Holiday Workshops on Zoom

Holiday Workshops with Rabbi Buchwald

Get ready for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot with three exciting Zoom workshops, led by Rabbi Buchwald!

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Sept. 15, 2020 - 7:00PM EDT

Make Rosh Hashana Come Alive!

Join Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald for an exciting one hour Rosh Hashana Prayer Workshop on Tuesday evening, September 15th, at 7pm EDT on Zoom to help us prepare for the holiday. Explore the significance of the shofar, the impactful Torah readings and develop a greater appreciation for some of the most significant prayers.

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Sept. 22, 2020 - 7:00PM EDT

Demystify Yom Kippur!

Rabbi Buchwald will lead an enriching one hour Yom Kippur Prayer Workshop on Tuesday evening, September 22nd, at 7pm EDT on Zoom.  Delve into the underlying significance of Yom Kippur, learn how one can achieve repentance and explore the meaning of the some of the most significant prayers.

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Sept. 29, 2020 - 7:00PM EDT

The Joyous Festival of Sukkot!

Join Rabbi Buchwald for an uplifting one hour Sukkot Workshop on Tuesday evening, September 29th, at 7pm EDT on Zoom to help us prepare for the holiday of Sukkot. Learn the beautiful symbolism of the four species, what constitutes a Sukkah and develop a whole new understanding of the joyous celebration that is Sukkot.

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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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Articles

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

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Crash Course in Basic Judaism Web Series

Crash Course in

Basic Judaism

Web Series

To help prepare you to learn or teach a course on one of these topics, watch master teacher Rabbi Buchwald as he lectures on the following: Belief in God, Prayer, Shabbat, Jewish Observance and Sexuality.

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

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Jewish Treats Judaism

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Crash Course in Basic Judaism Lecture Series

Crash Course in Basic Judaism Lecture Series

NJOP Director Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald delivers this thought-provoking Crash Course In Basic Judaism lecture. In this five part lecture series, participants will explore: Belief in God, Prayer, The Sabbath, Jewish Observance and Sexuality. Click on the below links to hear him speak on the following topics.

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.

Learn more

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

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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.

Learn more

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

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Jewish Treats 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.

Learn more

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.

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


What and When

What and When

Like Chanukah, Purim is a Rabbinic holiday in that it is not mentioned in the Five Books of Moses (although some opinions say that it is alluded to). It is, however, prophetically based, as its source, Megillat Esther, is part of the Biblical canon.

Because Purim is a Rabbinic holiday, there is no prohibition of doing creative work, as on Shabbat and Yom Tov. However, it is preferable not to go to work on the holiday.

Like all Jewish holidays, Purim begins at sunset. However, because it is a rabbinic holiday, there is no candle lighting.

Two different Purims: Purim and Shushan Purim

  • Unique to the Jewish calendar, Purim is actually observed on different days depending on the location in which it is celebrated.
  • The majority of the Jewish people celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar.
  • Shushan and all cities that had walls at the time of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar.

A city’s population must celebrate on the day appropriate to its city.

Why:

    • The date for Purim for “cities without walls” is based on Esther 9:16-17.
    • “And the rest of the Jews in the states [not Shushan] of the king grouped together, protecting their lives, and were relieved of their enemies…on the 13th of the month of Adar, and they rested on the 14th, making it a day of feasting and joy.”
    • The date for Purim in “walled cities” is based on Esther 9:18.
    • “But the Jews in Shushan grouped together on the 13th and 14th, and rested on the 15th, making it a day of feasting and joy.”
    • While only the residents of Shushan rejoiced on the 15th, the rabbis decreed that all cities with walls at the time of the conquest share the latter date, in order that Jerusalem should also be separated out for honor.

How does this effect Purim today:

    • All modern walled cities celebrate on the 14th.
    • The only modern city that celebrates Shushan Purim is Jerusalem.
    • In order to extend the joyous celebration, many in Israel first celebrate outside of Jerusalem and then join the Shushan Purim celebrations in Jerusalem.

See details on celebrating Shushan Purim when the 15th is on Shabbat.

NOTE: Purim activities should be performed on the appropriate date for one’s city.

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 Esther

Ta’anit Esther

The Fast of Esther

A fast day is observed in commemoration of the 3 days of fasting by Esther, Mordechai and the entire Jewish community before Esther approached Achashverosh.

The fast begins at the break of dawn and ends after the Megillah (Book of Esther) is read that night.

If one is feeling weak, one may break the fast after nightfall, prior to Megillah reading.

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

Do’s and Don’ts

  1. During the duration of the fast, eating and drinking are prohibited.
  2. Unlike Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av (The Day of Atonement and the Ninth of Av), bathing, anointing and wearing leather are permitted.
  3. Pregnant and nursing women, and others with health restrictions are 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:
    • Slichot (Penitential Prayers) and Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) are recited.
    • At the afternoon service, Exodus 32:11, containing the 13 attributes of G-d’s mercy, is read from the Torah.
    • The Aneinu prayer asking for special forgiveness is added to the morning and afternoon services by the prayer leader. An individual who is fasting includes Aneinu in the blessing of Sh’ma Koleinu when saying Mincha.

If the Fast of Esther falls on Shabbat, the fast is observed on the Thursday before, as it is forbidden to fast on Shabbat (with the exception of Yom Kippur).

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.


Shabbat Parashat Zachor

Shabbat Parashat Zachor

The Sabbath of Remembering

Shabbat Parashat Zachor – The Sabbath of Remembering is named for the special Torah reading that is added to the Shabbat morning Torah service. Zachor is always the Shabbat before Purim.

In addition to the regular weekly Torah reading, Deuteronomy 25:17-19 is read which commands the Jewish people to remember that the nation of Amalek attacked the elderly and weak of the Jewish people three days after the Jews crossed the Red(Reed) Sea. Amalek is a wicked people whose memory must be erased from the world.

    • Not only was Amalek the first nation to attack the Jewish people after witnessing the miracles of the ten plagues in Egypt and the splitting of the sea, but they attacked from behind, aiming at the weak and the stragglers.
    • The nation of Amalek is considered Israel’s opposing force in the world – something akin to evil incarnate.
      Parashat Zachor is read on the Shabbat before Purim because Haman was the direct descendent of Agag the Amalekite king who was defeated, but temporarily spared, by King Saul (as recorded in Samuel I 15).

While women are not obligated to hear Parashat Zachor, because they are not obligated in the commandments of war, it has become obligatory since Jewish women have taken it upon themselves to hear the parasha.

For a more in-depth discussion of this see: Hanging Haman: The Commandment to Wipe Out Amalek

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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Shabbat Parashat Shekalim

Shabbat Parashat Shekalim

The Sabbath of the Shekels

The Sabbath of the Shekels is named for the special Torah reading that is added to the Shabbat morning Torah service, Shekalim is always read on Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of the month of) Adar or on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Adar.

In addition to the regular weekly Torah reading, Exodus 30:11-16 is read, which commands that a census be taken of the Jewish people through the giving of a half-shekel by all men over the age of 20. The money was then to be used for the work in the Tabernacle and later for the communal sacrifices in the Holy Temple.

    • Each person had to give a half-shekel at the time of the census (i.e. no “payment plans”).
    • Everyone gave the same amount – the rich could not give more and the poor could not give less.
    • The census counted every male over the age of 20 under the assumption that every male over the ago of 20 had established a household, thus the census counted all Jewish households.

Why we read Shekalim at the very beginning or just before the month of Adar :

    • In the time of the Temple, the half-shekel was contributed during the month of Adar, so the reading of Shekalim served as an announcement of the upcoming obligation. The contribution was made in Adar, because the fiscal year of the Temple began in the month that followed, Nisan.
    • The sages teach that Haman A chashverosh offered 10,000 silver pieces for the right to destroy the Jews, assuming this would off-set the total sum of the Jews’ half-shekel donation in the wilderness.

