The Three Weeks: Jews lament and fast ‘between the straits’

Portrayal of white temple

Herod’s Temple as imagined in the Holyland Model of Jerusalem, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. During the Three Weeks, Jews mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, JUNE 29: Beginning on the 17th of the month of Tammuz, and ending on Tisha B’Av, Jews lament the destruction of the First and Second Temples and historical misfortunes of the Jewish people: A solemn period, including a time of fasting, begins for Jews around the world in a tradition known as “the Three Weeks.” Each day is met with a higher degree of lamentation than the last with the exception of Shabbat. There is also great hope, however, in this time of sadness: As the past and present are examined, Jews look to the future.

During the Three Weeks, traditionally observant Jews refrain from holding weddings, listening to music, celebrating in public, embarking on trips, having hair cut or shaved, and wearing new clothing. Learn more from Aish.com. A fast is undertaken on the 17th of Tammuz and on the Ninth of Av. (For guides, stories, multimedia and more, visit Chabad.org.) The period is known as “within the straits,” or “between the straits,” from the Book of Lamentations.

A TIME TO STUDY TORAH, DO GOOD

According to traditional texts: The Three Weeks encompasses the days when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans and both Temples were destroyed. The holy Temple that had stood in Jerusalem for 830 years was destroyed. This is also a period when Jews recall Moses breaking the original Ten Commandments.

During this three-week period, Jews try to increase good deeds and charitable works, while intensifying Torah study.

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Passover: Jewish families worldwide gather for the Seder and a joyous festival

Note: The morning of March 30 in 2018 begins the Fast of the Firstborn, in which observant firstborn sons fast to commemorate the salvation of firstborns in ancient Egypt.

Table set with food items, fancy and plates

A table set for the Passover Seder. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET FRIDAY, MARCH 30: The intensive search for chametz is over, and tonight, Jews begin the joyous festival of Passover—the most widely observed of all Jewish traditions. After weeks of painstakingly ridding their homes of chametzany grain product associated with fermentation—Jews join family and friends for a Passover Seder (ritual meal). It’s the 15th day of Nisan in the Jewish calendar, and tonight, the seven- or eight-day festival of Passover begins, commemorating the ancient Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. (Jews in Israel observe Passover for seven days, and Jews of the Diaspora observe eight.)

Among the events in the biblical story recalled during the Seder, Jews give thanks to G_d for “passing over” the homes of those whose doors were marked with lamb’s blood during the biblical Plague of the Firstborn; for helping them to escape safely from Egypt’s army and for eventually leading them to freedom. The Passover Seder is an extended meal that often lasts several hours, and is filled with ceremonial prayers, rituals, specific foods and drinks and careful table settings. During the Seder, the story of the Exodus is recalled through a recitation of the Haggadah.

Did you know? In Jewish families, young and old get involved in cleaning out the chametz as a way of remembering this key part of the Exodus: As the Israelites left Egypt, they moved so quickly that their bread was not able to rise. To this day, unleavened matzo bread is a common element on Seder tables.

Passover lasts for seven days in Israel, and eight days outside of Israel. During Passover, the Torah obligation of the Counting of the Omer begins. The omer, a unit of measure, is used to count the days from Passover to Shavuot.

MATZO: THE 18-MINUTE CHALLENGE

Bowl of matzo soup on wood table

Matzo ball soup, common fare for Passover. Photo by Amy Ross, courtesy of Flickr

Baking matzo is no easy feat: only 18 minutes are allowed between the mixing of flour and water to the finishing of baking. Elaborate measures are taken to ensure the mixture does not rise.

Many Jewish families switch to different dishes, eating utensils and cooking equipment to avoid any contact with traces of foods containing chametz. Chametz is defined as anything involving biological leavening, including simply wetting grains and let them stand for more than 18 minutes. Five grains, in particular, are identified: wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats.

