Author Archives: Rabbi Robert Goodman

About Rabbi Robert Goodman

Rabbi Robert Goodman is a former consultant to the Boards of Jewish Education in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee. He is the former rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Brandon, Florida.

A Day of Disaster

Reproduced with permission from Teaching Jewish Holidays: History Values and Activities (A.R.E. Publishing, Inc.).

Tisha B’Av has become the collective day of mourning in the Jewish calendar. Many tragic events are reputed to have occurred on this date. In some cases there is a question as to the precise dating of an event. For instance, with regard to the destruction of the First and Second Temples, some 656 years apart but on the same date–the 9th of Av–some sources indicate that the First Temple was destroyed on either the seventh or the 10th of Av, and the Second Temple was destroyed on the 10th of Av; rabbinic authorities, however, decided to mark the ninth of Av as the official date for remembering the destruction of both.A day of diaster: Tisha B'av

-Tisha B’Av serves to bind all of the following tragic events together in one day of mourning and remembering. [Tradition has it that] on the ninth of Av:

-It was decreed that the Israelites, after leaving Egypt, would wander in the desert for 40 years, until a new generation would be ready to enter the Promised Land.

-Betar, the fortress headquarters of Simon bar Kokhba, fell to the Romans in 135 C.E.


tisha b'av quiz

-Hadrian, the Roman [emperor] and ruler of Jerusalem, in 136 C.E., established a heathen temple [in Jerusalem] and rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city.

-The First Temple (that Solomon built) was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylonia, in 586 B.C.E.

-The Second Temple (that returning exiles built and then Herod rebuilt) was destroyed by Titus and the Romans in 70 C.E.

-The Edict of Expulsion of the Jews from England was signed by King Edward I in 1290.

-Ferdinand and Isabella decreed this to be the official date of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Led by Isaac Abarbanel, 300,000 Jews began to leave Spain on that date. Columbus set out on his first voyage of discovery on the day after Tisha B’Av (after delaying his sailing by one day).

Personal & Communal Observances

Reproduced with permission from Teaching Jewish Holidays: History Values and Activities (A.R.E. Publishing, Inc.). 

On the eve of Tisha B’Av, at the final meal before fasting, it is customary to eat a boiled egg as a symbol of mourning and to sprinkle ashes on the egg. Grace after this meal is said individually and in silence.

The traditional mourning code governs the day itself–abstinence from eating, drinking, bathing, or participating in any kind of festive occasion from sunset to sunset; washing of the body is forbidden except to clean the face; sexual intimacy is not permitted; shoes made of leather are not to be worn; in the home or synagogue, shoes are removed and everyone sits on low benches as if to emulate mourners sitting shiva [the week-long mourning period for relatives]. tisha b'av

Only melancholy passages from the Torah, the Book of Job, prophecies of misfortune in Jeremiah, and the laws of mourning and other similar passages which serve to sadden the heart are studied. Visiting the cemetery is encouraged as if to heighten the sadness of the day.

In the synagogue, the parohet [covering]is removed from before the Ark, the pulpit cover is taken away, the lights are turned low, the reader and other congregants sit on low stools, and they do not greet each other. Tallit and tefillin are not worn during the morning service, but instead are worn for Minchah [the afternoon service]. It is as if the Jewish world is turned upside down.

Highlights of the Liturgy

Modifications are also made in the liturgy of the synagogue for Tisha B’Av: The regular weekday services are used; however, in the evening service, the Book of Lamentations is read, followed by several kinot [poems of lamentation]. An extra prayer is inserted in the Amidah [the central “standing” prayer]. Both the morning and the afternoon services contain a Torah and a haftarah [prophetic] reading.

A variety of customs unique to specific communities have been linked to Tishah B’Av, but none has become universally adopted.

Jewish Confirmation

The Jewish Confirmation ritual is one whose popularity has waxed and waned since its inception in the 19th century. Though it is today overshadowed for most Jews by the bar or bat mitzvah at age 12 or 13, many liberal communities value and emphasize confirmation, which is most often associated with Shavuot celebrations. Reproduced with permission from Teaching Jewish Holidays: History, Values, and Activities (A.R.E. Publishing, Inc.).

The custom most commonly associated with Shavuot is the ceremony of Confirmation. The festival of Shavuot, because of its association with giving of Torah, has been linked with the study Torah. The ceremony of Confirmation was introduced by Reform Judaism in the early part of 19th century in Europe and was brought the United States about mid-century.

Confirmation originally took place at the end of the eighth year of Religious School, but it has since been moved to the end of the ninth or tenth year (and occasionally later). In this ceremony, the now-maturing student "confirms" a commitment to Judaism and to Jewish life. While boys and girls are considered to be spiritual adults by age 13, they are better prepared at age 16 or 17 to make the kind of emotional and intellectual commitment to Judaism that Confirmation implies.

The ceremony of Confirmation is almost universally practiced in Reform [and] Reconstructionist synagogues, and [in some] Conservative synagogues.

[The actual ceremony may vary. Often, the Confirmation students lead all or part of the service, including the Torah reading. In some congregations, the Confirmation group focuses on a theme–such as God, learning, social justice, or Israel–and will incorporate this into the service and sermon. Some congregations require the students to participate in community service projects in addition to study in order to be confirmed.

Though originally a ceremony created for Shavuot, in recent years a few congregations have changed the date of Confirmation from Shavuot to Shabbat. The reason behind this is to avoid having the Shavuot service focus completely on the Confirmation ceremony.]

