Judaism and the Culture of Education

Judaism and the Culture of Education

June. When the first rays of summer shine down upon us. When the last days of school close. To some, the end of memories and the end of an era. To others, a graduation to the next step on their ladder to success. This month’s piece will focus on the education, and academic graduation. In honor of two special graduates in my life, the culinary spotlight will be on their two favorite celebratory foods (which they could eat for any reason, at any time, during any day of the year), Pizza and Mac & Cheese.


“I never let schooling interfere with my education” [Mark Twain]

Let me put it out there before we go on any further.  I am a HUGE proponent of education and learning for children . . . . and adults.  However, I am not a big fan of the current education system for the youth of America. I believe that the current system teaches children to take the next test, but does not prepare them to optimize whatever special tools, skills, and talents that they may be able to best contribute to the world. In addition to reading my following summary of the general history of education, I would also highly recommend reading Dr. Peter Gray’s article, “A Brief History of Education” that appeared in Psychology Today.

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Figure 1 Plato’s Academy (Source: Wikipedia)

Earliest humans learned by watching and learning from their elders and the more experienced members of their clans from parent to child or through apprenticeships.  As civilization became more complex and more things were needed to memorize, the invention of writing came into being. Reading and writing were then needed to be taught, so the first “schools” were created, and with the creation of schools, teachers (elders, priests, etc.) began to teach their students. Most individuals at the time were workers, working from day-break to night-fall, so the students were primarily those with wealth or status or younger children.  Memorization was the most common form of learning (and teachers used harsh corporal punishment as motivation for learning).

“Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school” [Bill Gates]

As societies began to develop, so did the education process.  In Ancient Greece, the education of its citizens was geared towards developing young adults to take part in society as adults. However, education depended upon the individual city-states. For instance, in Sparta. education was focused on the military, and boys as young as seven years old would begin mandatory training, which became more physically severe every year until they were eighteen, at which point they would join the military itself.  The average Spartan was not taught reading and writing, but were taught dancing and music. This contrasts with Athens, where children (also beginning at about six or seven) would learn both a combination of military training and education in arts and literature. Education ended at about fourteen years of age, most of the boys would go into a trade, although children of the rich would continue with their learning.  In Ancient Rome, most of the learning occurred at home, however, the rich may have sent their young children (boys and sometimes girls) to elementary schools to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, followed by grammar school at age 12 or 13 to learn Latin, Greek, and the arts. At age 16, boys who wanted to go into public service could learn the art of oration at schools of rhetoric. It was the Romans that developed the division of schools into “grades.”

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” [Benjamin Franklin]

The ancient Jews had a very positive view on education, instilling the act of learning on all of its citizens, including children, regardless of class. All boys from six to thirteen were taught rudimentary reading, writing, and arithmetic. As historian Flavius Josephus wrote: “[Jews] take most pains of all with the instruction of the children and esteem the observance of the laws and the piety corresponding with them the most important affair of our whole life.” After the age of thirteen (Bar Mitzvah), those showing an affinity for learning would continue their learning, studying under the rabbis at their local synagogues.

The wars, invading armies, and pestilence brought about most formal education within Europe and the Middle East.  Most education was done though the church, and focused on the education of the mind, and little with training of the body (and children from 6 to 18 were taught together, including some women).  However, by the 11th century, universities began to be established, where men could further their education without being a member of the clergy. The first established was the University of Karueein in 859. No, it was not in Europe, but in Fez, Morocco). The first to be established in Europe was the University of Bologna (Bologna, Italy). For the nobility, many young men also learned the arts of chivalry and aristocracy.

As the Renaissance began to take hold on Europe during the 15th century, education of the young began to take a turn back towards the more humanistic view of the ancient Greeks, where children from the age of six through their twenties were taught various subjects ranging from history to geometry and art to astronomy. However, secondary education was mainly for the rich. As the Renaissance came to an end, secondary schooling covered the basics, but it was taught to be memorized, with strict (and usually harsh) taskmasters as their teachers, with prayer books and Latin and Greek manuscripts as their primary tools for learning.

“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education” [Albert Einstein]

Sometime around the 17th century, a few notable educators (such as Johann Comenius) began to discuss the concept and process of education beyond the traditional means. He even created a text book for children which provided text accompanied by pictures (known as Orbus Pictus).  But it was not for more than another hundred years that some of the theories began to be brought into practice.  We have Jacques Rousseau to thank for this, who’s research into child development led the way to really began to shed the idea that children of different ages learn and develop differently.  Ironically, the first government controlled school system was created in Prussia in the late 1700s, just after Rousseau’s death, but it ignored all of his theories.

Early Colonial education followed in the footsteps of their European ancestry.  Youth were schooled in the four R’s (reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion) using the bible and its psalms as the primary teaching tool. In 1690, The New England Primer was added to most curriculum throughout the United States, which taught reading in conjunction with religious lessons – and was used until the early 1800s. In the mid-1700s, Benjamin Franklin began creating secondary schools that focused more on history, math, geography, and other skills that would help them in life such as merchant accounting, surveying, and navigation, although religion was still a part of the curriculum.  In 1783, Noah Webster’s American Spelling Book was first published, which standardized the spelling of American/English words, and taught children how to properly spell.

“There is no greater education than one that is self-driven” [Neil deGrasse Tyson]

By the end of the 1800s, most countries in Europe had a standardized state-run education system. However, the education process itself had not changed much, teaching the same way it had for centuries.  The axiom, “those who can’t do, teach” was true for teachers over the centuries.  Teachers were not very skilled, and taught through repetition, and fear, so the children did not always learn much more than what was in their primers. The image of the taskmaster standing over a child with a ruler or whip in hand was much more the case than the smiling and caring Miss Beadle on the Little House on the Prarie. Fortunately, there were a few bright spots in education, such Johann Pestalozzi’s secondary school in Switzerland during the 1800s, where the teacher’s responsibility was to guide the growth of the child. Around this time Freidrich Wilhelm Froebel created institutions where young children would learn by self-activity. He called his schools Kleinkinderbeschaftig-ungasantalt, you probably know them better as their modern name of Kindergarten (translated from German as a “garden for children”).