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 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.

 

Video:

 

Trailer:

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

Host or attend the exciting Chanukah 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 Chanukah.

Articles

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


Recommended Passover Reading

Judaism

Passover… the season of matzah, maror and minding the minutes until you can get away from your family. Not anymore! Shimon Apisdorf’s fantastic Passover Survival Kit is the perfect solution for bringing meaning and movement to every Seder table.

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Passover Survival Kit

By Shimon Apisdorf

Shimon Apisdorf draws his readers in with a light, conversational style to his writing: not lecturing to his readers, but rather holding a friendly dialogue with them.

The Passover Survival Kit is a combination of Apisdorf’s survival guide and a Haggadah. The survival guide is for pre-Passover preparation. As all good Jewish books do, it starts with Passover questions such as why four cups of wine, why hide the afikomen, and why is so much time spent cleaning for Passover. The answers to these questions lead into a chapter long discussion about the concept of freedom and how Passover is the Jewish celebration of freedom. The first section of the Passover Survival Kit also contains guidelines for “how to survive the seder” whether you are guest or host, as well as an explanation of the fifteen sections of the seder.

The Passover Survival Kit is also equipped with an enhanced Haggadah. Not only does Apisdorf include the complete Haggadah in English, but also questions and answers, mini-essays and activity suggestions. Apisdorf also clearly marks important seder points with recognizable symbols such as stop signs and question marks. The Haggadah is enlightening for everyone — from the first-time seder participant to someone who has led the seder for the last ten years.

Shimon Apisdorf’s Passover Survival Kit is an essential addition to enhance everyone’s Passover.

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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.


99 Fascinating Facts About Jewish Life

99 Fascinating Facts You Didn't Know About Jewish Life:

The Jewish Life Hacker

By S.R. Hewitt

What does Jewish law have to say about smiling? What is so kosher about “kosher salt”? Is there a proper way to lend a cup of sugar? What does Judaism say about birth control?

99 Fascinating Facts You Didn’t Know About Jewish Life: The Jewish Life Hacker is an engaging and accessible introduction to some of the finer points of Jewish law.

The mini-essays included in this book, culled from the Jewish Treats archives, strive to make the intricacies of Jewish law familiar and understandable.

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Tu B'Av

Tu B'Av

The Fifteenth of Av

Tu B’Av (The Fifteenth of Av) is no longer the well-known holiday on the Jewish calendar that it was in ancient times.

“There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av…”
– Ta’anit 26b

On Tu B’Av, the unmarried maidens of Jerusalem would go out to the vineyards to dance together under the gaze of the unmarried men (sort of a Sadie Hawkins Day!). Each young lady would be dressed in white clothing borrowed from her neighbor so that those who came from wealthy families would not stand out and none would be embarrassed.

As they danced, the ladies would call out: “Young man, lift your eyes and choose wisely. Don’t look only at physical beauty–look rather at the family [values], ‘For charm is false, and beauty is deceitful. A God-fearing woman is the one to be praised…” (Proverbs 31:30).

While in ancient times the same ceremony also took place on Yom Kippur, the day of Tu B’Av was specifically set aside for this celebration because it was the anniversary of the date on which inter-tribal marriages were permitted after the Israelites had entered the Land of Israel.


99 Fascinating Jewish Personalities

99 Fascinating Jewish Personalities

By S.R. Hewitt

Have you ever heard of Two-Gun Cohen? Did you know that the artist Man Ray was Jewish? And what happened to Elisha ben Abuya that the other Talmudic sages began to refer to him as “Acher,” which means “Other”?

Jewish Treats: 99 Fascinating Jewish Personalities is an enlightening and enjoyable anthology of mini-essays about Jews from all walks of life. From the familiar figures of the Bible to little-known war heroes and even modern day novelists, these biographies have been culled from the popular Jewish Treats blog that presents “Juicy bits of Judaism, daily.”

There have been books written on the history of the Jews and the impact of Jews on history, and even the impact of history on the Jews…but Jewish Treats: 99 Fascinating Jewish Personalities is a simple collection of essays on interesting Jews, some who changed the course of the world, some who gained renown only in their own time and a few who might have been forgotten if not for others’ love of trivia.

Remember to Shop with Amazon Smile so that a portion of your purchase is donated to NJOP!

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Ma'oz Tzur

Ma'oz Tzur

Jewish liturgical poem

Refuge, Rock of my salvation: to You it is a delight to give praise.
Restore my House of prayer, so that there I may offer You thanksgiving.
When You silence the loud-mouthed foe,
then will I complete, with song and psalm, the altar’s dedication.

Troubles sated my soul; my strength was spent with sorrow.
They embittered my life with hardship, when I was enslaved under Egyptian rule.
But God with His great power brought out His treasured people,
While Pharaoh’s host and followers sank like a stone into the deep.

He brought me to His holy abode, but even there I found no rest.
The oppressor came and exiled me, because I had served strange gods.
I had drunk poisoned wine. I almost perished.
Then Babylon fell, Zerubbabel came: within seventy years I was saved.

The Agagite, son of Hammedatha, sought to cut down the tall fir tree,
But it became a trap to him, and his arrogance was brought to an end.
You raised the head of the Benjaminite, and the enemy’s name You blotted out.
His many sons and his household You hanged on the gallows.

Then the Greeks gathered against me, in the days of Hasmoneans.
They broke down the walls of my towers, and defiled all the oils.
But from the last remaining flask, a miracle was wrought for Your beloved.
Therefore the Sages ordained these eight days for song and praise.

Bare Your holy arm, and hasten the time of salvation.
Take retribution against the evil nation on behalf of Your servants,
For the hour [of deliverance] has been too long delayed; there seems no end to the evil days.
Thrust the enemy into the darkness of death, and establish for us the seven Shepherds.

מָעוֹז צוּר יְשׁוּעָתִי, לְךָ נָאֶה לְשַׁבֵּחַ
תִּכּוֹן בֵּית תְּפִלָּתִי, וְשָׁם תּוֹדָה נְזַבֵּחַ.
לְעֵת תָּכִין מַטְבֵּחַ מִצָּר הַמְנַבֵּחַ.
אָז אֶגְמוֹר בְּשִׁיר מִזְמוֹר חֲנֻכַּת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ.

רָעוֹת שָׂבְעָה נַפְשִׁי, בְּיָגוֹן כֹּחִי כָּלָה
חַיַּי מֵרְרוּ בְקֹשִׁי, בְּשִׁעְבּוּד מַלְכוּת עֶגְלָה
וּבְיָדוֹ הַגְּדוֹלָה הוֹצִיא אֶת הַסְּגֻלָּה
חֵיל פַּרְעֹה וְכָל זַרְעוֹ יָרְדוּ כְּאֶבֶן בִּמְצוּלָה.

דְּבִיר קָדְשׁוֹ הֱבִיאַנִי, וְגַם שָׁם לֹא שָׁקַטְתִּי
וּבָא נוֹגֵשׂ וְהִגְלַנִי, כִּי זָרִים עָבַדְתִּי
וְיֵין רַעַל מָסַכְתִּי, כִּמְעַט שֶׁעָבַרְתִּי
קֵץ בָּבֶל זְרֻבָּבֶל, לְקֵץ שִׁבְעִים נוֹשַׁעְתִּי.