Reproduced with permission from Teaching Jewish Holidays: History Values and Activities, by Robert Goodman. © A.R.E. Publishing, Inc. 1997,  ISBN #0-86705-042-X. Available from A.R.E. Publishing, Inc., 700 N. Colorado Blvd. #356, Denver, CO 80206 (800) 346-7779. http://www.arepublish.com/

Passover Foods and the Passover Kitchen

An essential reason for the removal of hametz is to fulfill the commandment of biurhametz (burning the leaven). This in turn symbolizes the preparedness of Jews to experience gastronomic inconveniences while preparing for the redemption. Reproduced with permission from Teaching Jewish Holidays: History Values and Activities (A.R.E. Publishing Inc.).

Removing all leaven (hametz) from the home is part of making a home kasher l’Pesach–kosher for Pesach. In addition to removing any leavened foods, all utensils that came into contact with hametz may not be used during Pesach or on the day preceding Pesach [unless they were “kashered”–made kosher for Passover].

Two special sets of utensils, flatware, and dishes are used for Pesach: one for milchig (dairy) dishes and one for fleishig (meat) dishes. [The same rule applies year-round, with non-vegetarian households maintaining two sets of utensils, flatware, and dishes; maintaining two separate, additional sets for Passover means that many kosher households have four sets in total.]

foodAll cooking, food preparation, and eating surfaces are scoured and usually covered for the duration of Pesach. The refrigerator is likewise cleaned to remove all traces of hametz. The care and the extent that Pesach preparations are made depends on the fervor with which a person celebrates Pesach. Some people do not prepare the home for Pesach, but refrain from eating anything that is hametz, while others meticulously follow all of the rules and regulations.

Many foods are labeled kasher l’Pesach. Each year the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America publishes a directory of Passover products that are recognized by them as kasher l’Pesach. In the choice of foods, there is also a wide range of observance.

In addition to bread products containing leaven, there are a few other foods that are not eaten on Pesach. The basic rule is that any product that is fermented or can cause fermentation may not be eaten, including five grains: wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt. Any food or drink that is made from one of these grains or that contains one of these grains, even in very small quantity, is considered hametz.

Purim Foods

 Reproduced with permission from Teaching Jewish Holidays: History Values and Activities, by Robert Goodman (ARE Publishing).

Many customs related to eating special foods have developed around Purim. The most famous Purim food is hamantaschen [Yiddish for “Haman’s pockets”] which is also known [in Hebrew as] oznay Haman meaning “Haman’s ears.” In addition to eating hamantaschenfilled with poppy seeds, fruit, cheese, or jellies, other foods are also traditional for Purim. 

A special Purim challah, known as keylitsh [kulich] in Russian, is sometimes made. This challah is oversized and extensively braided. The braids on the challah are intended to remind people of the rope used to hang Haman.

Kreplach are customarily eaten whenever “beating” takes place: before Yom Kippur when men have themselves flogged [rarely done in modern times], on Hoshanah Rabbah when the willow branches are beaten, and on Purim when Haman is beaten. The kreplach consist of triangular pouches of dough filled with chopped meat. They are eaten as a separate dish or served in soup.hamantaschen

Bean dishes are also eaten. They include salted beans boiled in their jackets, and chickpeas boiled and seasoned with salt and pepper: This is meant to remind us that Esther would not eat anything at the court of King Ahashuerus that was not kosher, so she mainly ate peas and beans. A similar idea is expressed regarding Daniel and his friends (Daniel 1:12).

Among Sephardic Jews, it is a custom to wrap pastry dough around a decorated hard-boiled egg to create the shape of a Purim character or an animal. After baking, these artistic creations (Folares) are displayed with pride and eaten with delight.

Purim Recipes on MyJewishLearning:

Hamantaschen

Chocolate Hamantaschen

Chickpeas

Fassoulyeh b’chuderah

Kreplach

Debla

Candy Infused Vodka

The Story of Purim

The Book of Esther is unusual in one respect. It is the only one of 24 books of the Hebrew Bible that does not contain the name of God in it. This has been traditionally explained as connected to the idea of “hester panim,” the hidden face of God. That is to say, God plays a crucial role in the Purim story, but it is behind the scene. Reprinted with permission from Teaching Jewish Holidays: History Values and Activities (A.R.E. Publishing). 

The Purim story is the Book of Esther; which is a part of the Ketuvim or Writings (also called the Hagiographa), the third section of Tanakh [the Hebrew Bible]. An outline of the Purim story follows:

  • King Ahasuerus dethrones Queen Vashti.

  • Esther is crowned queen after winning a beauty contest.

  • Mordecai uncovers a plot to kill the king and reports it.

  • [King Ahasuerus promotes Haman, making him more powerful than all the other officials.]

  • Mordecai refuses to bow before Haman [a close confidant of the king].

  • Haman seeks to destroy the Jews after his run-in with Mordecai.

  • Mordecai appeals to Esther to save her people. Esther approaches King Ahasuerus and invites him and Haman to a banquet.

  • Mordecai is honored for having saved the king’s life. Esther entertains the king and Haman, and invites them to a second banquet.

  • Esther pleads for her people at the second banquet. She accuses Haman.

  • The king grants Esther’s request and condemns Haman to die on the gallows that he built for the Jews.

  • The Jews defend themselves throughout Persia [against those following out the decree to destroy the Jews].

  • The holiday of Purim is established.

  • Mordecai advances to a position of importance.

 

A 1651 painting by the Dutch artist Jan Victors depicts the scene from the Book of Esther in which the queen confronts Haman at a banquet with her husband, King Ahasuerus.