In the early 20th century, a physician in Italy began creating schools for children that were thought could not be educated.  Using some of the above theories, and emphasizing the freedom of the children and individual development, Maria Montessori created the Montessori schools.

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world” [Nelson Mandela]

State-supported, and secular-free schools began to take hold in the United States in the early to mid-1800s – and the schools would be free to all citizens.  Under guidance of Horace Mann, in 1837, Massachusetts established a school to train teachers. By that time, state-sponsored High Schools also began to pop-up, beginning in 1821 in Boston. The original purpose was to extend a child’s education, but when colleges began forming in 1862 (after the land-grant Acts), High Schools began to have a secondary purpose of preparing children for advance undergraduate degrees.  At first, colleges were meant for boys, but by 1833, Oberlin College allowed co-ed students, and the first all-girl school of higher education, Vassar, was established in 1861 as the first all-woman university.

During the 1900s, the education process went through many changes, streamlining the curriculum and using a number of the concepts of childhood development into the child’s schooling. Although additional changes have occurred over the last century, the system has more-or-less remained the same. However, in the U.S., there are now more choices of schooling for a child, which now include charter schools, magnet schools, virtual schools, home schooling, and even un-schooling, but there is also a greater emphasis on standardized testing.

What Is Education?

The one controversial issue in Jewish education I had discovered during my research pertains to the Orthodox community (especially in New York (Brooklyn and Rockland County), and the non-secular curriculum they provide to their children. It is not that education is not important to them, it is extremely important to then, but the classes they teach allegedly do not include the minimum requirements in secular subjects. Some yeshivot (Hebrew schools) teach in Yiddish until the seventh or eighth grade, then switch to Hebrew, with little instruction provided in English as well as math and social studies, and some only teach those subjects from 4th to 8th grade.

Although the non-secular education does provide these children they need to survive and grow within the Orthodox community, it does not provide the skill necessary for those that want to live and work outside of it. For instance, Naftuli Moster discovered how poorly his elementary and High School education had prepared him for the secular world when he attended college (the first English essay he claims he ever wrote was for his application to college) – many of the subjects were almost foreign to him, even the concept of a “molecule.”  In 2012 he decided to try to do something about implementing more non-secular subjects into the schoolroom, and formed YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education).  Although the teaching of non-secular subjects to at least a minimum level have been on the books for years, it has been hard (or impossible) to impose the law by the Department of Education upon most of these schools.  There is currently additional pending law that would force these schools to adhere to instilling non-secular classes (or providing an appropriate time to its teaching) into their programs, but there is a huge number of people in that community that are against it – the consequences of not adhering to the laws, if enforced, could be the loss of funding from the State.

Most Yeshivot around the country do provide the non-secular courses (and do have six days of school to do so).  This controversy does bring up the discussion of whether each community has the right to teach its children in the way it sees fit, versus the notion that at least a minimum amount of teaching ought to be provided in what the larger society deems to be needed in specific subject.

The question then becomes: what is education, and should everyone adhere to that same definition?  Dictionary.com has five definitions for this word:

  1. the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.
  2. the act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills, as for a profession.
  3. a degree, level, or kind of schooling: a university education.
  4. the result produced by instruction, training, or study: to show one’s education.
  5. the science or art of teaching; pedagogics.

What is relevant in all of these definitions is that the type of knowledge being imparted or acquired is not specified. If a “place of learning” taught magic tricks all day, it would technically be providing an education. In today’s modern society, many of us consider the basic 3 R’s of reading, writing, and arithmetic the fundamental building blocks of education paramount to the upbringing of our children.  Many would also include advanced classes on each of these skills, along with science, literature, language arts, social studies, etc. as mandatory supplements.

The New York Board of Higher Education may not have defined the term education, but it does provide the amount of time to be provided in specific subjects for homeschooling. For instance, it states, in part:

     (i) For grades one through six: arithmetic, reading, spelling, writing, the English language, geography, United States history, science, health education, music, visual arts, physical education, bilingual education and/or English as a second language where the need is indicated.

     (ii) For grades seven and eight: English (two units); history and geography (two units); science (two units); mathematics (two units); physical education (on a regular basis); health education (on a regular basis); art (one-half unit); music (one-half unit); practical arts (on a regular basis) and library skills (on a regular basis). The units required herein are cumulative requirements for both grades seven and eight. [1 unit = 108 hours]

     (iii) The following courses shall be taught at least once during the first eight grades: United States history, New York State history, and the Constitutions of the United States and New York State.

I am going under an assumption (which may be false) that schools need to follow a similar allocation of minimal time to provide teaching the above subjects.  Until sixth grade, all subjects can be provided cursory treatment, but there are actual hours associated with teaching beginning in 7th grade.  For the younger children, there is an argument to be made for child-guided learning in a homeschool/un-school, or a parochial school. However, beginning 7th grade (10 to 12 year-olds), may need the knowledge in these mandatory classes to help them later in life (High School, College, and life as an adult).

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” [Albert Einstein]

But what if a child shows remarkable skills in a vocation, and intends on going directly into a vocational school – will the mandatory science or language skills be of great help to them? This brings us back to the yeshiva scenario above.  If these children are going to grow up and become part of the ultra-orthodox community, where such skills are not deemed necessary, should they be forced upon them?  Arguments can be made for and against providing “traditional” courses based on the individual needs of each child.

There are also some more extreme cases.  As this essay has presented, education is extremely important to Judaism and its culture.  Some in the ultra-Orthodox community believe that only the study of Torah is the only thing of importance, and all studies should be conducted to learning if its beauty, teachings, and trying to unlock and understand it’s mysteries. A very learned rabbi, Rabbi Shteinmann was once asked about whether it was okay to open up schools that taught vocational schools, such as for the study of trade.  He responded: “Because he’s no longer good, you want to send him to acquire a trade? It’s like adding poison to poison. A trade is poison. . . . Everything must be the Torah.”