כְּרוֹת קוֹמַת בְּרוֹשׁ, בִּקֵּשׁ אֲגָגִי בֶּן הַמְּדָתָא
וְנִהְיָתָה לוֹ לְפַח וּלְמוֹקֵשׁ, וְגַאֲוָתוֹ נִשְׁבָּתָה
רֹאשׁ יְמִינִי נִשֵּׂאתָ, וְאוֹיֵב שְׁמוֹ מָחִיתָ
רֹב בָּנָיו וְקִנְיָנָיו עַל הָעֵץ תָּלִיתָ.

יְוָנִים נִקְבְּצוּ עָלַי, אֲזַי בִּימֵי חַשְׁמַנִּים
וּפָרְצוּ חוֹמוֹת מִגְדָּלַי, וְטִמְּאוּ כָּל הַשְּׁמָנִים
וּמִנּוֹתַר קַנְקַנִּים נַעֲשָׂה נֵס לַשּׁוֹשַׁנִּים
בְּנֵי בִינָה יְמֵי שְׁמוֹנָה קָבְעוּ שִׁיר וּרְנָנִים

חֲשׂוֹף זְרוֹעַ קָדְשֶׁךָ וְקָרֵב קֵץ הַיְשׁוּעָה
נְקֹם נִקְמַת עֲבָדֶיךָ מֵאֻמָּה הָרְשָׁעָה
כִּי אָרְכָה הַשָּׁעָה וְאֵין קֵץ לִימֵי הָרָעָה
דְּחֵה אַדְמוֹן בְּצֵל צַלְמוֹן הָקֵם לָנוּ רוֹעִים שִׁבְעָה

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

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

Articles

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


Hilly Gross' Speech

Hilly Gross' Speech

At the 10th Anniversary of the Lincoln Square Beginners Service, Hilly Gross describes what happened when he invited (as he often did) participants of Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald's Beginners Service to his home for a Shabbat meal.

I am here tonight on what I fear is a totally vain effort to restore some perspective to this orgy of self-congratulations that you have staged for yourselves this evening. Because I think that somehow it’s important that you beginners, B.T.s, leave tonight with at least a sense of how we, the F.F.B.s, as you call us, the frum-from-births, the “lifers,”day-by-day Lincoln Square everyday congregants, feel about you–we don’t like you!! And if you’ll just indulge me for two to three minutes, I will tell you why it is that we don’t like you–aside from the fact that you won’t talk to us during davening!

For ten years now, you have been coming to my house on Shabbasim and Yomim Tovim; just this once try to see it from my perspective. I am what the sociologists and the demographics experts would call the “tired Jewish businessman.” My fantasy of the ideal Friday night is to daven as fast as I can, eat as fast as I can, jump under the covers, assume a pre-fetal position, and conk out until Shacharis.

So, I come to shul Friday night and invariably Rabbi Buchwald approaches and says: would I mind taking three or four of his beginners home for Shabbat dinner? Since Rabbi Buchwald insists on posing this question in front of the people involved, it makes it very difficult to say no! Fine, I’ll take them.

Introductions are made and we begin to make our way home. Invariably, one of you will screech, “Wait!! Don’t go on Broadway–that’s the goyish way, go through Lincoln Towers, that’s the Shabbos way.” Fine, Lincoln Towers.

We get home, and again one of you is screeching, “Stop!! Don’t go in the elevator. Take the stairs, like Effie does.” Effie lives on the third floor! . . . Ten flights later, we arrive home… breathlessly, introductions are made and we take our places around the Shabbat table. You want to sing Shalom Aleichem–each verse three times, because it says so in the siddur. Fine, Shalom Aleichem three times. Then, you want Ayshes Chayil read in English–because it’s more meaningful. Fine. Then one of you has a question — “We just made kiddush in shul, why are we making kiddush a second time?” Well, to paraphrase Renee Leicht, “How the hell do I know why we’re making kiddush a second time?” After kiddush, one of you decides you’d like to make your own kiddush, because you forgot to ask me before my kiddush if I had you in mind. Fine, make your own kiddush–at the rate of three Hebrew words a minute!

Then, after washing, we sit down, and during the course of conversation, usually mine, one of you will interrupt with undeniable sincerity and politeness and say: “Excuse me, but isn’t what you’re saying Loshon Hara?” Yeah, I suppose you could say it’s Loshon Hara. Fine, no more Loshon Hara! Then you want to sing Zmiros, the ones with eight verses–all of them! Fine. Then you want to do D’var Torahs; every D’var Torah you ever heard up there you want to do. Fine. Then you want to bentch, singing each verse, “cause that’s the way Effie does it.”

Fine. At this point, I bleary-eyed excuse myself and again, with unfailing politeness you say, “Thank you for having us, we’d love to come back next Shabbos!!” You’ll be back next Shabbos all right, over . . . .

But you see, it’s not that we dislike you, Chas V’shalom (G-d forbid), it’s that you make us uncomfortable. We’re uncomfortable because after 20-30-40 years of saying Shemoneh Esrei three times a day, when we’re with you we sense that perhaps our Shemoneh Esrei has become flat, routine, mechanical, while yours is vital and exuberant. We’re uncomfortable because in the solitude of our souls we ask ourselves (and don’t believe for a second that we don’t ask ourselves), we ask ourselves if we could do in our 20’s and 30’s and 40’s what you’ve done. Could we uproot the habits of a lifetime, the occupations, change our jobs if necessary, confuse our friends, antagonize our families, just to commit ourselves to our Judaism? And if we articulate this question, few of us dare to answer it.

So, I suppose in the last analysis, we’re uncomfortable because you practice what we preach. By your enthusiasm, by your embrace of everything that’s Jewish, you challenge us. By your insatiable thirst for knowledge, you provoke us. And by your open-hearted love affair with Judaism and everything about it, you ultimately shame us.

We pray that under the inspired leadership of Rabbi Buchwald you will continue to shame us, to provoke us, to challenge us, to lead us, until the coming of the Redeemer, Moshiach, speedily in our days,

Amen.

What this is:

With brilliant humor (virtually every line is a zinger!), Hilly Gross describes what happened when he invited (as he often did) participants of Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald’s Beginners Service to his home for a Shabbat meal. Many will recognize themselves in this extraordinary piece, and just about everyone will see how these encounters profoundly impact on both hosts and guests.
This video was recorded at the 10th Anniversary celebration of the Lincoln Square Synagogue Beginners Service on February 23, 1986 held in Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Manhattan. While the audio and video quality is at times uneven, the message is resoundingly clear.

Why is it important?

Hachnasat Orchim–welcoming guests into one’s home–is one of the premiere and most fundamental mitzvot in the Jewish religion. Its origin, in fact, is traced back to Sarah and Abraham. Hachnasat Orchim impacts profoundly on Jews who are distant from their religion. Many Ba’alei Teshuvah, if not most, relate that they were deeply influenced in their quest to learn more about their identity by experiencing the warmth and beauty of Judaism in a Shabbat home setting. For many it was the Shabbat experience that made “the difference,” resulting in their religious transformation. As Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald has often said, “For the price of a chicken you can bring a Jew home.”
Welcoming guests for Shabbat and Yom Tov helps not only the guests. Hosts and host families are also impacted significantly, resulting in a higher level of commitment, and a more spiritual Shabbat for them as well.

How we can help you:

NJOP is available at any time to help coordinate hospitality between hosts and newly observant Jews or those who are just beginning to explore their Jewish heritage. We will happily offer prospective hosts copies of A Gourmet Shabbat  to use at the Shabbat table, and gladly help you answer the inevitable questions that arise at the Shabbat table (or at the kitchen sink). NJOP can tell you where local Beginners Services may be found. We will also recommend texts for Divrei Torah, or even just advise you how to successfully ask someone to be your Shabbat guest.