THE SEDER

The Seder includes many steps and lasts for hours. (Stressing over the pressure of hosting a Seder? Take some advice from a cookbook veteran in this article from the Washington Post. Or, try a Passover app.) All adults present at the Seder are required to drink a total of four cups of wine during the Passover Seder, and further, the Mishnah commands that even the poorest man in Israel has an obligation to drink. Interspersed throughout prayer and stories are the breaking of matzah (unleavened) bread; the washing of the hands; the eating of the symbolic elements on the Seder plate; and, of course, the eating of the holiday meal itself. The whole evening ends with a joint exclamation: “Next year in Jerusalem!”

For the next seven days—or eight, in the Diaspora—Jews will partake of no chametz at any meal. Jews commonly enjoy foods such as potato starch cakes, Gelfite fish, chicken soup with matzah balls and generous amounts of egg. Beginning on the second night of Passover, Jews begin the Counting of the Omer—a 50-day countdown to the holiday of Shavuot.

SEDERS, THE LAST SUPPER—AND A COMMON LINK

Christians teach that Jesus’s final journey to Jerusalem was to observe Passover, forever linking the two sacred seasons. Yet while biblical scholars disagree on whether Jesus’s Last Supper was an actual seder, “Christianized” Seders are widespread at this time of year—and the practice appears to be growing among evangelicals. Sometimes called “baptized” or “Messianic” seders, the traditional Jewish ritual is changed to turn the meal into a remembrance of Jesus’s Last Supper.

This practice has always been controversial in interfaith settings. Jewish leaders complain that the practice distorts their traditions. That’s why the world’s largest Christian church, the Catholic church, forbids its parishes to Christianize the Seder. Catholic leaders encourage their billion-plus followers to visit authentic Seders—or to invite a rabbi to lead a model Seder to demonstrate the ritual for Christians. Catholic bishops say that “the primary reason why Christians may celebrate the festival of Passover should be to acknowledge common roots in the history of salvation. Any sense of restaging the Last Supper of the Lord Jesus should be avoided.” Jewish leaders welcome this approach to sharing their traditional meal.

Invited to a Jewish Passover Seder? The proper greeting is “Happy Passover” or “Happy holiday,” which in Hebrew is “Chag samayach” (hahg sah-MAY-ahk). A Seder plate will be located on most Seder tables, on which are symbols of various aspects of the Passover story. A Haggadah (hah-GAH-dah), a text in Hebrew and English that tells the Passover story and its meaning for each generation, is read during the meal. There are hundreds of different versions of the Haggadah, with many focusing on different elements of the holiday or interpreting it from a particular perspective, such as feminism or ecology. Learn more at ReadTheSpirit’s helpful resource, Ask an expert what to do at a Passover Seder.

Looking for interactive resources, stories, recipes and hosting ideas for Passover? Check out ReadTheSpirit’s own Feed The Spirit column for a recipe for homemade matzoh balls, or visit Chabad.org, the Jewish Virtual Library, Aish.com and Wikipedia.

Care to read more?

Over the past decade, our online magazine has published more than a hundred Passover-themed stories and we can heartily recommend some of our most popular holiday reading:

Debra Darvick shares Passover reflections from her popular book This Jewish Life.

Our Feed The Spirit columns, over the years, have published delicious Passover stories including tasty recipes. Here’s a story that includes Vegetable Kugel you can make at home. And here’s a column with a great recipe for potato gnocchi, because that preparation can be made kosher for Passover.

Fanny Neuda’s Passover prayer was written more than 150 years ago and was recovered by poet Dinah Berland—and Dinah gave us her permission to publish that prayer 10 years ago! Since we first published that text, thousands of readers around the world have read that prayer in our pages.

Rabbi Bob Alper also is famous coast to coast as the rabbi who does clean standup routines—and often has appeared on stage with comedians who are Christian and Muslim to promote interfaith understanding. Bob has written many stories, and two books, for us over the past decade. Here’s one of our most popular Bob Alper columns about the stories he tells in Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This.