The Talmud (the body of Jewish law), however, had a lot of respect for those that took up a vocation; although they felt that one must be vigilant in which vocation one chooses, since it may keep one away from their studies. In fact, the Talmud was abhorred idleness (see Kethubus 59b and Noson 11:1), and Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon wrote that “[g]reat is labor for it honors the workman.” In my opinion, if the Talmud and Jewish law respect the idea of honest work, should not the education system also provide for those students?

This discussion would not be complete without a short tale where this concept of “everything must be the Torah” is taken to the ultimate level.  One of the most prestigious yeshiva in the world was Etz Chaim Yeshiva (Volozhin Yeshiva) in Lithuania.  In 1892, the Yeshiva closed its doors after the Russian authorities “asked” the school to provide secular education.  Instead of complying, the rabbi (Rabbi Naffali Zvi Yehuda Berlin) closed down the yeshiva. [Fast Fact: Although some sources claim it may have been due to the long number of hours demanded to perform secular classes, some claim that there were internal political factors that weighted upon the decision to close.]

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Figure 2 Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Early 1900s (Source: Wikipedia)



“Give a man to fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” [Maimonides]

The idea of a student receiving a degree comes from the Islam, which is century old. However, the first graduation ceremony for a bachelorette degree began in 1432 at Oxford University, which included each graduate to give a sermon . . .  . in Latin.

The dress code for the US was first proposed by Gardner Cotrell Leonard in 1893 (based on European traditions), and many are still followed today. Here’s the origin of some of the graduation practices that many graduates practice today

Cap and Gown: Professors in England during the 13th century began wearing a cap and gown to show that they were scholars (and to keep warm in the big drafty classrooms).  Eventually this tradition began to be taken up by graduating students to show their newly acquired level of scholarship.  Only two college now require their professors to wear a gown while teaching (Cambridge and Oxford). The throwing of the caps in the air at the end of the ceremony began in 1912 by graduates at the Naval Academy (the caps were no longer needed, since they were being replaced by officer hats they recieved at the ceremony).

Hoods: The wearing of hoods goes back even further, to the time of the Celts, where Celtic leaders would wear the hoods to distinguish themselves by having superior intelligence.

Tassels:  Tassels have been word by graduates for many years to decorate the cap.  However moving the tassels from one side to the other is a more recent tradition, which began in the 1950s or 1960s

Diploma: Graduates did not begin receiving diplomas until 1642, when the nine graduates of Harvard received an Arts book, which they had to give back after the ceremony.  The first physical “diploma,” was not given out until 1813 at Harvard, which they could keep. However, before then, a student could pay someone to create a diploma by writing it on a parchment (in Latin), then paying the school’s President to sign it. One such diploma by a James Ward dates from 1645. The first woman to receive a diploma was Catherine Brewer Benson, from Wesleyan College in 1840.

Ring: Based on the Ancient Egyptians believe of wearing a scarab ring to provide eternal life, West Point began creating rings for its graduating class beginning in 1835.  Since then the rings have become much more widespread, and more elaborate.

“Pomp and Circumstances”: This song has become the go-to music for many graduation ceremonies.  The music was first performed in 1901 in Liverpool, England by Sir Edward Elgar.  It was then played at the crowning of King Edward the VII. It really started catching on after it was played for Elgar, when he received an honorary degree from Yale four years later.

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read” [Abraham Lincoln]

Contributions by Jews to Education

Researching the contributions to education was not an easy task.  Not because there were not many Jews that have contributed, but because Jews, as a people, hold education to a very high standard, so I had to work my way through the tons of articles about Jews and education to find specific articles about the history of their contributions.  In fact, according to a recent Pew study, Jews are one of the most educated religious group in the United States, with almost 60% of Jews receiving college degrees (only Unitarian Universalists (67%) and Hindus (77%) have a higher percentage of college graduates), but Jews spend more time in school than any other group (an average of more than 13 years of formal schooling).

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Figure 3 Israel Institute of Technology  (Source: Wikipedia)

“A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who cannot read” [Mark Twain]

Jews began setting up their own schools soon after the diaspora, and had institutions set up by the year 65, when Rabbi Yeshua Ben Gamla ruled that every Jewish child, beginning at age 6 should attend school.  [Fast fact: he also ruled that class size should not exceed 25 children.]  It was not until the 1772, when Jews were allowed to attend secular universities (first allowed by Emperor Joseph Ritter von Wertheimer of Austria in the Edict of Tolerance).

Some of the Jews that contributed to education are as follows:

  • Joseph Ritter von Werthheimer – As mentioned above, he created and set up the first Kindergartens
  • Alen Brandmen – A Jewish teacher from France that focused on teaching manual skills in school, and also advocated teaching to the deaf and mute
  • Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid – An English Baronet that helped finance and establish the University College in London in 1825
  • Julius Rosenwald – Jewish philanthropist that helped to fund schools for blacks during the early part of the 1900s, and was the principle financer for the Museum of Science and Industry (in Chicago)
  • Jacob Rodrigues Pereire – Specialized in teaching deaf mutes, and had a direct influence upon Maria Montessori (mentioned above)
  • Mayer de Rothschild – founded the Association for the Oral Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb (in London)
  • Adolf Pick – Created kindergartens in Italy based on Werthheimer’s ideas during the mid-19th
  • Otto Saloman – Created schools that taught manual skills in Sweden in the late 1800s.
  • Abraham Flexner – American doctor in the early 20th century who’s reports had a huge impact on medical and higher education.

These are but a few that influenced education.  For a much more complete list, see the article on Education at Jewish Virtual Library.

Separation of Church and State

The concept of the separation of religion to the activities of the government and its people did not come into being upon the creation of the United States of America.  The idea, or at least the theory, had been discussed and analyzed for centuries, and even written about by Augustine of Hippo in the late 3rd century in Northern Africa. The issue of a division of church and state had had several variations throughout history, including: caeasaropapism, where there is a leader of the people and the religion (although the leader of the people gained his position through divine intervention), and the doctrine of the two kingdoms, as first enunciated by Martin Luther. These early thoughts were taken a step further by John Locke, who argued that the government lacked the authority over an individual’s “conscience” – which includes the imposition of religion along with his lesser known contemporary, Pierre Bayle, who advocated for the toleration of religious beliefs.