With brilliant humor (virtually every line is a zinger!), Hilly Gross describes what happened when he invited (as he often did) participants of Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald’s Beginners Service to his home for a Shabbat meal. Many will recognize themselves in this extraordinary piece, and just about everyone will see how these encounters profoundly impact on both hosts and guests.This video was recorded at the 10th Anniversary celebration of the Lincoln Square Synagogue Beginners Service on February 23, 1986 held in Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Manhattan. While the audio and video quality is at times uneven, the message is resoundingly clear.

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.


Israel Memorial Day & Israel Independence Day

Yom Ha'Atzumaut

Israel Independance Day

As the State of Israel marks its birthday on the 5th of Iyar, the world holds its breath waiting and wondering if peace will ever come to the Middle East.

Israeli Memorial Day (Yom Ha'Zikaron) is
.
Observance for Israeli Independance Day (Yom Ha'Atzmaut) begins the evening of
, with a siren and a moment of silence in Israel.

Israel’s independence, as well as its continued survival, is a modern day miracle, but it has come with a great cost in human lives. Therefore, before it celebrates its independence, Israel honors the memory of those who gave life and limb for their country. On the 4th of Iyar, Yom Ha’Zikaron, Memorial Day is observed. It is not a day of picnics, fairs and fireworks. To honor the fallen soldiers of the State, an alarm is sounded simultaneously throughout the country for one minute, once in the evening and again in the morning. As the siren pierces the air, all traffic comes to a halt as everyone stands for a moment of silence.

In honor of Yom Ha’Zikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, NJOP brings you a brief summary of the dynamic history of the State of Israel:

The Creation of the State of Israel

History of the State Since 1948


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


The Fast of 17 Tammuz

June 27, 2020

The Fast of 17 Tammuz
(Shiv'ah Asar B'Tammuz)

Jews across the world will fast from sun-rise to night fall. This fast, Shiv’ah Asar B’Tammuz, the Seventeenth of Tammuz, like most commemorative fast days of the Jewish calendar, marks the anniversary of a series of tragic incidents. On the seventeenth itself, five major events occurred, each with major implications for the Jewish nation.

WHY WE FAST:

  1. Moses smashed the first set of the Ten Commandments
    • When Moses came down from Mount Sinai and found the Jews dancing around the Golden Calf, he threw down the two tablets of law given to him by G-d, smashing them into pieces. (For more details, click here.)
  2. Daily sacrifices were discontinued in the First Temple –
    • Due to the Babylonian siege on the city of Jerusalem, the priests were unable to obtain unblemished sheep to offer the daily sacrifice.
      • In the time of the Temple, two sheep without blemishes were offered every day as a sacrifice, one in the morning and one in the evening. As the siege progressed, food and animals became scarce. The priests attempted to continue the Temple Service for as long as possible. They would send a basket full of silver and gold over the wall and the soldiers would exchange it for sheep. On the seventeenth of Tammuz, no more sheep were found and the practice came to a halt.
  3. Jerusalem’s city walls were breeched by the Romans
    • The breeching of the walls of Jerusalem on the 17th of Tammuz led to the eventual destruction of the Second Temple.
    • Similarly, on the 9th of Tammuz, the walls were breeched, leading to the destruction of the First Temple. Initially, this was also a day of mourning, but the rabbis decreed that the Fast of the Seventeenth would commemorate both events, in order not to make life too difficult.
  4. An idol was erected in the Temple
  5. The Torah was burnt by Apustemus –
    • During the violent times prior to the final destruction of the Second Temple, a Roman official was robbed by highwaymen. In response to this incident, Roman troops were sent to the villages nearest the location of the robbery and their entire populations were arrested — guilty of not pursuing the robbers. One soldier grabbed a Torah Scroll, tore it up and cast it into the fire. “From all sides the Jews gathered trembling, as if their entire land had been given to flames” (Josephus Flavius as translated in the Book of Our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov).

THE FAST

  •  When – The fast begins at the break of dawn and ends after nightfall. Some people will get up before dawn and have a early morning breakfast (but this is only permitted if a decision to do so is verbally expressed the night before).
  • Do’s and Don’ts
    • During the duration of the fast, eating and drinking are prohibited
    • Unlike Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av (The Day of Atonement and the Ninth of Av), bathing, annointing and wearing leather are permitted.
    • 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.
    • One does not go swimming.
    • Special prayers are added to the synagogue services:
      • Slichot (Penitential Prayers) and Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) are recited.
      • At the afternoon service, Exodus 32:11, containing the 13 attributes of G-d’s mercy, is read from the Torah.
      • 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 when saying Mincha.
    • If the Seventeenth of Tammuz falls out on Shabbat, the fast is postponed until Sunday, as it is forbidden to fast on Shabbat (with the exception of Yom Kippur).

Emotional Output

    • A fast day is a somber occasion. On this day, Jews mourn the tragic events which led to the destruction of the Holy Temples and, subsequently, our exile — which led to the many additional persecutions Jews have suffered throughout the ages. It is appropriate and necessary to remember this on the fast day, and, therefore, frivolous or playful activities should not be indulged in on this day.

THE 17TH OF TAMMUZ BEGINS THE PERIOD KNOWN AS THE THREE WEEKS


Ruth

Ruth

She was a former princess, left widowed with her mother-in-law, destined to abandon her royal past to join the Nation of G-D and become the mother of Kingship…RUTH!

In the time when the land of Israel was ruled by judges, the territory of Judah was struck with a great drought. Elimelech, one of the leading citizens of the city of Bethlehem, watched as the people around him grew gaunt from want of food.

Indifferent to the people’s needs, concerned only about preserving his family’s wealth, Elimelech gathered his wife Naomi, his two sons, Machlon and Khilyon, and all their transportable wealth, and left. Not only did he leave the city and the land of Israel, he chose to settle in the land of Moab, a not-so-friendly neighbor with whom Israel had a history of ill-will. When the Nation of Israel sought food, water and safe passage on their journey from Egypt to Canaan, the Moabites refused to help, sending them back into the harsh wilderness.
Time passed and Elimelech’s sons brought home two nice, young Moabite ladies, Orpah and Ruth. They were not just any young women, but daughters of the royal house who had been raised in a home dedicated to the Moabite traditions and beliefs! Time passed and the family did not return to Bethlehem, Elimelech and both of his sons died, and Naomi was left in the land of Moab with her two foreign daughters-in-law.

However, the Jewish mother is a force to always be reckoned with! The beginning of the Book of Ruth, which describes their flight to Moab, does not record any of Naomi’s feelings or reactions. Her silence confirms her unhappiness in leaving Israel and dwelling in Moab. After the death of her husband and two sons, Naomi resolutely packed her bags to head back to her home in Bethlehem. Remarkably, both Orpah and Ruth desire to go with her, demonstrating that while living under Naomi’s roof they had indeed been influenced by her, renouncing their previous idolatrous lives.

At the border of Israel, Naomi decided that the Holy Land would not be the appropriate place for her two daughters-in-law. Her return to Bethlehem would not be glorious, in fact, it would be filled with shame knowing that her husband fled rather than share his wealth, and that her two sons took Moabite wives. The time had come to send her daughters-in-law back to their father’s home. When pressed, Orpah returned to Moab. Ruth, however, refused. She listened to no arguments. “Where you go, I shall go, your people will be my people, your land will be my land, and your G-d will be my G-d.” In this most famous of statements, Ruth confirmed not only her complete identification with the Jewish people, but also her acceptance of G-d’s laws in her life.

And so Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem.

In Israel, the lives of Naomi and Ruth were difficult. The community did not welcome Naomi with open arms. They remembered that she had abandoned them, and Naomi was too meek to try to force her presence upon her former relatives and neighbors. Furthermore, when it became known that Ruth was a Moabite princess…you can imagine.