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Categories: Jewish

Purim: Jews masquerade, celebrate Esther and victory

Two plates of triangular-shaped, jelly-filled pastries

These pastries, called “Haman’s pockets,” are a popular treat for Purim. Photo by xeno4ka, courtesy of Pixabay

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 28: Eat! Drink! Be merry!

The story of Purim is found in the pages of the book of Esther in the Hebrew scriptures of the Bible. Today, with the start of Purim, fruit-filled cookies are served, outrageous costumes are donned, plenty of wine is consumed and comical skits entertain jovial audiences. In the synagogue, readings from the book of Esther evoke hissing, booing and stomping, as Jews “blot out” the name of the villainous Haman. Interestingly, the name of G_d is not mentioned in the book of Esther, and many Jews interpret this as indication that G_d works in ways that are not always apparent. On Purim, disguises and costumes serve as symbolism of G_d “hidden” behind the scenes.

ESTHER, MORDECAI AND AHASUERUS: THE STORY

When the beautiful young Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, she hid her Jewish identity. Esther’s guardian, Mordecai, held a key position in the kingdom but was hated by the king’s advisor for refusing to bow down to him. In a rage, the king’s advisor—Haman—plotted to kill Mordecai and all of the Jews.

The turning point was the king’s love of Esther, who was chosen to be his queen. Though Haman had already convinced King Ahasuerus to kill the Jews in Persia, Esther fasted for three days, approached the king and revealed her own Jewish identity, pleading with the king to save the Jewish population. The king later hanged Haman and his 10 sons on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai. The Jewish people in Persia were saved from the plot of Haman.

Popular Jewish author and columnist Debra Darvick, who penned This Jewish Life with real-life stories about men, women and children observing the festivals and milestones that mark the Jewish calendar, describes the way families approach the holiday of Purim this way:

“On the 14th of the month of Adar in the Jewish calendar, hilarity reigns as the holiday of Purim is celebrated. One is commanded to drink enough liquor so that it becomes impossible to distinguish between the phrases ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mor- dechai.’ In Hebrew these words become a tongue twister, so it doesn’t take much.”

OBLIGATIONS AND HAMENTASCHEN

The carnivals and masquerades of Purim are accompanied by the four primary obligations of the day: to listen to a public reading of the book of Esther in the evening and the morning; to send food gifts to friends; to give charity to the poor; and to partake in a festive meal.

The signature treat for this holiday is Hamentaschen, or Hamantash: Haman’s pockets. FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis tells the story of baking these delicious triangular treats in her family—and provides her own recipe for these cookies.

EXTRA RECIPES: An array of Purim recipes can be found at AllRecipes. For a crunchy take on Haman’s pockets, try these—made of Rice Krispies. Thirsty? Try making your own apricot-infused bourbon for Purim.

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Tu B’Shevat: Honor sustainable agriculture and trees for Jewish New Year

Grove of trees from above

Fruit trees in Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 10: It’s a New Year for Trees!

Tu Bishvat, the Jewish New Year for Trees, falls on the 15th day of the month of Shevat. This year, it begins on Friday evening, February 10. An ancient commemoration of the start of the agricultural year, Tu B’Shevat is one of four annual Jewish New Years.

Why record the age of trees? In centuries past, farmers would mark the age of their trees in order to calculate their eligibility for fruit harvest and tithing. According to Leviticus 19:23-25, a tree’s fruit may only be eaten after its fifth year: in the first three years the fruit is forbidden, and in the fourth year, the fruit must be set apart for God. When the State of Israel was reestablished, in 1948, interest in the ancient festival surged. Jewish people were farmers, once again, and the fruits of the land of Israel were celebrated.

THE TU B’SHEVAT SEDER

Today, the TuBishvat seder is observed in many Jewish households and synagogues. Many partake in the fruits and nuts of Israel, while reflecting on the need for sustainable agriculture. It is recognized that man depends upon the fruits of agriculture.

Did you know? Tu Bishvat is also called “Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot.”

