Mikvah

Metal and glassware utensils used in preparing and serving food require immersion in a Mikvah (ritual pool).

Kosher

Kashruth in the 21 century is far more than a religious ritual. It is, in effect, a profound bond that unites Jew to Jew, a most meaningful tether that secures an individual to a nation, it is the sacred energy that connects a people and a nation to its very essence.

Recipes

We know you want the good stuff, skip ahead to all the great Kosher recipes on NJOP.

Kosher

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The Case For Keeping Kosher

The Case For Keeping Kosher

Kashruth – An Interpretation for the 21st Century
by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald
The recent growth in the observance of kashruth – Jewish dietary laws, despite their great antiquity, is rather unexpected. At a time when many Americans have distanced themselves from tradition, the rise in demand for kosher food is particularly surprising. But more remarkably…

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Print Kashruth - An Interpretation for the 21st Century by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald or use the interface on this page to view or download.

Kosher

Kashruth in the 21 century is far more than a religious ritual. It is, in effect, a profound bond that unites Jew to Jew, a most meaningful tether that secures an individual to a nation, it is the sacred energy that connects a people and a nation to its very essence.

Recipes

We know you want the good stuff, skip ahead to all the great Kosher recipes on NJOP.

Kosher

Learn more about keeping Kosher and browse our collection of delicious recipes.

Resources

Discover the resources, exciting programs and interesting stories here on NJOP.


The History of Purim

Articles

The story of Purim takes place at the very end of the era known in Jewish history as the Babylonian Exile. In 422 B.C.E.*, Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian empire destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem and exiled the Jews from the Land of Israel. Scattered, the Jews waited for the end of the 70 year exile prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah.

In the year 372 B.C.E., however, the Babylonian Empire was itself crushed by the combined armies of King Darius of Media and King Cyrus of Persia (both part of current day Iran) and the new Persian Empire was formed under the rule of Cyrus. Unlike his Babylonian predecessors, Cyrus was not interested in destroying the individual cultures of his subjects, unless they were in direct opposition to him. Known as Cyrus the Great, he issued an edict in 373 B.C.E., allowing the Jews to return to the land of Israel. Shortly afterwards, the first group of exiles returned under the leadership of the prophet Nechemiah. In Jerusalem, they began to lay the foundations for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, paving the way for their Jewish brethren who remained scattered across the empire. The enemies of the Jews, however, convinced Cyrus to stop the Temple’s rebuilding.

The rise of King Achashverosh, the king of the Purim story, begins around the year 360. There is much debate as to the exact identity of Achashverosh. Some sources say that Achashverosh was actually Cambys, the son of Cyrus, some say that he was the son of Darius the Mede. Still others say that he was a commoner who usurped the throne through cunning and by marrying Vashti, the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar, to give him legitimacy. Regardless of how Achashverosh achieved power, he took over the reign of the Persian Empire in 360 B.C.E., and continued the ban on the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Achashverosh ruled over 127 provinces, a vast empire from Ethiopia to India. His capital was the city of Shushan, known today as Susa. Thinking that the 70 year prediction that the Temple would be rebuilt started with the exile of King Yechonia and the Jewish elite, Achashverosh miscalculated the correct date for the end of the Jewish exile. Secure that the Jewish prophecy had come to naught, he threw a great party. This is opening of the Book of Esther.
Following the defeat of the enemies of the Jews (355 B.C.E.), Achashverosh remained in power with Mordechai as his Prime Minister.
In 352 B.C.E., the Jews in the Land of Israel completed the rebuilding of the Second Temple and the Babylonian exile officially came to an end as Jews streamed home.
* There is a discrepancy of 164 years between the traditional Jewish chronology and secular chronology.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

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Purim Workshop

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Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


Why Purim is Called Purim

Why Purim is Called Purim

Most Jewish holidays have names that describe the significance of the holiday (i.e. on Sukkot we dwell in sukkahs – specific small huts, on Passover G-d passed over the Jewish people…etc.), what then is the meaning of the name Purim. Translated, Purim actually means “lots,” as in “drawing lots.” From where does this name come?