Ruth and Naomi lived a lonely and threadbare existence. To keep from starving, Ruth went out into the fields to collect the excess harvest during the gathering of the barely. The field to which she went was owned by a wealthy man named Boaz…a relative of Elimelech. Seeing her in the field, distanced from the usual group of women and humbled in her state, Boaz had mercy on Ruth and insisted that she continue to come to his field. He also made certain to assure her that she would not be molested by those who saw her as only a Moabite princess, and not the daughter–in-law of Naomi who had accepted the Torah.

Ruth’s presence in the community caused much commotion. The elders in the town debated her status, whether she was a true convert and whether they were obligated to find her a husband.
Naomi, however, knew the right path to follow. Her daughter-in-law was a devout, sincere, young woman. It was time for her to establish a home.
Naomi understood that Boaz’s kindness in the field was a sign of favor upon Ruth. He was a man of integrity who would not only fulfill his familial obligation to redeem the family land, keeping it in the tribe of Judah, but would also take care of Ruth. She directed her daughter-in-law, therefore, to go to him at the threshing ceremony and to present herself to him as a potential mate.

Ruth, the former princess, took herself to the festival of the threshing and, in the darkness of the night, lay herself at the feet of Boaz, signaling to him her desire for him to recognize their relationship. Boaz was not a young man. He was an established landowner and a leader in the community. While he had seen Ruth and knew that she was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, his relative’s widow, he had not thought of himself as one to take her hand or redeem Elimelech’s land. On the night of the threshing, Boaz realized that he had a mitzvah to perform.

There was one remaining stumbling block. Boaz was Ruth’s second closest relative, and there was yet a closer relative whose obligation preceded his to redeem the family land. In the middle of the day, Boaz waited in the public square for his relative to pass by and told him that Naomi’s land needed to be redeemed and that he, the nearest kinsman, had the first responsibility and opportunity to purchase it. The relative expressed interest. With the purchase of the land, however, Boaz added, comes the obligation of taking care of Ruth. The cousin hesitated and then declined, proving that his intention was not the Biblical design for the family’s continuation, but rather his own monetary gain.

And so, Boaz and Ruth were married. And Ruth bore a son named Oved, whose own son, Jesse, was the father of David, the greatest King of Israel.

Summation and illustrations by Sarah Rochel Reid.


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

Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks

Holiday begins at sundown on

Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, corresponds to the 6th and 7th of Sivan. The many names of the holiday best describe exactly what is celebrated:

Shavuot, Festival of Weeks – Shavuot is the only holiday not listed in the Torah by the day and month on which it is to be observed. Rather, the Torah instructed that this festival take place the 49th day after the second day of Passover, the day on which the Omer Sacrifice was offered. The name, therefore, reflects the fact that this holiday occurs seven complete weeks (Shavuot) after Passover. In mystical terms, the number 7 represents the natural order of things, and so a complete, natural cycle has occurred.

Chag Ha’Bikurim, Holiday of the First Fruit – The natural cycle that has been completed is agricultural. On Chag Ha’Bikurim, the offering of the First Fruit of the harvest was brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as a gesture of thanksgiving for the successful yield.

Z’man Matan Torateinu, Time of the Giving of the Torah – But Shavuot takes place one day after the seven weeks, which is one step beyond the natural cycle and is, therefore, also representative of a supernatural event as well. On Passover, we celebrate the miraculous Exodus of the People of Israel from Egypt. The Israelites at the time, however, were, at best, a family, a loose assortment of cousins bonded together by their mutual misery. At the end of seven weeks, however, at the base of Mount Sinai, the former slaves rose above their human limitations and, by accepting the Torah, took upon themselves a total commitment to G-d, thus creating the Nation of Israel. Shavuot is therefore also known as Z’man Matan Torateinu, the celebration of the giving of the Torah.

Jewish Treats Guide on the
Ten Commandments

Our free eGuide Jewish Treats on The Ten Commandments is a beautiful fifteen page overview of the Ten Commandments that were given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai on Shavuot.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Print the Jewish Treats on the Ten Commandments or use the interface on this page to view or download.

Shavuot Resources

Shavuot Videos

Shavuot Prep 101

Web Series

Welcome to NJOP’s Shavuot Prep 101 web series featuring Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, Founder and Director of NJOP.  Watch four short webisodes discussing important topics for the Shavout holiday.

View The Series

Lag Ba'Omer

Lag Ba'Omer

33rd of the Omer

Table of Contents

As Pesach flows into Sefirat Ha’Omer, (the counting of the Omer), which leads into Shavuot, Jews commemorate the loss of thousands of the students of the great 2nd century sage, Rabbi Akiva.

 Lag Ba’Omer

Because of their lack of respect for each other, the students were struck with a terrible plague. On the thirty-third day of the Omer, the plague ended, but nearly all of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students had perished. To commemorate the tragic loss of these Torah Scholars, 33 days of the Omer are marked as days of mourning, during which observant Jews refrain from marrying, shaving, cutting hair and listening to live music.

In Hebrew, every letter has a numeric value. The “lamed” equals 30, and the “gimmel” equals 3, thus the name: Lamed Gimmel (L”G) Ba’Omer, literally 33 (days) in the Omer.

Rabbi Akiva persevered after this great tragedy and continued to teach those students who had survived the plague, as well as new students. Of his surviving disciples, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is also deeply connected with the thirty-third day of the Omer. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai spent his life studying the Kabbalah, the hidden esoteric aspects of the Torah. According to tradition, on the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai finished revealing his teachings, recorded in the famed book, the Zohar. He died that evening, and was buried in the cave on Mount Meron, near Safed, where he had lived.

There are several customs associated with Lag Ba’Omer:

Bonfires:

Families and friends gather together for a bonfire or a picnic on Lag Ba’Omer, often on Mount Meron. There are several reasons given for this custom. One is that the teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai were compiled in the Zohar (which means shining light) and the bonfires bring light to the world.
First Hair Cuts: Many have the custom not to cut a boy’s hair until he is three years old, the age at which he first begins to learn Torah. Because this idea is tied into Kabbalistic thought concerning hair, many put off the ceremony, called an Upsherin, until Lag Ba’Omer.

Weddings:

Because weddings are not held during the mourning period of the Omer, and because of the high spiritual energy of the day, many people choose to get married on Lag Ba’Omer.
Mount Meron: In Israel, tens of thousands of people travel to Mount Meron to celebrate the Yahrtzeit, the anniversary of the death, of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Per his deathbed request, his death is celebrated, rather than mourned.

Rabbi Akiva – Hero and Martyr

One of Israel’s greatest sages, Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef, was a scholar, a teacher, a shepherd and a revolutionary.
A revolutionary? In the year 70 of the Common Era, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem. The emperor promised to rebuild the city, but his plan was to rebuild it and rename it Aeila Capitalina, dedicating it to the Roman god, Jupiter. This outrageous act, along with the harsh laws forbidding the study of Torah and the observance of many of the mitzvot, led to the Bar Kochba revolt over 60 years after the destruction of the Temple, in the year 132 CE.

While Shimon Bar Kochba was the military commander of the revolt, the spiritual leader was Rabbi Akiva. He had such faith in Bar Kochba that he believed him to be the Messiah, which, unfortunately, he was not. It was during the Bar Kochba revolt that the 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died in a plague. The rabbis understood this plague to be a result of the students lack of respect for each other, and, despite their high level of intellectual development, their lack of proper moral comportment was fatal. Devastated by the death of his pupils, and the failure of the Bar Kochba revolt, Rabbi Akiva nevertheless persevered and continued teaching his surviving students.
Living in such turbulent times, however, Rabbi Akiva’s life was not to end peacefully. Ignoring the Roman prohibitions against the Jewish people and their practices, he was declared a criminal for teaching Torah wherever he could, and was eventually captured by the Romans. Tortured, he called out joyfully: “All my life I’ve been waiting to fulfill the concept ‘You shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources…'[the first paragraph of the Shema] and now I finally have the chance.” Rabbi Akiva died a martyr’s death.