In recent years, the Tu Bishvat seder has become a popular custom, and many synagogues hold one; it’s an opportunity to eat fruits, nuts and other produce of Israel; to consider the miraculous process by which we sustain our own lives by eating agricultural products; and to explore our responsibility to sustainable agriculture and the planet that feeds us.

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Categories: Jewish

Yom Kippur: Jews fast 25 hours, wrap up High Holidays on Day of Atonement

Fast blessings with empty bones in back

Photo by Paul Jacobson, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET TUESDAY, OCTOBER 11: From the sweetness and high hopes of Rosh Hashanah, Jewish families move to the solemn observance of what often is called the holiest day in the calendar: Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Between these two major holidays, a period sometimes called the Days of Awe, Jews reflect on the past year and make amends. They look toward the balance of the new year, which is only 10 days old on Yom Kippur, and pray that God will renew their spirits and guide them in good ways. On Yom Kippur, most Jews 13 and older try to complete a daunting 25-hour fast with nothing passing the lips—no liquids or foods—in order to deepen their relationship with G_d.

YOM KIPPUR: HIGH ATTENDANCE

Visit any Jewish house of worship and you will see ways that the main seating area can be expanded on special occasions; Yom Kippur is the main holiday when all the partitions separating rooms are removed, overflow seating sometimes is added in other parts of the building and the majority of the Jewish community shows up for at least part of the long series of services.

Front coer of music with man photographed at center

Kol Nidre sheet music. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Services open with Kol Nidre, when the larger Jewish community gathers, amends are made. There is a long and complex history to the traditions of Kol Nidre, though overall, Kol Nidre represents a fresh resetting of commitments and promises within the community.

Did you know? Rabbis typically spend a great deal of time preparing their Yom Kippur sermons, recognizing that they are preaching to some men and women who only hear them on Yom Kippur. Christian clergy face a similar challenge, each year, in preparing their Easter and Christmas Eve sermons.

Although Yom Kippur is a solemn day, it is also one of celebration: Celebration of the anniversary of G_d forgiving the Jewish people for worshipping the golden calf. According to Jewish scholar and ReadTheSpirit contributing writer, Joe Lewis:

By traditional calculation, Moses brought the second tablets to the people on Yom Kippur. God’s nature is revealed to Moses as a God of mercy and compassion, patience and kindness (Ex. 34:6), and this idea is central to the liturgy of the day. We end the day with a blast on the shofar, eat our fill, and make plans for the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), which is only five days away.

FEED THE SPIRIT—For Yom Kippur, Bobbie Lewis writes about the nature of the 25-hour fast as it is observed by most Jewish families, and she includes a delicious recipe for salmon, which her family enjoys in preparation for the fast.

For families: Yom Kippur offers a unique opportunity for children to see their parents engaged in serious observance of their religious traditions, and the days leading up to the holiday allow families to examine and discuss their relationships. Families might want to write a themed letter each year; break fast together on Yom Kippur; and engage young members in the Yizkor memorial service, for parents who have passed away.

For non-Jews, 10 basic facts on Rosh Hashanah are provided in an article by the International Business Times.

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Passover: Jews gather ’round the seder table, share stories and history

Passover table set with candles, plates, glasses

A table set for Passover. Photo by April Killingsworth, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET FRIDAY, APRIL 22: Jewish families around the globe sit down to seder tables and remember the ancient, biblical story of freedom as Passover begins.

Recalling the liberation of the Jewish people in the Exodus, Passover is so named because of the 10th plague of ancient Egypt, which was, quite literally, a Passover. (The 10th plague killed firstborn children, but passed over the homes with Jewish children.) The Seder meal, undertaken after sunset, may also be attended by non-Jews or friends of Jews. The meal is replete with centuries-old rituals, stories, readings, songs and lively discussions. The Passover period of 2016 ends at sundown on Saturday, April 30.

Want fresh Passover recipes and more? Check out Bobbie Lewis’s FeedTheSpirit column, which features a mouthwatering take on charoset (plus a timely explanation of Passover’s annual date on the calendar).