In the third chapter of the Book of Esther, after Haman is angered by Mordechai’s refusal to bow down to him, when Haman decides to destroy the entire Jewish people, “a pur, [a lottery], was thrown before Haman [to select] which day and which month” (Esther 3:7). Only after having determined the most auspicious day to kill the Jews, did Haman go to the king. What is so important about Haman choosing his “day of rage” through a lottery?

By casting a “pur” for this most significant decision, Haman is demonstrating his Amalekite commitment beliefs. As discussed in more detail in “Hanging Haman,” the Amalekite nation, the opposing force of the Jewish nation, believes that chance rules the world (rather than the Jewish belief of Divine control). As much as Amalek, and therefore Haman, believe in the existence of G-d, they reject the idea that G-d utilizes the world for a Divine purpose, and thus the very existence of the Jewish people is antithetical to their beliefs. Haman saw the cycles of history, and was aware that the Jews were at a spiritual low point, so he felt certain that he would be victorious. Since victory was guaranteed, he would prove, through their defeat, that might made right, and a single person could control destiny.

Purim, however, is a celebration of the very fact that the world is not run by random chance. Calling the holiday Purim reminds the Jewish people that even when events appear to be happening at random, such as in a lottery, G-d is still the ultimate controller of fate.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


The Fast of 10th of Tevet

Asara B'Tevet

The Fast of 10th of Tevet

‘And it was in the ninth year of [King Tzidkiyahu’s] reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth (day) of the month, that Nebuchadnetzar, King of Babylon came, he and all his legions, upon Jerusalem…’
– Second Book of Kings (25:1-4)

When?

1) The fast begins at the break of dawn and ends at nightfall.

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

b) When the fast falls on Friday, most people fast until they drink the wine or grape juice of the Friday night Kiddush at the Shabbat table.

Do’s and Don’ts

1) During the duration of the fast, eating and drinking are prohibited

2) Unlike Yom Kippur and Tisha Ba’Av (The Day of Atonement and the Ninth of Av), brushing teeth (no swallowing!), bathing, annointing and wearing leather are permitted.

3) Pregnant and nursing women, and others with health restrictions may be exempt from fasting (please consult your rabbi). Children under the age of bar/bat mitzvah (13 for boys, 12 for girls) are not required to fast.

4) Special prayers are added to the synagogue services:

a) S’lichot (Penitential Prayers) and Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) are recited during the morning service.
b) At Mincha, the afternoon service, Exodus 32:11, containing the 13 attributes of G-d’s mercy, is read from the Torah.
c) The Aneinu prayer, asking for special forgiveness, is added to the morning and afternoon services by the cantor. An individual who is fasting includes Aneinu in the silent Mincha Amidah.

Historical Significance:

The Second Book of Kings 25:1-4:

‘And it was in the ninth year of [King Tzidkiyahu’s] reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth (day) of the month, that Nebuchadnetzar, King of Babylon came, he and all his legions, upon Jerusalem, and encamped upon it and built forts around it. And the city came under siege till the eleventh year of King Tzidkiyahu. On the ninth of the month [of Av] famine was intense in the city, the people had no bread, and the city was breached.’

      • On the tenth of Tevet, the Babylonians began their siege of Jerusalem.
      • A year and a half later, on the ninth of Av (Tishah Ba’Av), the First Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.

The Tenth of Tevet marks two additional tragedies for the Jewish people:

    • On the 8th of Tevet during the 2nd Beis Hamikdash Talmai (Ptolomy), King of Egypt ordered 72 sages to translate the Torah into Greek, known as the Septuagint.
    • On the 9th of Tevet, Ezra HaSofer (The Scribe), leader of the Jews who returned from Babylonia to Jerusalem at the beginning of the 2nd Beis Hamikdash period, died.