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Figure 4 John Locke’s  “Some Thoughts Concerning Education”  (Source: Wikipedia)

These new ideas had travelled over the pond to the colonies. After Roger Williams was forced out of Massachusetts for religious difference, he formed the Rhode Island Colony, which was founded on the idea of religious freedom (as long as the religion was Christianity).  However, the fundamental idea of the separation had taken root, and when the Founding Fathers began drafting the rules to govern the fledgling nation, the concept of separating religion and government was foremost in the minds of visionaries such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.  This idea was so powerful that it was provided in the very first line of the first Amendment of the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . . .

What is interesting, however, is that words “separation of church and state” is nowhere to be found in the First Amendment or the Constitution whatsoever.  This term first became popular eleven years after the Constitution was first published.   It comes from a letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association on January 1, 1802, which reads in part:

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

Although this law of the land has been around for a few centuries, it did take time to become almost fully integrated into the system, and issues still raise their head even in today’s society.

Next, a hard question to answer: although a separation of Church and State in the America is one that most of us strive for, would it also be good for Israel?  If you are looking for the answers from me, you can begin looking elsewhere.  I am not an Israeli, and although I think of Israel as the “Homeland of the Jewish People,” the idea of a secular vs religious state is not one for me to answer.  Is it wrong if their citizens want a country which has religion intertwined with their secular laws – I do not think so, as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others. Many other countries are founded upon their own religious ideals, but Israel is the only country in the world based upon the ideology of Judaism. Here’s an interesting article in Haaretz.com to start you on your research . . .  Article

Celebratory Foods

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet” [Aristotle]

Now that you’ve had the once-over regarding graduation traditions, and education, let’s get down to discussing its celebration, the graduation party.  Different people around the world have various ideas on how to celebrate, but most include food and drink.  For this month’s article I will discuss two party favorites that are good for any time – pizza and macaroni and cheese.

Mac and Cheese

The earliest known recipe for this dish, called de lasanis, was published in the 13th century, and served to the court of Charles II of Anjou. The recipe called for macaroni (squares cut out of pasta sheets), boiled, and mixed with grated cheese – and may have been served like modern day lasagna.  There are then two theories as to how it became an American favorite. The first is that it was created as a casserole for a church dinner in New England. Although there may be some truth to this origin, the second is probably the more plausible theory involves an American President.  Thomas Jefferson had travelled to Italy.  During the trip, he tried, and enjoyed, the macaroni and cheese dish, and brought back the recipe with him (along with a pasta maker).  His daughter began making, and serving the dish (using Parmesan cheese). Guests enjoyed the dish, and began spreading it to other parts of the fledgling country. The recipe later began to be made with cheddar cheese, and when Kraft came out with a boxed version in 1939, it began to all corners of the United States.


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Figure 5 Pizza (Source: Wikipedia)

Pizza is a dish that has been made for hundreds of years.  The idea of dining on items atop piece of bread has been around since the first breads were created – and consumed by the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks.  However, the more modern idea of a pizza probably began around the 16th century in Naples, after tomatoes were introduced in the area. When Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889, she particularly enjoyed a version of flatbread covered with red tomatoes, basil, and a soft white cheese (which are coincidently the colors of the Italian flag) – and it was dubbed the Margherita pizza. This type of pizza then began becoming popular around the country.  In 1905, the first pizzeria in the United States was established (Lomardi’s on Spring Street in NYC), but was probably made in Italian homes of immigrants in the years prior. However, it was not until after WWII, that pizza became more widespread across the US.

There are a number of theories as to how Jews helped contribute to the evolution of pizza (e.g., Romans trying to conquer Israel did not like the taste of pita bread (which them was more like a flat bread), began adding topping to it, and the first pizza’s were created, which they brought back to Rome). However, I will focus briefly on another Jewish contribution to this delicious food – how “The Tomato Queen,” Tillie Lewis, a female Jewish entrepreneur in the early to mid-1900s created an empire based on canning tomatoes, and how this allowed for pizzerias to be established around the country (as well as more easily allowing individuals to make pizza at home).

Where can you get the best pizza?  I know that taste is subjective, but having tasted pizza from many countries around the world, including many towns and cities across this great nation, I can unequivocally say that without a doubt Brooklyn, NY has the best pizza in the world.  Period.

“The highest result of education is tolerance” [Helen Keller]

The Recipe

Since I do not have the space to provide a recipe to bake bread and sauce from scratch, I’ll stick to the more easily made EZ mac and cheese (with pre-bought pasta).


1 lb box           Elbow Macaroni

½ cup              Butter (unsalted)

½ cup              Flour

1 tsp                Salt

½ tsp               Black Pepper

4 cups              Milk

3 ½ cups          Mild Cheddar Cheese

½ cup              Parmesan Cheese


  • Boil macaroni (according to box directions); drain
  • In saucepan: melt butter, then mix in salt, flour, and pepper, until smooth
  • Slowly add milk to mixture (keeping it hot)
  • Add cheeses until melted
  • Add to macaroni
  • Enjoy!



 “1st Amendment Separation of Church and State: The Intent of Our Founding Fathers” (Lon Dobbs: 1996) @ http://robt.shepherd.tripod.com/dobbs.html

“10 Ideas Judaism Gave the World” (Dr. Yvette Alt Miller: Aish.com) @ http://www.aish.com/sp/ph/10-Ideas-Judaism-Gave-the-World.html

“A Brief History of Education” (Peter Gray, Ph.D.: Psychology Today: 2008) @ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/200808/brief-history-education

“Do Most Israelis Really Want Separation of Religion and State?” (Gideon Levy: Haaretz.com: 2015) @ https://www.haaretz.com/.premium-do-most-israelis-really-want-separation-of-religion-and-state-1.5397190

“Education” (Jewish Virtual Library) @ http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/education

“Education” (Dictionary.com) @ http://www.dictionary.com/browse/education

“English is Absent and Math Doen’t Count at Brooklyn’s Biggest Yeshivas” (Sonja Sharp: DNAInfo.com: 2013) @ https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20130122/crown-heights/english-is-absent-math-doesnt-count-at-brooklyns-biggest-yeshivas/