Rabbi Akiva–The Simple Shepherd

Where did Rabbi Akiva get the strength to persevere while watching all but 5 of his students die, his country in revolution, and while being tortured himself?
Akiva ben Yosef ben Avraham was not always a great sage. In fact, he was the son of a convert who was once a thoroughly ignorant and illiterate shepherd. So poor and downtrodden a figure was Akiva ben Yosef that his father-in-law, one of the wealthiest men in Israel, disinherited his daughter, Rachel, for marrying him

At the age of forty, Akiva’s life changed suddenly. One day, while out tending his flocks, he noticed a rock with a strange hole going straight through it. This hole was created by constantly dripping water. Akiva ben Yosef decided then and there to go and learn Torah, for if dripping water could bore a hole into solid rock, then even he, a forty year old man could learn Torah through constant effort. He had to start from scratch, for Akiva ben Yosef did not even know the aleph-bet!

Fully supported by Rachel, his wife, he went to study Torah for 12 years. When he returned he overheard his wife tell a friend that she would gladly let him learn for another 12 years. And he did. When he finally returned, he had become the great sage and acquired his 24,000 students.

Like Moses, Rabbi Akiva started as a shepherd. He became one of the greatest sages of the Jewish people with enough wisdom to unravel the intricacies of the law, guide the populace, and inspire an army.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

When the plague of Rabbi Akiva’s students ended, only five students survived. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was among them.

Like his teacher Akiva, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was a great scholar and political leader. He believed that all Jews should be immersed exclusively in Torah study, and only late in life did he come to understand that not every Jew could make such a total commitment. His own intense study of Torah brought out the deeper, esoteric meanings of the Torah. With the approval of his teachers, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai set out to share the hidden secrets of the Torah, what is today called Kabbalah, with his fellow Jews

With the arrest of Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son, Rabbi Elazar, were forced to go into hiding from Caeser’s army. For 13 years they dwelled in a cave on Mount Meron in the Galilee, not far from the city of Safed, where, according to tradition, they sustained themselves with the fruit of a carob tree. When the throne changed hands, the pair of scholars were able to come out of hiding and once again share their knowledge with their people.

The teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai were set down in a book called the Zohar, which means “splendor.” According to tradition, on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s last insight of Kabbalah was given over and he died. Just before he passed away, he requested that his death not be marked by sadness, for he felt that death should be a time of rejoicing as the soul takes its proper place with G-d. The great sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who revealed the secrets of the Kabbalah, was buried in his cave on Meron. For this reason, tens of thousands of people gather on Mount Meron every year on Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, to celebrate the anniversary of his death.


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

Judaism

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.


The Counting of the Omer

Judaism

We begin counting the days towards the next festival, Shavuot.

Sefirat HaOmer – Counting the Omer The departure of the Jews from Egypt was only the beginning of our redemption. The Exodus actually culminated in the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which is commemorated by the holiday of Shavuot. This connection is clearly marked through the Sefirat HaOmer, the counting of the Omer.

I. Leviticus 23:15 instructs us to count the 49 days immediately following the first night of Passover. Seven weeks (49 days) after Passover is the holiday of Shavuot.

A. Every night, starting with the night of the second Seder, a blessing is said and the new day is counted.

1. The blessing is as follows:
Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu melech Ha-olam, asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzeevanu al s’feerat ha’omer.

Blessed are you L-rd, our G-d ruler of the world, who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us, regarding the counting of the Omer.

a. “Omer” refers to the barley offering that was brought to the Temple on Passover.

2. The blessing is followed by the actual counting of the day. For example: “Today is day one of the Omer”….”Today is eight days, which are one week and one day, of the Omer.”

3. The official counting of the day is followed by a prayer for the restoration of the Temple: “The Compassionate One! May He return for us the service of the Temple to its place, speedily in our days. Amen, Selah!”

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

II. The Omer is a Period of Mourning

A. In the times of the Romans, the great Rabbi Akiva, one of Israel’s greatest sages, took a group of students with him into hiding so that they could continue to learn Torah, even though it was banned by Roman law. The students, each brilliant in his own right, argued amongst themselves. They stopped treating each other with respect and began showing off their Torah knowledge in order to “one-up” their fellows. As a punishment for this disunity and disrespect, the students all died during the period of Sefirat HaOmer. For this reason, 33 days of Sefirah are considered days of mourning.

1. Depending on custom, the first 33 days of Sefirah, or the last period of Sefirah, starting at the beginning of the month of Iyar, are days of mourning.

B. Restrictions of Sefirah: During the appropriate period of mourning, people refrain from:

1. Cutting hair
2. Buying new clothing
3. Going to live performances of musical entertainment
4. Getting Married

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.


Maggid

Maggid

Table of Contents

Maggid, the section of the Seder where we fulfill the mitzvah of telling the story of the Exodus, is a beautifully woven compilation of questions, answers, Talmudic discourse, and hymns of praise.

(Fulfilling the Mitzvah of) Telling the story of the Exodus.

It is important that all in attendance should be involved in the retelling of the Passover story, and that the Haggadah be recited in a language that is understood by all participants. (However, even if participants do not understand Hebrew, there should be an attempt to incorporate the sacred tongue as much as possible, even via transliteration. This may be accomplished simply by reading only the blessings in Hebrew or by reading the paragraph headings in Hebrew and then continuing in English.)

Some families have the custom of having every participant read a paragraph while others prefer that only the leader reads. Whatever one’s family custom, remember: creativity is welcome. If the participants of the Seder are particularly theatric, a short skit can be added to keep those present alert and inspired. If those gathered at the Seder enjoy debate, prepare discussion points beforehand and give everyone a chance to air their views.

The following outline of the Maggid section is meant to help you understand the text as well as to inspire conversation. Remember the Seder is designed for questions and discussions
(Please bear in mind that there are hundreds of different Hebrew-English Haggadot and translations of the following texts may vary slightly)

Ha Lachma Anya – This is the bread of affliction

The Ha Lachma Anya passage was added to the Haggadah after the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE) and is written in Aramaic. Before telling the story of the redemption, an invitation is extended to anyone unable to celebrate on their own, underscoring the unity of Israel. (The Talmud ascribes the destruction of the Second Temple to lack of unity.)
“This year we are slaves, next year – free people!” How can one understand this passage today, especially in America where it seems that our freedoms are limitless? The Haggadah, however, is talking about spiritual freedom–when one is freed from the bonds of materialism and from the many fears that beset modern society.

Mah Nishtana – The Four Questions

The Four Questions are an essential element of a successful Seder because they underscore the importance of the children’s participation and of asking questions.

While in Ashkenazi communities the Four questions are traditionally recited by the youngest capable Seder participant, one should not assume that the Four Questions are meant only for the children. Asking questions is everyone’s duty. In fact, according to the Talmud, even if one is alone, one should ask the Four Questions aloud.

i) Judaism puts great value on questioning because questions demonstrate a sincere interest in learning answers.
ii) Since the Four Questions emphasize the participation of children at the Seder, it is important to remember to have discussions on a level that they can understand.

The order of the Four Questions varies between Ashkenazic and Sepharic communities. The text of the questions, however, is the same.

Many Sephardic communities lead into the Four Questions or into The Maggid section itself with an interactive dialogue. View more on the varying customs of the Passover Seder.