A Friday Fast:

1) It is a general rule that no Rabbinic fast days fall on Friday so that people will not enter Shabbat while fasting. The exception to this rule is the Tenth of Tevet, which may occur on Friday.

2) That this fast may occur on a Friday, demonstrates the seriousness of mourning on the Tenth of Tevet.

a) Even Tisha Ba’Av, the ninth of Av, on which Jews mourn the destruction of the First and the Second Holy Temple, cannot fall on Friday.

b) The Fast of the Tenth of Tevet is considered more intense since it marked the beginning of the calamities. Had there been no siege, then the walls could not have been breeched (on the 17th of Tammuz), the First Holy Temple would not have been destroyed (on the Ninth of Av), and Gedaliah (the Governor of the Jews) would not have been murdered, causing the remaining Jews to go into exile (the Fast of Gedaliah – 3rd of Tishrei).

An Added Meaning

In Israel, the Tenth of Tevet is also Yom HaKaddish HaKlali, a day on which Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, is recited for people whose date or place of death is unknown, such as the victims of the Holocaust.


Chanukah Heroines

Chanukah Heroines

There are two famous stories about women associated with Chanukah, the story of Yehudit and the story of Hannah and her Seven Sons.

The two stories show the courage and inner-strength of the Jewish people in the time of adversity, and how strength can be shown both in action and in lack of action.

Yehudit/Judith

Life under the Hellenist aggressors was a constant trial. Not only did they forbid basic Jewish observance, but, after the beginning of the Maccabee revolt, they laid siege to cities and towns across the land. And the siege was not simply a siege of food and water, it was also a siege on morality and morale. By decree of the king, any Jewish maiden who was to be married had to first spend the night with the local governor or commander. The Hellenists loathed the very sanctity of Jewish family life, knowing that it was a source of strength for the Jews, and were determined to undermine this lifestyle.

The Hellenist armies, under the command of Holofernes, laid siege to the town of Bethulia where Yehudit, the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, was a young widow. While she was beautiful and wealthy, Yehudit was also known for her piety and good deeds. Holofernes, let it be known that he desired the beautiful widow.
As the siege persisted against the town of Bethulia, the people grew discouraged. They began to suffer from severe hunger. Out of despair, the town gathered together and the elders announced that in 5 days time, when they ran out of food, they would surrender. But Yehudit spoke out at the meeting, expressing her disappointment in their lack of faith in G-d. As the meeting ended, Yehudit told the elders that she had a plan that would deliver the enemies into their hands, but they must not ask her what it was. They must simply have faith in her. Because of Yehudit’s reputation for wisdom and piety, they agreed.

Taking with her one maidservant and a large basket of cheese, bread and wine, Yehudit left the city and was immediately stopped by the soldiers. She told them that she wished to speak with their commander, Holofernes. When she was brought before him, he welcomed the beautiful woman.
Yehudit told Holofernes that she worried for those in the city who were suffering under the siege and had decided to come and tell him how to capture the city and, hopefully, receive, in return, mercy on her people. He encouraged her to go on.

The people’s faith in G-d remained strong, she explained. So long as they had faith, they would not surrender; and, G-d would not allow the army to take the city. On the other hand, she added, before long, every scrap of kosher food would be gone, and in desperation they would begin to eat the flesh of unclean animals, and then G-d’s anger would be turned against them and the town would fall. She proposed to stay with Holofernes in the camp of his army, but would return to Bethulia each day in order to find out how low the supplies were. Then she would tell Holofernes when the time to strike was. Eager to spend time with the beautiful widow as well as to end the siege victoriously, he agreed.

After several days of Yehudit relaying that the people in Bethulia were almost out of supplies, she felt that she and her maidservant had gained the trust of the army. They came and went as they pleased. It was time to implement the second half of the plan.

