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The Battle of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai
The Battle of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai

At the time of the Declaration of the State of Israel (May 14, 1948), Kibbutz Yad Mordechai was a five year old settlement, ten kilometers south of Ashkelon, just north of the Gaza border. Its 250 or so members, most originally from Poland, had been part of an earlier settlement that had been relocated to a larger parcel of land. They named their new kibbutz after Mordechai Anielewicz, the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

On May 16th, an Egyptian force of over 1,000 troops, armed with artillery, tanks and aircraft, approached from the south. The only resistence point between the Egyptians and the city of Tel Aviv was Yad Mordechai.

The Haganah, the pre-State defense force, was aware of Yad Mordechai’s strategic importance. In the months before independence, the kibbutz was armed and prepared for defense (communication trenches, fortified firing posts, etc.). However, the kibbutz defenders were vastly outnumbered.

The attack began at dawn of May 19th, the morning after the children and most women were secretly evacuated. The first battle lasted through the next day. Overnight, however, a platoon of reinforcements snuck into Yad Mordechai.

May 21st and 22nd were not days of battle. The Egyptians continued to shell the kibbutz, flattening its buildings, but outright warfare was at a standstill. The battle, however, resumed on the 23rd. With many injured and many dead, the kibbutzniks could not hold out any longer. That night, in secret, they withdrew. On the 24th, the Egyptians resumed shelling Yad Mordechai, and only realized several hours later that the kibbutz was empty.

The five days that the heroes of Yad Mordechai held off the Egyptians was long enough for the newly created IDF to complete the plans for the defense of Tel Aviv.

Today, May 9, 2011, is Yom Ha’Zikaron, Israel Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism.

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

Thank You, Mom
Thank You, Mom

In honor of all our favorite Jewish Mothers, we’ve decided to re-Treat this special Mother’s Day edition of Jewish Treats!

Don’t forget to call your mother today, or send her flowers or a card. For those very, very out of the loop, Today is Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is a day set aside to show the moms in our lives how much we appreciate them. It’s a sweet and wonderful idea…but according to the Torah, every day is Mother’s Day.

The very first commandment that God gave to Adam was to “be fruitful and multiply.” Traditionally, this mitzvah is only considered obligatory upon men, not women.

This seems strange. After all, women are the ones who carry the children in the womb, nourish the infants from their breasts, and, traditionally, take the brunt of the child-rearing responsibility. If anything, “peru oo’revu,” be fruitful and multiply, should be a woman’s mitzvah!

According to the sages, however, the mitzvah of “peru oo’revu” is not obligatory on a woman because of the inherent dangers in childbirth. It has only been in the last 100 years or so that the number of fatalities during birth has become minimal, and Torah law does not command people to put themselves in life-threatening situations.

Perhaps, however, the danger inherent in motherhood is not just physical. Motherhood changes a person, restricts her and demands that she sacrifice many of the things she most values in life (sleep, independence, etc.). At the same time, through motherhood, a woman has the chance to not only experience the immense power of creation, but also to emulate God’s endless ability to give.

Motherhood, therefore, is both a choice and an opportunity. And it is because of this choice, and the sacrifices inherent therein, that one must give his/her mother honor, respect and even gratitude, not just on Mother’s Day, but everyday.

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

For Your Jewish Mother
For Your Jewish Mother

If one were to believe the jokes, Jewish mothers enjoy nothing more than nagging their children to eat, encouraging grown children to get married, and bragging about the children’s professions. Are Jewish mothers more protective of their children than other parents? Probably not. But the reputation for the tight bond between Jewish mothers and their children might stem from the Bible’s emphasis on what a blessing it is to be a mother.

Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel, three of the four matriarchs, had difficulty conceiving a child. Both Sarah and Rebecca conceived only once (Sarah bore Isaac, Rebecca bore Esau and Jacob). Rachel waited many years before the birth of Joseph and then another eight years until Benjamin was born. On the other hand, Leah had four children one after another, and then another three. Indeed, the Midrash explains that Pharaoh’s fear of the Jewish people was due to the fact that they had greatly increased in numbers over a few generations.

Another famous stereotype of the Jewish mother is that she is ever-sacrificing. “No, no, honey, you take the last piece, I’ll just starve.” Of course this is an exaggeration, but it too has its sources in the Torah. Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, was barren for many years. When she finally had a son, she raised him for three years and then brought him to the High Priest Eli to spend his life in the service of God. This fulfilled the promise that she made to God when she prayed to conceive.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday, let us rejoice in the many ways that Jewish mothers in our lives both fulfill and challenge those old stereotypes.

Now, would you like something to eat?