“Graduation Ceremony Traditions and History” (Emily Hull: CNYNews.com: 2013) @ http://cnynews.com/graduation-ceremony-traditions-and-history/

“Graduation Diploma History” (Jesse Alexander: GraduationSource.com: 2017) @ https://www.graduationsource.com/blog/graduation-diploma-history/

“Graduation Rights Have Ancient History” (Melody Coleman: The Daily Universe: 2006) @ http://universe.byu.edu/2006/04/18/graduation-rites-have-ancient-history/

“History of Education” (Robert Guisepi (Ed.): History-World.org) @ http://history-world.org/history_of_education.htm

“Ideal Occupations: The Talmudic Perspective” (Hershey H. Friedman: JLaw.com) @ http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/idealoccupa.html

“Jewish Contribution to World Education” (Robbie Rothenberg: Times of Israel: 2017) @ http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-jewish-contribution-to-world-education/

“Jews are World’s Most Educated Religious Group, Study Finds” (JTA: JPost.com: 2016) @ https://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Jews-are-worlds-most-educated-religious-group-study-finds-475269

“The Most and Least Educated U.S. Religious Groups” (Caryle Murphy: PewResearch.org: 2016) @ http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/04/the-most-and-least-educated-u-s-religious-groups/

“New York State Homeschooling Regulations” (NYHEN.org) @ http://www.nyhen.org/regs.htm#e

“Origin of Macaroni and Cheese” (Clifford A. Wright: CliffordAWright.com) @ http://www.cliffordawright.com/caw/food/entries/display.php/topic_id/16/id/105/

“Rabbi Shteinman, Leader of Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox and ‘Greatest Rabbi of His Generation’ Dies at 104” (Yair Ettinger and Aaron Rabinowitz: Haaretz.com: 2017) @ https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-rabbi-shteinman-the-greatest-rabbi-of-his-generation-dies-at-104-1.5626632

“The Reason for Switching Your Tassel at Graduation” (Nicole Schmoll: Classroom.Synonym.com) @ https://classroom.synonym.com/reason-switching-tassel-graduation-8232355.html

“School Choice” (Wikipedia.org) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_choice

“Separation of Church and State” (TeachingHistory.org) @ http://teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a-historian/24441

“Separation of Church and State” (Wikipedia.org) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_church_and_state

“Separation of Church and State in the United States” (Wikipedia.org) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_church_and_state_in_the_United_States

“Will They Ever Learn? US Ultra-Orthodox Still Failing to Teach Math and Science” (Yaakov Schwartz: Times of Israel: 2017) @ https://www.timesofisrael.com/will-they-ever-learn-us-ultra-orthodox-still-failing-to-teach-math-and-science/







This year marks the 70th anniversary of the formation of the modern state of Israel. I place emphasis upon the word modern, since Israel, as a nation, has been born and reborn many times over the eons. Each birth was not easy, and maintaining its existence (even today) has never been easy. The history of Israel has many highs, but, just as the Jewish people, have also experienced too many downs over its long history.


Israel: Through the Ages

Before there was an Israel there was the Jewish people. The ancestral origin of the Jewish people begins with Abraham, who lived in the area of modern Israel around 1800 BCE, but then called Canaan. The name Israel comes from the grandson of Abraham (and the son of Isaac), Jacob whom was bestowed the name of Israel by G-d (see Genesis 32:29).  Which means that the first Jews had lived in Israel 3300 years ago.  Unfortunately, there is no very little archaeological evidence of the existence of the original patriarchs and matriarchs (and only circumstantial evidence of their existence, with the religious history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all recognizing the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Israel as the burial place of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people.

Although there were some Jews that continued to live in Canaan, it was not until around 1300 BCE that the Jewish people entered the land of Israel to form a nation (after Moses freed them from slavery, then wandering around the desert for 40 years while fighting several other tribes). In a religious context, this was the land promised to the decedents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Archaeological evidence of Moses and the crossing of the Herbews into Israel from Egypt is slim, at best, but once again the three major religions of the world all acknowledge the event in their own ancient texts.

Birth of Israel

By 1250 BCE, the Jews, now called Israelites, had formed the nation of Israel under Joshua. Over the next 700 years the nation of Israel began to grow strong. There is archaeological evidence of the people known as “Isrealites” living and settling in the area from an ancient tablet, called the Merneptah Stele and dated to approximately 1206 BCE, which mentions the people of “Israel” living in Canaan. [Fast Fact: Scholars (Görg, van der Veen and Theis) found a mention to Israel on the pedestal of a statue that dates to 1400 BCE; however, this is disputed.] They have also found evidence of almost 300 villages in the high lands of Israel that date between the 12th and 13th century BCE, but had begun turning into cities with actual structures a closer to the 12th century BCE. Walls of ancient Israelite cities (Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer) have been excavated and determined to be from around the 10th century BCE. In 1993, there was also a tablet, dated to 840 BCE, that was discovered in Tel Dan which mentions the “Tribe of David”


But in 587 the Babylonians waged war, took control over Israel, ransacked Jerusalem, and destroyed the First Temple. Fifty years later (538 BCE), the Persian Empire took control of the land, and allowed the Jews to return and build the Second Temple and allowed Israel self-rule, as long as they adhered to the rule of the Empire.

Maccabees Fight for an Independent Israel

The Greek Empire then took control in 333 BCE, and also generally allowed the Jews to run Israel independently. However, during the reign of King Antiochus (you probably remember hearing his name during Chanukah), the Second Temple was ransacked by his army, which brought about revolts by the Jewish population. The Jews armed themselves and revolted, bringing about their own independent rule of Israel. In 1993, while leveling ground for a new highway, workers found a burial cave which contains the first evidence of the Tribe of the Maccabees. More recently, in 2017, Archaeologists have discovered evidence in the town of Umm el-Umdan, that the Maccabees may have lived there (in ancient scripts it was named Mod’in).

