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Miriam
Miriam

From a young age, the Biblical Miriam was noted for her prophetic voice, declaring that her mother would bear a son who would redeem the Children of Israel (Talmud Megillah 14a). In fact, the Midrash tells us that, after Pharaoh decreed that all male babies be thrown into the Nile, Miriam s parents, Amram and Yocheved, divorced, leading other Israelites to divorce as well…

The Talmud And The Popes
The Talmud And The Popes

If the Torah is the heart of the Jewish people, then the Talmud is the spine–without either one, the Jewish people could not survive. But while the Talmud is essential for Jewish life, it is a work that became the foremost fascination for one historic dynasty –the Popes of the Middle Ages…

Setting The Seder Table
Setting The Seder Table

Before beginning the Seder, it is important to make certain that everything necessary is available. No Seder table is complete without the following…

Development of the Haggadah
Development of the Haggadah

On Passover night we are commanded v’hee’ga’d’ta and you shall tell, the story of the Exodus. (Notice the shared root of hee’ga’d’ta and Haggadah.) The Passover Haggadah serves as a step-by-step guidebook for telling the story of Passover.

Before the destruction of the Holy Temple, most Jews traveled to Jerusalem to offer the Pascal lamb. Because the lamb had to be eaten before midnight, it was the common practice for several families to purchase a lamb and partake of the festive meal together while retelling the Exodus story, discussing the Midrashim (legendary commentary on the Torah) describing the Exodus, and reciting the ten plagues. These early Seders also incorporated the other basic mitzvot of the Seder: eating matzah and maror (bitter herbs) and drinking four cups of wine.

After the Second Temple was destroyed (70 C.E.) and the Jews dispersed, the oral law was written down (Mishna and Talmud) in order not to be lost to future generations. By the year 200 C.E., the basic outline of the Passover Haggadah had been set, including the order of questions and discussion (Mah Nishtana – the Four Questions).

The oldest existing Haggadah that we have today is from 8th or 9th century Palestine. While there have been modifications and additions over time (as people have added prayers of devotion and songs of praise), the basic form of the Haggadah has not changed. With the advent of the printing press in the Middle Ages, the Haggadah text was set, based on the prayer book of Rav Amram Gaon, who headed the Babylonian Yeshiva of Sura between 856-876 C.E. While certain parts of the Haggadah, such as Chahd Gad ya ( One Kid ), were not added until much later, the basic text of the Haggadah has remained the same to this day.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

How Pharaoh Enslaved The Israelites
How Pharaoh Enslaved The Israelites

While reading the Book of Exodus, one might wonder at the swift descent of the Jewish nation from being the privileged family of the Viceroy, Joseph, to becoming downtrodden and abused slaves. Xenophobia, the fear of foreigners, is a common historical phenomenon. But, one would think that transforming a nation into slaves would take generations or result in rebellion.

The sages, however, explain in the Midrash 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 as well 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 during 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 great loyalty to their host country, joined in enthusiastically. The next day, however, when the Jews arrived at the building sites, the Egyptians did not return. Shortly thereafter, the Jews found themselves surrounded by taskmasters who demanded that they perform the same amount of work that they had done on their own volition the day before. It was through soft and cunning words that Pharaoh lured the Jewish nation into slavery.

Not only is this Midrash itself interesting, but it is reflective of the importance that Jewish thought and Jewish law place on the use of words. Obviously, what Pharaoh did was wrong. In fact, Jewish law even forbids the use of words to manipulate another person into paying for lunch (let alone to enslave them).

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Oh My Gosh…Passover is Coming
Oh My Gosh…Passover is Coming

The intensive physical and emotional preparations for Passover come from one seemingly simple commandment: “Seven days you will eat only matzah, but on the first day you shall have put away chametz from your houses…” (Exodus 12:15). Therefore, by the beginning of the holiday of Passover, no chametz whatsoever may be in one’s possession.