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

Appreciate The Teacher Appreciate The Teacher

“No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks…”

It’s an old childhood rhyme that reflects every child’s longing for the freedom of summer. It is also an excellent example of the negative attitude of children in our modern western civilization to education, and, more importantly, to teachers. School is often presented as a “bother” that children have to bear, making teachers the “bad-guy.”

The Jewish attitude toward education and teachers, however, is the exact opposite. Judaism places great importance on showing absolute respect to one’s teachers. As with parents, it is considered a mitzvah to stand when a teacher enters a room. In fact, the sages question whether one should recline at the Passover seder in the presence of one’s teacher, lest it show disrespect for the teacher (Pesachim 108a).

“Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba stated in the name of Rabbi Yochanan. ‘A man who prevents his student from serving him [showing him proper honor] it is as if he deprives him of [an act of] kindness…’ Rabbi Nachman ben Isaac said: ‘He also deprives him of the fear of Heaven’” (Ketuvot 96a). Many modern teachers struggle to find a balance between gaining the children’s respect and being liked by their students. The sages of the Talmud, however, were quite clear that a teacher who relinquishes his/her honor is actually doing a disservice to the students.

In the United States, the first full week of May is recognized as “National Teacher Appreciation Week.” Teaching the children in our lives to appreciate their teachers (year round) is the first step in helping our children understand the important Jewish value of honoring one’s teacher.

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

Questions With a Rabbi Questions With a Rabbi

When getting to know someone new, whether on a date, at a party or at a social gathering, one can expect to hear their fair share of questions.  But what happens when the line is crossed and basics such as, “what do you do?” and “what’s your favorite movie?” devolve into the prying, personal inquiries of bad date folklore?  Moment asks a spectrum of rabbis whether there is such a thing as asking too many questions, and here’s what they said.

May His Name Be Erased
May His Name Be Erased

When a righteous person passes away, it is customary to add the following laudatory phrase after mentioning the deceased’s name: “zecher tzaddik liv’racha” (May the memory of this righteous person be a blessing). So too, when referring to an indisputably evil person, it is customary to say “yimach sh’mo” (May his name be erased) after his/her name. In some cases, the term “yimach sh’mo v’zichro” (May his name and memory be erased) is added.

Jewish tradition places great importance on a person being remembered after death. Parents name their children after their own parents and/or grandparents (in Sephardi tradition this occurs while they are still alive, in Ashkenazi tradition a child is named only after deceased relatives). The anniversary of a person’s death (yahrtzeit) is observed by the deceased’s children for the rest of the latter’s lives. According to tradition, positive actions done in the name of the deceased bring them honor in the afterlife.

Most often, the memory of a person is kept alive from parent to child (or by a young person upon whom the deceased had a meaningful influence, like a teacher-student or uncle-nephew). In fact, the word “toldot,” which appears frequently in the text of the Torah, is often translated both as generations and actions. A person is remembered in this world both by the generations that he/she produces and/or by the impact of his/her actions upon others.

In the history of humankind, there have been a number of people who could be considered utterly evil. On May 1st, the world learned of the death of one such thoroughly evil person, Osama bin Laden, “yimach sh’mo v’zichro,” who was killed by the U.S. armed forces. (Coincidentally, it was also on May 1st, in 1945, that it was confirmed that Hitler, “yimach sh’mo v’zichro,” had died.)

May we never see such evil again.

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

Off With His Head
Off With His Head

Capital punishment is one of the modern era’s great controversies. Does a judicial system have the right to sentence a person to death? Like most such controversial topics, similar questions and discussions may be found in the Talmud.

The best known Talmudic reference to capital punishment is found in Makot 7a: “A sanhedrin that effects an execution once in seven years is branded a ‘destructive tribunal.’ Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says once in seventy years. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva say, ‘Were we members of the sanhedrin, no person would ever be put to death.’”

The Mishnah cited is an excellent reflection of the Jewish attitude to the death penalty. Even though the written Torah calls for execution (“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man will his blood be shed – Genesis 9:6), the oral Torah regulated the process to the point where it becomes almost impossible to convict someone of murder.

Capital crimes, such as murder, incest or idolatry, were usually tried by a beit din (tribunal) of 23. Conviction required a majority of at least 13. If all 23 judges voted to convict, however, the accused was acquitted because of the implausibility that not a single judge doubted the witnesses (implying that there was a conspiracy). In capital cases, the witnesses were critical since no circumstantial evidence was accepted. Therefore, not only did the witnesses need to be upright, law (Torah) abiding citizens, but they must have definitively warned the accused that the intended act was a capital offense. The testimonies of both witnesses had to match, flawlessly, and lying was, itself, a capital offense.