Bar Kokba’s Revolt against the Romans for a Temporary Nation of Israel

By the first century BCE, the Roman Empire was expanding, entered Israel with the intention of adding the country to its growing empire.  By 70 BCE it had succeeded conquering Israel, including the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.  In 66 CE, the Jewish populace did try to revolt, and had set up a temporary government. [Fast Fact: A coin struck by this short-lived Israeli government (depicting “Shekel of Israel, Year 1” on one side) sold for 1.1 million in 2012.] It was during the Roman occupation, in 132, that a band of Jews formed under the leadership of Bar Kokbha that was able to liberate most of Israel (called Judea during that period) for almost two years, until the overwhelming force of the Roman legions (called in from other countries) were able to oust the Jewish rebels.  [Fast fact: this was the third of three Jewish revolts against the Romans.] For fear that the Jews may rebel again, Jews were placed into exile (Jews went into Diaspora) and any reminiscence of Judaism or Israel were destroyed.  In fact, Jerusalem was renamed Aelia Capitolina and the area of Judea/Israel was renamed Palaestina (this is the Latin root of the modern word of Palestine). The strongest evidence for the occurrence of this revolt has been the dozens of coins with Hebrew writing that date to the time of the revolt.  The coins are known as “Bar Kochba coins,” and were not created new – smiths hammered in images of Jewish leaders and Hebrew writing over the relief existing on the old Roman coin.

A Final Israeli/Jerusalem Independence Until Modern Times

The Romans were conquered by the Byzantine Empire in 313, which ruled until 636. However, in 614, a group of at least 20,000 Jewish rebels joined up with the Sasanian Empire (Persians) to help fight against the Byzantines. They successfully captured Jerusalem, and control was placed in the hands of the Jewish leader Nehemiah ben Husheil who took control and even started thinking about the building of a Third Temple.  However, the control did not last long. Christian groups in Jerusalem armed themselves and overthrew the new Jewish government. The Byzantine Empire had ultimately regained control of the region to ultimately lose it to the Arabs in 636. Although there is some written text from the period describing the events, archeological evidence has been disproving not that it occurred, but the dates and circumstances described within the text.

The Many Subsequent Rules

The Arab caliphate took control over the region for over four hundred years and built the Dome of the Rock on the site of the Holy temple.  [Fast fact: Although Israel was overseen by the Romans, then the Persians, it was still a semi-autonomous country that was given permission to strike its own coins (see examples) and today act as evidence that the nation of Israel was surviving]. With the start of the Crusades in 1099, the Christians soon took over the area.  They were then overthrown by the Mamluk warlords from the South (that had already overthrown Egypt) in 1291. Their reign lasted until the Ottoman Empire took control in 1516 and lasted 400 years (at which time some Jews settled back in their homeland to avoid persecution elsewhere in the world), until the British took control in 1917 (as part of a compromise with Turkey after World War 1).

During this entire period, most Jews did not have a place to settle.  After being exiled from their own country of Israel (twice), other countries that have expelled the Jews from their lands include: England (1290), France (1306 and 1394), Hungary (1349 and 1360), Austria (1421), Lithuania (1445 and 1495), Spain (1492), Portugal (1497), Bohemia (1744), Maravia (1744). Do not forget Russia that banned Jews between the 15th and 18th centuries as well as Germany which also banned Jews between the 14th and 16th centuries. Even in the countries they were allowed to settle, they had to live as second-class citizens (such as under Arab rule) while being constantly harassed and persecuted. [Research: A comprehensive list of Jewish Persecution from the 2nd century BCE thru 1948 could be found at SimpletoRemember.com]

A Modern Nation of Israel

Although the British took control of the area in 1917, it quickly issued the Balfour Agreement during the same year, which called for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” In 1922, the British government, split the area of it’s control into two parts (the British Mandate) – Israel and TransJordan (which was twice the size of Israel and who’s population was mostly Arab).

It then took another twenty-six years for the British to succeed control of Israel and give it to the new independent country.  On May 14, 1948, seventy years ago, the last British forces left Israel, and a new Nation of Israel was reborn.

Nothing is Easy

Just as it had been during the first four iterations of a Jewish State, the fifth time has not been easy as well.  The UN passed a resolution (Resolution 181 (II)) in 1947 that proposed a two-state division, which would provide land for a new Jewish country, and one for the recently formed Palestinian nationalists. [Fast Fact: there had been a “civil war” already going on between Jewish Zionists and the Palestinian Nationals for some time before this.] The Arab leaders rejected the plan, and the day after the British forces pull out, a combined army from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq invaded the fledgling country. The fighting lasted almost ten months, with Israel being victorious (with a partial victory by Jordan). One of the results of this fighting was the expulsion of 700,000 Jews from Mideast countries that migrated into Israel. Almost the same number of Arabs that also fled Israel, spurred by a an attack (by a paramilitary Jewish group that was not part of the newly formed Israeli Defense Force) on the Arab settlement of Deir Yashin, which is referred to by Palestinian Arabs as al nakba – “the catastrophe”).

The difficulties between Israel and its Arab neighbors did not end there.  Less than 10 years later, there was the 1956 Sinai War, a decade later was the 1967 Six Day War, followed a half-decade later by the 1973 Yom Kippur War. However, the notion of destroying the Israeli state continues through today via political and other means.  For instance, in 2017, there were 21 UN Resolutions against the tiny country of Israel for human rights violations. Weigh that against only 6 Resolutions against the rest of the world.  Six countries received one each – Iran, Syria, North Korea, Crimerea, Myammar, and the US. It is unbelievable that some of those countries only received one each, but Israel received 21?  Some of the countries that did not receive any included: China, Venezuela, Saudi Arabi, Turkey, Pakistan, Algeria, or many other countries which are synonymous with kicking human rights out the door.

There are 74 countries where homosexuality is illegal, in 13 of which it is punishable by death (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, Somalia, Tunisia, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lithuania, and Russia). Where are the resolutions against these countries, most of which sponsored the resolutions against Israel, which was ranked in the Gay Happiness Index of 2015 as the seventh happiest country in the world for gay men due to its acceptance and protection of the rights of LGBT.