What is chametz? Chametz is defined as leaven, any product in which wheat, oat, barley, spelt or rye come in contact with water for 18 minutes or longer (without kneading or manipulating). To be considered chametz, the food must be edible (defined as something that a dog would eat).

To eliminate chametz, it is necessary to clean one s home, office and even one s car. It is especially important to be particularly thorough when cleaning the kitchen and dining room areas, where food is generally found.

Once the house has been cleaned, it may be “turned over “–the kitchen converted from chametz status to “ready-for-Passover” use. “Turning over the kitchen” includes changing dishes and cookware to those reserved for Passover use and covering counters and table tops, which come in direct contact with chametz.

All food items that are actually chametz must be consumed before Passover, given away, thrown out or sold. In instances of significant monetary loss, it is customary to sell chametz through a rabbi to a non-Jew (e.g. unopened economy size boxes of cereal or bottles of scotch). For more details, please consult your local rabbi.

Any item that does not contain chametz, but is not specifically labeled Kosher for Passover, should be stored in a cabinet for the duration of the Passover holiday, and the cabinet taped closed.

Please note that this is a very brief overview. For more detailed information on Passover preparations, including the search for and burning of chametz, please visit NJOP s Passover Preparations page.

*This Treat was originally published on March 26, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the month of Nisan and Passover.

For a look at the deeper meaning of chametz, please read Demystifying…Bedikat Chametz (The Search for Chametz), an article on NJOP’s Passover Writings page.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Teach The Girls Teach The Girls

In the late 19th century, European Jewish communities began to notice that the younger generation of women were focused on the outside world and were no longer interested in maintaining the traditions of their foremothers.

While most people did little to change anything, one young Polish seamstress, Sarah Schenirer (1884 – 1935) not only transformed the world in which she lived, but her legacy continues to have a profound impact on Jewish life even today.

While her formal education ended at age 13, Sarah Schenirer’s father provided her with Hebrew/Yiddish texts, which she studied intently. Looking around at Jewish society, she was dismayed not only at the lack of piety that she witnessed but, most critically, at the lack of knowledge. While boys were sent to yeshiva, the girls were often uneducated, even in the basic tenets of Jewish life.

Realizing that the young women were already hardened against spiritual growth, Sarah Schenirer rented a small room and began a school with 25 girls. She faced great opposition. Even her brother thought her ambitions were foolish…until the Belzer Rebbe (of whom he was a chassid) blessed her endeavor. When her school gained the endorsement of Agudath Israel, Sarah Schenirer began receiving requests from other communities to help them start schools too. These new schools, known as Bais Yaakov (House of Jacob), were staffed by her first graduates.

Sarah Schenirer dedicated herself to convincing communities of the importance of educating their daughters, traveling extensively to seek the endorsements of the great rabbis of the era. Most importantly, she had the support of the leader of the generation, the Chofetz Chaim.

At the time of Sarah Schenirer’s death in 1935, Bais Yaakov had become a full-fledged movement. Today, around the world, there are hundreds of Bais Yaakov Schools dedicated to teaching Jewish girls and women.

-March is Women’s History Month

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

What’s In The Book: I Kings
What’s In The Book: I Kings

I Kings begins with Adonijah’s rebellion against his father, King David, the declaration of Solomon as heir to the throne, and King David’s death.

King Solomon built the Holy Temple. I Kings provides detailed architectural descriptions of the building. The completion of the Holy Temple was accompanied by great celebration.

Solomon’s empire stretched from the Euphrates River to Egypt, and the many vassal states paid him tribute. Solomon married many women for political reasons. He had over 700 wives and 300 concubines, including foreign ones who brought idolatry into his palace.

Solomon’s heir, Reheboam, ignored the elders’ advice and taxed the people brutally. The people rebelled and the once united kingdom was divided. Reheboam remained king only over the Southern Kingdom composed of Judah and Benjamin, while the remaining 10 tribes formed the Northern Kingdom, ruled by Jereboam ben Nevat.

Jereboam set up two golden calves (one in Bethel and the other in Dan) in order to prevent Jews from visiting Jerusalem, announcing to the people, “Here is your God!”

