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When do I tell my date that my ex is in jail?
June 10, 2011 – 2:48 pm | One Comment
When do I tell my date that my ex is in jail?

If I were you, I would be honest, but very brief in what I said about this guy until I  entered into a relationship with someone. You can say things like: “I was engaged once, but I found out he was a liar and a cheat, and it was a very painful situation for me and my family. So, we never married.” If the person presses for more, simply say: “I’d be happy to tell you more at some point in the future, but honestly, it’s behind me now and I don’t want to dwell in the past.” The important thing is not to sound defensive, or like you are hiding something … but don’t get bogged down in details either.

A Convert of the Inquisition
June 10, 2011 – 3:05 am
A Convert of the Inquisition

The first auto-de-fe (live human burning) of the Spanish Inquisition took place in 1481. The Inquisition was not, as many believe, an institution set to destroy the Jewish people, but rather was a system meant to ensure that converts to Christianity were sincere in their conversions. Many Jews had converted in name only, a situation that the Catholic Church refused to tolerate (never mind that most of the so-called crypto-Jews had converted under threat of death). In 1492, anyone still wishing to profess the Jewish faith had to leave Spain. The Inquisition remained a frighteningly strong force for hundreds of years and was only formally ended in 1834.

During this time of persecution, a young Spanish nobleman named Don Lope de Vera (1619-1644) who was not descended from Jews, began to study Hebrew language and literature at Salamanca, and found himself drawn to Judaism when he read the Old Testament in its original language. His interest and enthusiasm for the Jewish faith was noticed by the Inquisition, and he was arrested at Valladolid. He was only twenty years old.

While held by the Inquisition, Don Lope declared his conversion to Judaism. Not only did he change his name to Juda el Creyente (Juda the Believer), but he also circumcised himself with a sharpened bone!

The pure Christian lineage of Don Lope/Juda was a particularly great embarrassment for the Inquisition. For six years they imprisoned him, pushing him to both confess his “sin” and return to Christianity. Finally, in July of 1644, Juda was led to his execution, chanting Psalms all the way to the stake to which he would be tied. Juda the Believer remained steadfast even as he died, crying out from the flames “I entrust my spirit into Your hand” (Psalms 31:6).

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Hot and Cool Summer Wines
June 9, 2011 – 10:11 am | One Comment
Hot and Cool Summer Wines

All of you white wine drinkers are in luck as summer seafood and lighter, salad-based-fare definitely require something delicate and refreshing.  Grill shrimp, squid, and even whole fish (stuffed with herbs and wrapped in tin foil) and serve alongside an Italian Vermentino or Sauvignon Blanc. White Bordeaux blends of Sauvignon and Semillon have a similar citrus-y character that won’t overpower the delicacy of simple grilled seafood or rice salads. For more elaborate dishes involving chicken, cheese, or creamy sauces, up the ante with buttery American Chardonnays and big, bold Sauvignon Blancs from Australian and New Zealand. For locavores on the east Coast, Long Island is the perfect compromise to accompany your Atlantic salmon and (CSA provided) grilled vegetables.

Give Them A Choice
June 7, 2011 – 8:05 am
Give Them A Choice

There is an oft-cited Midrash (Sifrei, Dvarim 343) describing how God offered the Torah to the other nations of the world before He gave it to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. According to this Midrash, the first nation to whom He offered the Torah asked what was in it. When God told them about the law prohibiting stealing, they couldn’t fathom a life without theft. The next nation reacted incredulously to the prohibition of adultery; they were horrified at the idea that God would monitor people’s bedroom behavior! Another nation was unable to accept the prohibition of murder…and so on. When God asked the Jewish people if they would accept the Torah, there were no questions. They declared: “Na’aseh v’nishma” (“We will do and we will listen”).

So, if one understands the Midrash correctly, it sounds like the so-called “chosen people” were God’s last choice for receiving the Torah. However, God understood that, unlike the other nations, the Israelites were truly free to accept the Torah since they did not yet have a homeland, they did not yet have an existing government, culture or “way of life.” It was this freedom that God gave them when He brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness that made the Jews more inclined to receive the Torah. They were not chained to a pre-existing life-style and thus were not reluctant to change themselves for the better. This is the practical reason why the Jews were able to accept the Torah so readily.

One must also bear in mind that the Israelites still remembered the generation that had come to Egypt and those who had been enslaved. They still claimed the spiritual heritage of Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebecca, and Jacob, Rachel & Leah.

It is this heritage that we have today. On Shavuot we commemorate the day that God gave the Torah to our ancestors. Now the choice is ours.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Three’s Company
June 6, 2011 – 2:35 pm
Three’s Company

We love this beautiful tradition, as a child is still a child, even on his or her wedding day. Together, the parents raised the child to become an adult who is now taking on the mitzvah of marriage. It’s so nice that the groom doesn’t make the walk alone down the aisle; his parents showed him the way to be a man and on his wedding day, they show him the way to meet his bride under the chuppah. Likewise, the relationship between a mother and daughter is so unique and special that it’s only fitting for the mother to join the father as they both link arms with their daughter in her wedding gown.