Israeli Arabs

The rights of the LGBT community is only one of many examples of where Israel is a leader in the protection of human rights and equality for its citizens. Citizens. Citizens? C I T I Z E N S.  Have I put my foot in my mouth by delving into the area of the current conflict between Israel and the Palestinian nationalists? First, let’s take a look at the rights of Arabs in Israel, which make up a little less than ¼ of the country’s population (and 81% are Muslim):

  • Arabs in Israel have equal voting rights as Jews and other non-Arabs. Israelis are barred from even entering many Arabic countries, and Jews are not able to work in these countries (in 2014 Saudi Arabia first allowed Jews to work there, but still bans those with Israeli passports; speaking of passports, some Arab countries will not even allow visitors with non-Israeli passports if they even have a stamp from Israel on their passport)
  • Women in Israel have equal voting power, and equal rights, as opposed to some “democratic” countries which only give women limited voting power. For instance, Saudi Arabia gave women the right to vote, but only for municipal positions. In Morocco and Saudi Arabia, the person raped can be charged with a crime. In Yemen, women only count as a half a witness, and need their husband’s permission to leave the house. Until last year, women in Saudi Arabia were not allowed to drive. [Fast Fact: In Saudi Arabia, women are still: under the guardianship system (under the guardianship of a male wali); not allowed to wear make-up or show their beauty in public; not allowed to interact with men; not allowed to go for a swim; have limitations if competing in sports; and cannot try on clothing when shopping.]
  • Arabs can hold elected positions in Israel (there are currently ten Arab members in the Knesset, Israel’s legislative body, and an Arab has served on Israel’s Supreme Court).
  • Arabic is an official language of Israel, along with Hebrew.
  • There are hundreds of Arab schools in Israel. However, it has been a recognized issue that Arab schools have received less government funding. In addition, although there is no state sponsored segregation, Arabs and Jews go to different schools, and have little social interaction until College.
  • According to a 2018 survey, over 16% of students in Israeli colleges are Arabs
  • An Arab woman, Rana Raslan, represented Israel as Miss Israel in 1999.
  • The only legal difference between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens in Israel is that Jewish citizens must serve in the military (although Druze and Circassians may be drafted]. However, many Arabs do voluntarily serve. However, Israel offers many benefits to veterans, so those that do not serve lose out on these.

A Palestinian Claim

The conflict in the Middle East between the Jews and Palestinians is one that is far from simple to understand.  Every time I do more research on Israel, I find a new layer of difficulties.  For instance, most people do not know much of the information that I have outlined above, and listen to their favorite news media which makes them out to be brutal dictators.  On the other hand, people do not understand the plight of the Palestinians, or why there is such a conflict.

Unlike the Jews, the Palestinians do not have a long history of unification.  For the most part, they were small tribes and individuals that (mostly shared a common religion – Islam. The first solidification of these people could be traced to 1834 Arab Revolt (also known as the Peasant’s Revolt) [Fast fact: A number of Jews were killed by these rebels].

In 1897, the World Zionist Organization was formed.  This placed a chill down the spine of Muslims all over the world, especially in the Middle East. Although a Jewish State in the Middle East would not happen while the Ottoman Empire was in-place, the outcome of World War I changed everything. The British took control of the area in 1917, as part of the British Mandate.  While under the rule of Ottoman Empire, the Palestinian Arabs experienced full rights under their rule, while the non-Muslims had to pay dhimmi (taxes), could not own guns, and were treated as second-class citizens.

A Jewish homeland now became a real possibility.  In 1917, Britain’s Foreign Minister, Arthur Balfour, issued a public statement in support of a ‘national home for the Jewish people.” At the time, the Jewish population in the area was a little over 10 percent of the populace.  In 1920 the Palestinians solidified when they began to riot against the British rule, whom had taken control of the area from the defunct Ottoman Empire over after World War I. Although the rioting was wide-spread, it was eventually put down. [Fast Fact: There were other revolts, including one in 1929, and a longer revolt from 1936-1939, which began with the killing of Jewish settlers, called the Bloody Day.]

Beginning in 1922, Jewish immigration from Britain was allowed, and an inflow of Jews began flowing into the area, and continued to grow. The British eventually gave control over the area to the United Nations, which tried to push forth a two-state resolution. The resolution was unanimously rejected, making way for the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. As stated above, as the British forces pulled out, the Arab countries attacked with the support of groups of armed Palestinians. The new Israeli government won this war, which was their christening into becoming a new nation.

So, why are the Palestinians still upset? Below are a few of the concerns of the Palestinians:

  • Although the Palestinians never created a formal government, they had solidified as a people on a few occasions since 1834
  • Some claim that the “nakba” was intentional. Nakba is a term used by Palestinians to describe the mass exodus of 750,000 Arabs out of Israel after the Deir Yassin massacre, where Israel paramilitary groups (Irgun and Lehi) slaughtered over 100 people in a town near Jerusalem. Although the massacre was condemned by the Israeli leadership, and promised to keep something like that from happening again, Arabs began to fear for their lives and left Israel. [Fast fact: At the same time, Arab countries were making it hard for Jews to live in their lands, and an exodus of 750,000 Jews immigrated into Israel.] Some Palestinians still consider this as an ethnic cleansing.
  • The area was given to a minority (of only 10% of the total population), and the majority native population was being ignored. A foreign country comes in and gives control to a small minority.
  • While the British had also stated that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” they feel that everything was done for setting up a country to succeed for the Jews, but the same tools and resources were not being provided to them.
  • The Balfour Agreement was in contrast to other documents released by the British government.
    • 1915 Hussein-McMahon correspondence, which was a correspondence of letters between Colonel Sir Henry McMahon, the High Commissioner to Egypt and Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca.
    • 1916 Skyes-Picot agreement, which was a secret agreement between Britain and France, with the assent of Russia, on how to split up the land in the Middle East. (Although the area of Israel would still be a colony of Britain.)
  • The document used the term “national home,” instead of “state” which the Palestinians claim to be very vague (although Balfour later stated that the intent was always for there to be a “Jewish state.”)
  • Some of the reasoning as to why they believe that the British took the side of the Jews include:
    • In order to keep Russia and the United States interested in continuing the war, they had to make the Jews of those countries happy.
    • There was very intense lobbying and influence by Zionists within Britain
    • Jews were being prosecuted in Europe, and this was a place to keep them safe
    • The British were anti-Semitic and wanted to create a place to get rid of all the Jews from their own country
  • Some believe that the policy of Britain was, in itself, illegal
  • They claim that the Israeli government continues to pass laws that are discriminatory against Palestinians. They claim that many of these laws may not be anti-Palestinian on their face, but are intended to discriminate against them.