The two intertwined kingdoms struggled for survival and supremacy.
Judah’s kings (mentioned in I Kings) after Reheboam were: Abija, Asa, Jehosophat.
Israel’s kings (mentioned in I Kings) after Jereboam were: Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, Ahab.

A major player in I Kings is the Prophet Elijah, who spent much of his “ministry” confronting Ahab and Jezebel (queen and pagan priestess). There are many famous stories of Elijah and his battle against the idol worship promoted by Ahab and Jezebel, including Jezebel slaughtering the priests, Elijah’s “sacrificial duel” with the idolaters, as well as of the miracle wrought by Elijah providing food for the widow of Sidon and reviving her son from death.

I Kings ends with the death of Ahab during a battle against Aram.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

You Say Tomay’to, I Say Tomah’to
You Say Tomay’to, I Say Tomah’to

Just as Jews from different countries have different ritual customs, so too do their prayerbooks have slight but important variations. The different formats of the prayer service is known as a Nusach.

Nusach Ashkenaz came from central and eastern Europe and is the shortest of the different prayer versions. While the wording and prayer order of Nusach Ashkenaz is the same in all Ashkenazic communities, the tunes of the prayers vary greatly between the communities of Germany and Western Europe and those of Eastern Europe.

Nusach Sefard, a second Central/Eastern European Ashkenazic custom, used mostly in Poland, Hungary, Romania and the Ukraine. Nusach Sefard developed after the resurgence of the study of Kabbalah under the guidance of Rabbi Isaac Luria (Safed, Israel 1534-1572), better known as the Ari. Under the premise that the Sephardic rite is more spiritual, Nusach Sefard incorporates part of the genuine Sephardic nusach into already existing Ashkenazic traditions. Almost all Chassidic sects use Nusach Sefard.

Nusach Ari is a version of Nusach Sefard specific to the Chassidic sect of Chabad Lubavitch. In 1803, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (Lubavitch) compiled a siddur including what he believed to be the most accurate recreation of the Ari and Chassidic teachings.

Nusach Teman, the rite of the Jews of Yemen, is as distinctive as their unique pronunciation. There are two versions: Baladi and Shami (incorporates some Sephardi customs).

Nusach Sepharad is from the many Sephardic communities (i.e. North Africa, Middle East, Iran, etc.), which have many different, but basically similar, nuschaot. Many of the customs that differentiate these services are not based on written texts but are oral traditions. One of the most common Sephardi nuschaot is Nusach Edot Hamizrach, which originated in Iraq, but has grown in influence in the State of Israel.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Cut Off
Cut Off

“…Be as scrupulous in performing a ‘minor’ mitzvah as a ‘major’ one, for you do not know the reward given for the respective mitzvot. Calculate the…reward of a sin against its cost” (Ethics of the Fathers 2:1). While we do not know the full reward and punishment for each mitzvah in the Torah, there are some actions that are so severe that God Himself informs us that they are punishable by the dreaded Kareit.

Kareit, often defined as excision, is extremely hard to comprehend. In fact, the sages of the Talmud even debate what this punishment is. Many sages and rabbinic leaders have also noted that kareit may have a different effect on people today than it did in the days of the Holy Temple.

Kareit is often translated as being cut-off. It is believed that, in times when our connection to the spiritual realm was more tangible, kareit was actual death. (Not instant death, but rather death at a young age–under 60–accompanied by a lack of further offspring.) But, kareit is also understood as a spiritual excommunication, in which one’s soul is cut off from God.

There are 36 crimes for which one might receive kareit, but only if one purposefully committed the transgression and did not repent for the act. Some offenses for which one is punished by kareit are: incest, eating blood, and consulting ghosts or spirits.

Almost all of the sins for which kareit is a punishment are prohibitions. However, there are two positive commandments for which kareit is the punishment when they are not fulfilled. These are (1) to have oneself circumcised (if not done when a man was a baby) and (2) to offer the Paschal lamb (when one is not in a category allowing for exemption).

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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