Green Cheesecake at Midnight?
June 6, 2011 – 3:03 am
Green Cheesecake at Midnight?

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

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

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

Among the reasons given for this custom are:

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

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

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

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

For further explanations of these customs, please visit the National Jewish Outreach Program’s Shavuot website. (The customs are at the bottom of the page.)

*This Treat was originally published on May 28, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Green Tea Financier Cake
June 3, 2011 – 9:41 am | One Comment
Green Tea Financier Cake

Matcha or Japanese green tea  is a fine ground, powdered, high quality green tea and not the same as tea powder or green tea powder. While matcha is expensive, the tea delivers not only a beautiful color, but also more antioxidants than blueberries, pomegranates and spinach.

When Bread Isn’t Bread
June 3, 2011 – 3:39 am
When Bread Isn’t Bread

A question for those who bake and for those who love dessert: What is the difference between bread and cake? Yeast, some might answer. Bread has yeast and rises. But what about yeast cakes such as babka or cinnamon buns? Believe it or not, the definition of bread is a question discussed thoroughly in halacha, Jewish law.

Bread is more than just something we eat. Bread, in Judaism, represents actual sustenance, as it is the basic necessity for survival (at least before everyone began to eat processed, white bread, of course!). For this reason, when sitting down to a meal with bread, it is considered appropriate to ritually wash one’s hands, recite the hand washing blessing, and then recite the blessing of Ha’Motz’ee before eating the bread. A meal with bread concludes with the Grace After Meals (Birkat Ha’mazon). Likewise, whenever one eats bread, even if not as a sit-down meal, one is required to wash, recite Ha’Motz’ee and say the Grace After Meals when finished. When Ha’Motz’ee is recited, it is no longer necessary to make individual blessings over the other foods of that meal (with some exceptions).

While “bread” sounds like a clearly identifiable food, the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch: Orach Chaym 168) defines bread as something made of the five species of grain (wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt) that is baked in an oven or cooked in a dry vessel. It may not have sweets, fruits or spices as the major ingredients or fillings.

While this final qualification makes it simple to understand why cinnamon buns are considered desert/snack (and therefore one recites the m’zo’note blessing), this does lead to complications when a sweet challah (such as a raisin challah or other sweet challahs) are used for ha’motz’ee on Shabbat. The question comes down to the definition of “major ingredient.” According to the custom of the Sephardi community, the taste of the spice/flavor need only be discernable to disqualify it as bread. The Ashkenazi community, however, rules that the extra flavor must really alter the main flavor.

*One should ask their own rabbi for clarification, if one has a question.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

When Your Friend Has No Taste
June 2, 2011 – 1:31 pm | 3 Comments
When Your Friend Has No Taste

When you’re dating someone, it is hard to believe your friends’ poor opinion of them comes from anything other than being misinformed. A common refrain is “you just don’t know her like I know her.” Sure – biblically.

Live Long And Prosper
June 2, 2011 – 3:12 am
Live Long And Prosper

Every “Trekkie” knows that Spock’s Vulcan salutation is accompanied by a strange hand gesture. What many don’t realize is that Leonard Nemoy borrowed this symbol from his traditional Jewish upbringing. It’s actually a one-handed version of two-handed priestly blessing gesture.

In Numbers 6:23-27, God instructs Moses that the priests shall “place My name upon the Children of Israel, and I Myself shall bless them.” The blessing the priests were to recite was:

May God bless you and watch over you.
May God shine His face toward you and show you favor.
May God be favorably disposed to you and grant you peace.

Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing, is also known as duchenen (Yiddish, referring to the duchan the special platform in the Temple from which the blessing was recited). Birkat Kohanim is also known as Nesi’aht Ka’payim (lifting of the palms/hands).

While Birkat Kohanim was bestowed daily in the Temple, current customs vary as to how often the blessing is bestowed by the kohanim (daily, every Shabbat, holidays only).

To bestow Birkat Kohanim, the kohanim (priests) stand facing the congregation, their tallitot (prayer shawls) draped over their head and arms. They stretch out their arms and, beneath the tallit, arrange their hands with the ten fingers separated to create 5 spaces (pinky-ring-space-middle-index-space-thumb-space-thumb-space-index-middle-space-ring-pinky). The position of the hands reflects the latticework mentioned in Song of Songs (2:9): “My Beloved…looks through the windows peering through the lattice.”

The prayer is recited responsively, one word at a time, first by the cantor and then repeated by the kohanim. While Birkat Kohanim is being recited, congregants are not to look directly at the kohanim and many cover their faces with their prayer books or prayer shawls, following the Talmudic dictum (Chagiga 16b) “One’s eyes will grow weak if one looks at the hands of the priests [during the blessing].”

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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