If conviction was virtually impossible, why bother? The reverberations of the rare cases in which an execution did actually occur were enough to dissuade others from committing the same crime. Thus, said Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel, “If we never condemned anyone to death, we might be considered guilty of promoting violence and bloodshed…[and] multiply murderers in Israel” (Maakot 7a).

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

Remember
Remember

The Jewish nation has a long historical memory. Jewish history is replete with accounts of those who attacked Jews and Jewish communities, and the records of countless victims. On the other hand, the Jewish calendar also records dates commemorating the defeat of those who sought to destroy the Jewish nation. There is even a Biblical commandment to remember how the nation of Amalek tried to destroy the Jews by attacking the weak and the stragglers as they marched in the wilderness. The mitzvah is known as Zachor, which means remember.

A generation of Jews is now coming of age that is, in truth, the first generation who will need to be educated and, in effect, commanded, to remember the Holocaust. Those who survived the Nazi horrors are all too quickly becoming part of history themselves…and those who wish to distort history have gained strength as the number of eyewitnesses rapidly diminishes.

Holocaust Memorial Day, known in Hebrew as Yom Hashoah, literally “The Day of the Conflagration” is observed on the 27th of Nisan. Yesterday, people around the world recalled those who perished and the world that was lost. It is vitally important that time be set aside for each and every Jew (indeed, each and every person) to stop and ponder…What if I had been there? What if it had been me?

Just two weeks ago, at the Passover seder, Jews read the following statement from the Haggadah: “In every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us. But, the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands.”

Zachor, Remember! Each and every Jew must remember the uniqueness of the Jewish nation. Our remembrance of Jewish tragedies affirms our survival and victory. Hitler may have wanted to eradicate the Jews, but instead, the Jews stand tall and continue to REMEMBER.

This Treat was originally posted on April 21, 2009.

There’s A Key In My Challah!
There’s A Key In My Challah!

It’s a fact that many people spend much time thinking and even worrying about par’nassah (livelihood).

Jewish tradition teaches that different seasons have different spiritual strengths. Certain times are regarded as propitious to pray for rain, while other times are considered appropriate to petition for forgiveness. (Of course, these things may also be prayed for at other times of the year!) So too, our spiritual leaders have noted that there are certain times on the Jewish calendar when it is propitious to focus on praying for par’nassah. One such time is the Shabbat that immediately follows Passover, when it is a custom in some Jewish communities to make what is known as shlissel (Yiddish for key) challah.

There are a number of reasons suggested for this custom. Due to space limitations, Jewish Treats will present only a few:

1) The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 2:2) states that on Passover the world is allocated its grain harvest for the coming year.

2) The Jews celebrated Passover just before entering the land of Canaan, at which point there was no more manna (the heavenly food of the wilderness). Henceforth, the Jewish nation needed to generate its own par’nassah.

3) A “key” serves as a symbol to remind us that our prayers have the power to open the Gates of Heaven.

There are different ways to perform this custom. Some people bake an actual key (scrubbed clean or wrapped in foil/parchment paper) into the challah, while others mold their challah into the shape of a key. One custom mentions using a key to knead the dough, and there are still other customs as well.

Whatever one’s custom, it is hoped that the symbolic message will reach its proper destination and have the desired beneficial effect on one’s livelihood.

*This Treat was originally published on April 17, 2009. It is being re-Treated as an interesting fact for this time of year.

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

Women Who Work
Women Who Work

In 1993, Gloria Steinem and the Ms. Foundation for Women initiated the “Take Our Daughters To Work” program (in 2003, it became “Take Our Daughters and Sons To Work”) with the intention of boosting the self-esteem of girls by showing them that they too could do all types of work.

The question of working women was, in fact, not a question in the days of the Talmud. Marriage then was an economic arrangement, and it was assumed that a woman would work along with her husband, whether farming crops or shearing sheep. Without question, running a home in the days of the Talmud was a much more labor intensive task than it is in our age of microwaves and washing machines. The Mishnah actually lists some of the Jewish woman’s basic obligations for maintaining a home: grinding corn, baking bread, washing clothes, cooking, making the beds and working in wool (Ketubot 59b). A woman, however, could live a more leisurely life if, according to the Mishnah, she brought bondswomen with her into the marriage: “If she brought him one bondswoman she need not do any grinding or baking or washing. [if she brought] two bondswomen, she need not even cook…If four, she may lounge in an easy chair” (Ketubot 59b).

The Ketubah, Jewish marriage contract, stipulates that a husband must provide for his wife’s basic needs. But, Jewish law also allows a woman to be mochel (literally forgive or cancel) that obligation. “If, therefore, she said, ‘I do not wish either to be maintained by you or to work for you,’ she is entitled to do so” (Ketubot 58b).

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

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