Think Passover isn’t rooted in real food? Think again! A second FeedTheSpirit column features a guest columnist who grew up as a Jew on a sheep farm—and offers a real-food perspective that seamlessly links traditional perspectives with today’s most relevant issues.

Invited to a seder and not sure what to do? Learn about all of the Jewish holidays, what a seder looks like and so much more with Michigan State University’s recent release, 100 Questions & Answers about American Jews.

PASSOVER: CHAMETZ, ISRAEL AND THE SEDER

In the weeks and months before Passover, Jewish families meticulously clear their homes of any type of leavened grain, known as chametz. The removal of the final chametz can even be made into a fun ritual game, for which children often get involved. For the Passover meal, many Jews may cook with a separate set of cooking utensils and host dinners with a “clean” set of dishes—that is, items that are put aside especially for Passover and have never come into contact with chametz. Any leavened grains in the home may be temporarily sold to non-Jewish friends or neighbors.

Close-up matzah cracker, broken

A matzah cracker. Photo by Avital Pinnick, courtesy of Flickr

According to tradition, the Jewish people left ancient Egypt to follow Moses once they had been freed. They left in such a hurry, however, that the bread they baked for the journey out of Egypt didn’t have time to rise—and, thus, Passover breads are unleavened. Called matzah, the unleavened bread is consumed throughout Passover. In Israel today, Passover lasts seven days; outside of Israel, Passover is eight days.

Passover seders—typically, the most attended events of the Jewish year—last several hours or more. Table settings, foods served and even the ceremonial prayers used are precise and carefully selected. During the seder, the story of Exodus is commemorated through readings from the Haggadah. Multiple food courses are served during the meal, and children enjoy many of the songs and activities.

Did you know? The true intent of the Passover seder is to not only recall Jewish history, but to discuss the contemporary meaning of ancient Jewish wisdom, passing on that valuable information to the next generation of Jews.

During Passover, the Torah obligation of the Counting of the Omer begins. On the second day, the omer—a unit of measure—begins being used to count the days from Passover to Shavuot.

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Categories: Jewish

Tu B’Shvat: Jews mark New Year for Trees; pontiff marks 50th of Nostra Aetate

A palm tree heavy with date fruits, both ripe and unripe

A fruit-bearing date tree. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SUNSET SUNDAY, JANUARY 24: It’s a New Year for Trees!

On the 15th day of the month of Shevat, Jews observe Tu Bishvat—an ancient commemoration of the start of the agricultural year—and, in 2016, that day begins on the evening of January 24. (Note that holiday spellings may vary.)

The Jewish calendar has four New Years, and in centuries past, farmers would mark the age of their trees in order to calculate their eligibility for fruit harvest and tithing. According to Leviticus 19:23-25, a tree’s fruit may only be eaten after its fifth year: in the first three years the fruit is forbidden, and in the fourth year, the fruit must be set apart for God. When the State of Israel was reestablished, in 1948, interest in the ancient festival surged. Jewish people were farmers, once again, and the fruits of the land of Israel were celebrated.

Today, the TuBishvat seder is observed in many Jewish households and synagogues. Many partake in the fruits and nuts of Israel, while reflecting on the need for sustainable agriculture. It is recognized that man depends upon the fruits of agriculture.

POPE FRANCIS MAKES LANDMARK VISIT TO JEWS IN ROME

Pope Francis’s recent visit to Rome’s Great Synagogue made him the third pontiff in history to visit the building—and, this time, at the 50th anniversary of the Vatican’s Nostra Aetate. (Read more at Haaretz.com.) Last month, the Vatican released a document to mark the milestone anniversary of Nostra Aetate, with a text restating how Christianity is rooted in Judaism and emphasizing that the Church should not try to convert Jews. Pope Francis, who maintained a close relationship with the Jewish community during his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires, is aiming to convey a message of coexistence and mutual respect.

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Categories: Jewish