Avadim Ha’yinu…/We Were Slaves In Egypt and the discussion of the Rabbis
The response to the Four Questions is found in the section that begins with Avadim Ha’yinu. Why is this night different from all other nights? Because “we were slaves in Egypt…”

What does the Haggadah mean when it says that had G-d not brought out our ancestors from Egypt, then we, our children and our children’s children would still be enslaved to Pharaoh? It is difficult to assume that this means physical slavery. We must therefore understand that the Haggadah is referring to a spiritual enslavement:
The sages teach that had the Jewish nation remained in Egypt even a few moments longer, they would have lost any ability to be redeemed. Had they remained in Egypt they would have become inextricably mired in the idol worship of the Egyptians, and enslaved to the deity of Pharaoh.
“Even of we were all wise…all knowing the Torah, we would still be obliged to tell about the Exodus…” The Haggadah uses this verse in Avadim Ha’yinu to segue into a discussion of 5 great rabbis who stayed up until dawn discussing the Exodus and why they spent the night retelling the Passover story.

Baruch HaMakom/Blessed is the Everpresent

Baruch HaMakom is a paragraph of praise.

HaMakom is one of the names of G-d which implies that G-d is everywhere (makom can also be translated as place). Baruch HaMakom reminds us that even in what seems to be the ultimate downfall – slavery – G-d was there, for G-d is everywhere.

The Four Sons – This section opens with a description of four children (the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who does not know how to ask), how they react to the Seder and how one should respond to their questions.

While translated as Four Sons, it must be remembered that Hebrew has no gender neutral language and the masculine is used for the general. Thus this section refers to both sons and daughters.
The section of the Four Sons reminds us that one must treat each child as an individual and pay attention to their particular needs.

The Four Children:

The Wise Child asks “What are the commandments which G-d has ordained for us?” This child includes him/herself with those who are commanded. This child is considered wise because (s)he recognizes his/her relationship to the Exodus and to G-d.

The Haggadah advises that the Wise Child should be answered by being instructed in all the laws of the Seder. Once a child is ready to study more, the Haggadah stresses the fact that all of Torah should be open to probing. Judaism welcomes and respects questions, and encourages probing minds to seek more and more knowledge and understanding.

The Rebellious Child asks “What does this service mean to you?” This child does not look upon the Seder, the redemption from Egypt or a relationship with G-d as having relevance to him/herself.

The Haggadah instructs that the Rebellious Child’s teeth be blunted, meaning that it may be appropriate to answer this child sharply, in order to jar him/her from apathy and self-absorption and make him/her recognize that even in Egypt, to be redeemed one needed at least to recognize him/herself as part of the community of Israel.

The Simple Child asks for the meaning of the Seder. Unlike the Wise Child who has learned and is instructed in laws, the Simple Child seeks to understand the basic facts.

The Haggadah instructs that the Simple Child be told that G-d took the Jews out with a strong hand, so that such children will feel the security of G-d’s love.

The One Who Does Not Know How To Ask must also be addressed, for very often this is the child most threatened with disappearing from the Jewish community. When one asks questions, one expresses some level of interest. Where there are no questions, there is likely to be no interest.

The Haggadah instructs that the child’s interest must be stimulated, even if it means that the question is asked by someone else. The commentators add that the tone of the response must be appropriate for each particular child.

 Mit’chee’lah Ovdei Avodah Zarah/In the Beginning Our Ancestors Were Idol Worshipers:

Having defined the Four Sons, the Haggadah begins the Passover story anew, this time moving back in history to before the enslavement in Egypt. By referring back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Haggadah reminds participants that the Jewish forefathers earned the special love and protection that the Jews receive from G-d. Following right after the Four Sons, it is important to remember that this history must be shared with all participants so that they understand that they too are part of the redemption.
“And he said to Abram: Know that your children will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they shall serve them, and they shall treat them harshly for four hundred years, but I will also judge the nation that they shall serve and afterwards they shall come out with great wealth” (Genesis 15: 13-14). This quote reminds Seder participants of the fact that the Jewish enslavement in Egypt was all part of a predefined Divine plan and that history must be looked upon as a complete unit in order to recognize the Divine element.

V’hi Sheh’amdah/And it is this that has stood

This paragraph praises G-d for protecting the Jews throughout the generations.
And it is “this” – What is the “this” that is referred to? Some sages say that “this” refers to the Torah, which is the contract between the Jews and G-d. From the logical sequence of the words, however, one could also assume that “this” refers to G-d’s promise to Abraham to redeem the Jews from slavery.

T’zei Ul’mad/ Go and Learn

Having praised G-d for protecting the Jewish people throughout the generations, the Haggadah returns to the Passover story by examining the wickedness of Laban and the story of the Jewish people through their journey to Egypt, slavery, and redemption.
After introducing this section with the charge of “go and learn,” the Haggadah presents four verses from Deuteronomy and proceeds to elaborate on the meaning. In doing so, the story of the Exodus is studied in depth. The four verses are:

      • “The Aramean sought to destroy my father (Jacob) and the latter went down to Egypt and sojourned there, with a family few in number; and he became there a nations, great, mighty and numerous.” Deuteronomy 26:5
      • “The Egyptians ill-treated us, oppressed us and laid heavy labors upon us.” Deuteronomy 26:6
      • “We cried to the L-rd, the G-d of our ancestors and the L-rd heard our voice. He saw our ill-treatment, our burden and our oppression.” Deuteronomy 26:7
      • “G-d brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, with an out-stretched arm, with great fearfulness, with signs and with wonders.” Deuteronomy 26:8

Dam, Va’aish, V’timrot Ashan/ Blood, Fire and Pillars of Smoke
After discussing the meaning of “with wonders,” which introduces the ten plagues (wonders meaning blood, the first of the plagues), the Seder participants recite “Dam, Va’aish, V’timrot Ashan/ Blood, Fire and Pillars of Smoke.”

The Haggadah elaborates on the first plague by quoting from the prophet Joel who foresaw blood, fire and pillars of smoke as signs of the final redemption. However, it is also understood that when the Nile turned to blood, it boiled and emitted pillars of steam.

As one says “Dam,” “Va’aish,” and “V’timrot Ashan” drops of wine are spilled from the full cup.

While there are varying opinions as to why the wine is spilled, the great Spanish commentator, the Abrabanel, explained that one should remove wine from the cup because wine is a sign of rejoicing, and one should not rejoice when an enemy falls.

How the wine is spilled varies from family to family: some pour the wine out directly from the cup and some flick the wine out with their finger.

The removal of wine drops is repeated for the ten plagues and the mnemonic for the ten plagues.

The Ten Plagues – During the reading of the Ten Plagues, drops of wine are spilled from the full cup for each plague.

Dam – Blood – During the plague of blood the waters of Egypt turned to blood. This plague had two separate features: (1) the Nile, which the Egyptians worshiped, turned to blood, and (2) all the water that the Egyptians kept in containers in their homes also turned to blood, while the Jews still had water to drink.

Tze’far’day’ah – Frogs – There was no place for the Egyptians to escape from the frogs. They were everywhere, in the Egyptians’ beds, in their pockets, and even in their ovens.

Kinim – Lice – To initiate the plague of lice, G-d commanded Aharon via Moshe to hit the ground with his staff and the dust turned to lice and spread everywhere.

Arov – Wild Beasts – The plague of wild beasts trapped the Egyptians in their homes, for they dared not go out in the streets in fear for their lives.

Dever – Pestilence – The Egyptian cattle that had survived the ravaging of the wild beasts were struck by 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.

Sh’chin – Boils – Even with all of their land and cattle destroyed, the Egyptians continued to deny G-d and to treat the Jews unfairly. The plague of boils struck them personally, showing them that ultimately they had no control over anything, not even themselves.