Yehudit informed Holofernes that the Bethulia was now out of food and there remained only to wait a few days until they would be eating the non-kosher animals. He invited her to come alone to his tent that night to celebrate. She agreed, insisting that he partake of her renowned’ goat-cheese. As he ate the salty cheese, he grew thirsty and Yehudit hurried to give him the heavy wine she had brought with her. While Yehudit pretended to eat and drink, Holofernes became sluggish from imbibing and eating. Shortly thereafter, he was in a deep sleep. Calling her maidservant in, Yehudit took Holofernes’ sword and cut off his head. The two women wrapped the head in a cloth and returned to Bethulia.

The elders were surprised to see her. Yehudit showed them Holofernes’ head and told them that the men of the city must attack the Syrian-Greeks now. When the soldiers would go to wake their leader they would find him dead. The elders followed her advice and, sure enough, the Syrian-Greek army fled at the surprise attack and after learning that their commander was dead. Thus Yehudit saved the day.

Hannah and her Seven Sons

When Antiochus tried to destroy Jewish culture by outlawing Torah, he mistakenly thought that the Jews would quickly adopt the Hellenistic lifestyle. While some Jews did assimilate without a fight, Antiochus was not prepared for the unprecedented obstinacy of the Jews who refused to give up their heritage. Since the Jews would not quietly submit, Antiochus launched a full-scale culture war.

Those Jews who refused to give up studying Torah, who refused to eat pork, etc., were killed or tortured. Antiochus recognized that Judaism and Hellenism were antithetical and that he could not allow Judaism to survive or Hellenism would disappear. One of the well-known examples of the lengths to which Antiochus went to convert the Jews, and their fierce resistance to his attempts, is the story of “Hannah and her Seven Sons.”

Brought before the king for the crime of being devout Jews, Antiochus demanded that they bow down to an idol before him. The eldest son stepped forward and said:
“What do you wish from us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers.”

Shocked and angered, the king ordered him tortured. His tongue, hands and feet were cut off and he was placed in a cauldron of boiling water. While the tortures continued, the wicked Antiochus turned to the next son and demanded that he worship the idol. This brother refused as well and was similarly tortured. Antiochus continued down the line and each brother held fast to his faith and gave up his life, tortured in front of his mother and remaining brothers until only Hannah and her youngest son remained.

Aware that this event had not gone the way he had planned, and, in fact, was becoming a public relations disaster, Antiochus called the child forward and begged him not to be a martyr for such a small thing as bowing before a statue. The king went so far as to promise him wealth beyond his dreams for this one act. When he saw that he was not getting anywhere, he called Hannah forward and beseeched her to talk some sense into her son so that she might have one child left. Hannah agreed to talk to him, and took him to the side, pretending to beg him for his life.

But Hannah was proud of her sons. She knew what this one small act would mean to her child and to the morale of the Jewish people. Without tears, Hannah told her youngest, a mere child: “My son, I carried you for nine months, nourished you for two years, and have provided you with everything until now. Look upon the heaven and the earth — G-d is the Creator of it all. Do not fear this tormentor, but be worthy of being with your brothers.”

Without a second thought, the boy refused to obey the king’s commandment and was put to death. As her child lay dying, she cradled his body and asked him that, when he arrived in heaven, he say to Abraham that he, Abraham, had been willing to sacrifice one son to prove his loyalty to G-d, while she had sacrificed seven. For him it had been a test, for her it was reality. Pleading with G-d that she should be considered worthy to her children in the world to come, Hannah fell to the floor and died.

Hannah is considered a heroine for her faith in G-d. By teaching her sons that sometimes one must give up even life itself for the sake of one’s beliefs and by not begging for mercy from this evil king, by encouraging even her youngest son not to bow to evil, Hannah made a stand that resonates with all who hear her story.

Chanukah

On Chanukah, Jewish families around the world gather together in their homes and light the Chanukah candles. Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, celebrates the great miracles that happened during the Maccabee revolt in the time of the Second Temple period.

Learn more

Programs and Classes

Host or attend the exciting Chanukah programs and classes provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

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Articles

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