Barad – Hail – The plague of hail was two-fold in its actions: (1) it destroyed the physical structures of Egypt, and (2) it was a “fireworks” display of the power of G-d. For those who needed to be impressed by the awesomeness of G-d, the seventh plague consisted of giant hail that contained fire encased in ice. The hail killed much of the surviving Egyptian cattle and destroyed many agricultural crops.

Arbeh – 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 came in an enormous swarm which darkened the sky and devoured anything that remained of the crops.

Choshech – Darkness – For three days, total darkness descended on Egypt. The Sages taught that the darkness of choshech 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 had full range of motion.

Makkat B’chorot- Death of the First Born – The final plague was the only one for which the Jews needed to prepare. In order to be “passed-over,” Moshe instructed the Jews 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.
*A SPECIAL ESSAY FROM R’ BUCHWALD ON THE 10 PLAGUES!

D’tzach, A’dash, B’ah’ch’av – The mnemonic device

The Haggadah relates that Rabbi Yehuda, a Talmudic Sage, grouped the plagues by their initials, which underscores the importance of not only remembering the plagues, but of remembering them in order.
As one says “D’tzach,” “A’dash,” and “B’ah’ch’av,” drops of wine are spilled from the full cup.

Rabbi Yose the Galilean…

Following the Ten Plagues, the Haggadah discusses the varying opinions of the Rabbis as to how mighty and numerous the plagues actually were. Each opinion serves to glorify the deed done by G-d and leads the Seder participants into Dayenu.

Dayenu
One of the most famous of all Seder songs, Dayenu praises G-d for the many miracles and gifts He gave to the Jews.

The format of Dayenu: Dayenu is a song that builds upon itself. Each verse starts with the end of the preceding verse, and ends with an enthusiastic call of the word Dayenu! Dayenu means “It would have been enough!” This song reminds Seder participants how much for which there is to be grateful.

An example of the structure:
If G-d had brought us out of Egypt, but had not executed judgement upon the Egyptians, it would have been enough — (Dayenu)!
If G-d has executed judgement upon the Egyptians, but not upon their gods, it would have been enough — (Dayenu)!

An excellent Yom Tov day activity with older children is to go through Dayenu and then to encourage them to think about how Dayenu applies to their lives.

Pesach, Matzah and Maror

The next section of the Haggadah, introduced by a quote of Rabban Gamliel, defines the key ingredients of Passover: Pessach (The Pascal Offering), Matzah and Maror.
While one does not point to the shank bone when discussing the Passover offering, since it is only a representation, the matzah and Maror should be held up for all to see as they are discussed.

B’khol Dor Va’Dor/In Every Generation…
Having displayed the Maror and Matzah, and referred to the Passover offering, the Haggadah reminds Seder participants that they are not simply recounting an ancient tale: “In every generation one is obliged to regard him/herself as though he/she had actually gone out from Egypt.”
This is the perfect opportunity for the Seder leader to encourage all Seder participants to think about their own dependencies and how they can perhaps free themselves spiritually.

L’phi’chach…/Therefore it is our duty…
The paragraph beginning with “Therefore is it our duty” begins the conclusion of Maggid. From this point until the blessing on the second cup of wine, various psalms, part of the Hallel service, are recited.

The Second Cup of Wine
The Maggid section concludes with the drinking of the second cup of wine, after the proper blessings are recited.
The cup should be refilled before the blessing, since some wine (even if only a few drops) were spilled when reviewing and discussing the Ten Plagues.

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 Seder Plate

The Sedar Plate

With today’s vast variety of Passover products, grape flavored matzah, chocolate covered matzah, and other assorted flavors of matzah may be readily available. For the Seder, however, plain matzah, made only of flour and water, must be used.

Several items can be found on all Seder tables:
Three Matzahs
Three unbroken matzahs are placed on a plate and covered.

Why Three?

Three matzot are placed on the Seder table in order to properly fulfill two separate mitzvot (commandments). Two whole, unbroken matzot are necessary to make the Festival motzee (blessing over bread). The mitzvah of eating matzah, however, is fulfilled with a piece from a broken matzah, symbolizing that matzah is “the bread of affliction.”
Traditionally, the three matzot represent the division of the Jewish nation into Kohain (priests), Levi (priestly assistants) and Israel (the remaining tribes). By representing all Jews at the Seder, one is reminded of the importance of Jewish unity.

Wine (grape juice) and wine glasses – All participants should be given a glass or cup (minimum size of 3.3 ounces) from which to drink the required Four Cups of Wine (preferably, or grape juice if necessary). Of course, only Kosher for Passover wine should be used. While many are only familiar with the wine sold in supermarkets before Passover, there are many exotic varieties of kosher wine available appealing to all wine drinkers’ tastes.
The requirement of four cups of wine at the Passover Seder is based on the four stages by which G-d redeemed the Jews from slavery, as described in Exodus 6:6-7: “Therefore say to the Children of Israel: ‘I am G-d and I will take you out from beneath the burdens of Egypt, and I will save you from their servitude, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great judgements, and I will take you for Me for a people…'”

One must drink each of the four cups in its appropriate place in the Seder:

The First Cup – is designated for Kiddush, the prayer said over wine or grape juice to sanctify the holiday.

The Second Cup – is consumed after maggid, the section in which we tell the story of the exodus, as a way of praising G-d. A second blessing on the wine is made because significant time has passed since the first cup.

The Third Cup – is blessed after bentching (birkat hamazon), the Grace After Meals. It is customary that after bentching as a group, a cup of wine or grape juice is blessed and consumed by the person who leads the bentching, but only at the Seder does everyone drink the wine.

The Fourth Cup – is consumed at the conclusion of Hallel, the section psalms praising G-d.
A fifth cup of wine, known as the Cup of Elijah, is filled towards the end of the Seder, representing the fifth language of redemption, “and I will bring you to the land” (Exodus 6:8).
If kosher wine varieties are not available in your locale, visit www.kosherwine.com.

The Shank Bone – The ancient Egyptians considered the lamb to be a holy (Divine) animal. Before the tenth plague, the slaying of the first born, Jews were instructed to prepare a lamb for a feast and to smear some of its blood on the doorpost of their house so that they would be “passed over.” This symbolizes the people’s trust in G-d and rejection of idol worship. The offering brought to the Temple on Passover was, therefore, a lamb. Because we do not have the Temple today, we place the shank bone of a lamb or the bone of another kosher animal or fowl on the Seder plate to symbolize that offering.

Charoset – A tasty mixture of chopped walnuts, wine, cinnamon and apples that represents the mortar the Jewish slaves used to build Pharaoh’s cities (recipes may vary by community).

Karpas – A vegetable, usually a piece of celery, parsley or potato, which is dipped in salt water as required for the Seder ritual.

Salt Water – in which to dip the Karpas. The Talmud states that a main reason for dipping the karpas is to stimulate the children to ask questions. Salt water also represents the tears of the Jewish slaves.

Roasted (hard boiled) egg – The egg is included as a symbol of the cycle of life, because of its rounded shape. Passover marks the formation of the Jewish nation, as well as the beginning of spring and a new cycle of the earth’s growing seasons. It is also symbolic of the nature of the Jewish people — the more you boil it, the harder it gets. The more the Jewish people are persecuted, the more resistant they become, and their loyalty to G-d increases.

Maror – Bitter herbs are part of the Seder to remind participants of the bitterness and pain of slavery. On the Seder plate, many people place both fresh horseradish and romaine lettuce (which has a bitter tasting root).

Elijah’s Cup – Not actually part of the Seder plate, Elijah’s cup is a central feature of the Seder ritual. It represents the fifth language of redemption cited in Exodus 6:8 “and I will bring you to the land.” Toward the end of the Seder, this cup is filled with wine, the door is opened, and Elijah the prophet, the harbinger of the Messianic age, is invited to come and begin our final redemption.

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.