I have written above about the multitude of issue that are faced by those living in Israel.  However, this is just the tip of the hay stack, and I have not even touched upon the multitude of conflicts that have occurred between 1948 and today (but not to worry, it will be covered in future articles). Entire books have been written about this issue, and even they do not always tell the full story. However, hopefully this article gives you a little more insight into a very misunderstood issue. One thing usually missing from these stories is the cultural side – the mistrust of the Palestinians by the Israelis and the hate of the Israelis by the Palestinians. As you might expect, I love to watch shows that highlight history and food. A few years ago, Anthony Bourdain produced a show in Israel. One of the things that stood out for me was the amount of anti-Israeli messages that could be found all over the West Bank and Gaza, and especially the wall mural of the hijacker that hung in a place visible to many children. When children are taught to revere killers, is there any hope for peace?

No one is born to hate or mistrust, so there will eventually come a time when both parties will be able to work out their differences.  However, much of this change will have to come from the people themselves.

Israeli Cuisine

Answering the question of “what is Israeli food” was not as simple as I had first hoped. A country or a region’s cuisine is based on the local ingredients that are available. In the Middle East, many of the countries have access to the basic same varieties of flaura, fauna, fish, birds, and animals, so through the ages, people in the area mostly ate the same things. If you have dinner in Israel, Iran, Jordan, Egypt, or the Gaza strip, or any of the countries within the Levant, you could very likely have the same meal – although the dishes will be called by different names, and will have slight variations.  Since the dietary codes of Hallal and Kosher both do not allow pork products, there will be no differences there, however, Hallal does allow for the combination of milk and dairy. Even with dairy, it is not used in the main dishes of most Mideastern meals, except as maybe a yogurt or a side of cheese. One of my favorite cookbooks is Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolghi, which provides information and recipes of dishes found in the Jewish as well as the Palestinian areas.  With few modifications to the recipes, most of the dishes could have derived from either quarter.

Because Israeli cuisine is such a hodge-podge of culinary origins throughout the region, it was very extremely difficult to identify what foods or dishes were uniquely Israeli. There is the “Israeli salad,” which could have originated in any of the Mideast countries.  There is “Jewish food” like matzo balls and giffilte fish, which was brought into Israel by European/Ashkenazi Jews that immigrated.

There are very few dishes and food that I was able to find that were unique to the area, or were not influenced by immigrants or the cuisines of the many occupiers of the land. However, I was able to find a few, such as desserts created by Israeli companies, including Bamba, and Bisli which have become favorite snacks of the country. Although couscous is served throughout the region, one variation, Ben Gurion Rice (ptitim) was “invented” in the 1950s during a food shortage in Israel. Sabich is another dish that comes to mind, it is a cold breakfast sandwich that was named after a street vendor in Israel, however, the idea for the sandwich originated from an Iranian Jewish tradition of eating this cold dish on Shabbat morning. Jerusalem Kugel is another dish that originated in Europe, but found its own variation made in Jerusalem. Then there is the “Israeli Breakfast,” which is a distinctive style of breakfasting originally served in the kibbutz, which was the origination of the modern hearty self-service breakfast buffet now provided in many hotels worldwide.

The Recipe

Although the origin of “Israeli Salad” could be claimed by various countries of the Mideast, it is a dish that is quick and refreshing to make, and makes a perfect side-dish for almost any meal.

Ingredients (8-10 servings)

6 lg                  Cucumbers (diced)

4 lg                  Tomatoes (diced)

1/3 cup            Vidalia onion (diced)

½ cup              Olive Oil

¼ cup              Garlic (chopped)

¼ cup              Parsley (minced)

4 Tbs               Lemon juice

1 Tsp               Salt

½ Tsp              Black pepper



Combine all ingredients, except salt and mix.  Add salt to taste.


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Let My People Go: Passover and Breaking the Bonds of Slavery

Let My People Go: Passover and Breaking the Bonds of Slavery 

Slavery in the Bible

During the eight days of Passover, Jews the world over celebrate the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery.  As the story goes, Moses led the Israelites out of the oppression of the Egyptians and into the dessert for forty years. During the celebration of Passover, there will be bitter herbs on the Seder plate to remind Jews of the bitter times they had to endure – but its symbolism can even go further than that.

These bitter herbs can be used to remember not only the evil of slavery can be evoked for the Hebrews as slaves in Egypt, but also for the many Jewish people that have been forced to be slaves and subservient second-class inhabitants of the lands of many religions, kingdoms, and various people from all over the world over the course of the past few thousands of years.  However, slaver and oppression is evil to no matter who falls under its grasp – so the bitter herbs are here to for us to also remember the tens of thousands of Africans torn from their homes and forced into slavery by the European Kingdoms, the Christians that served as slaves under the Byzantine-Ottoman Empire, the people of many lands forced into slavery by the Greek and Roman Empires. Although slavery has technically been abolished worldwide, it still exists today, as told by women in countries occupied by ISIS that have been placed into slavery and the reality of the clandestine slave market that is even occurring in the back alleys of the USA.

Before we get up on our (Jewish) high-horses, let’s not forget that slavery was accepted by most early civilizations including the ancient Hebrews.  In fact, the rules and regulations of how to treat a slave are written directly into the Torah itself [see Exodus Chapters 20 and 21].   However, slaves, under Jewish law were not to be treated poorly (they could not be physically or sexually abused), nor were they required to work on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) and Jewish holidays [although the level of harshness a person could treat the salve is arguable, and sometimes contrary within the Torah and Jewish law; compare the above chapters in Exodus, with the less harsh passages in Deuteronomy 15:12-18 and Leviticus 25:39-55] – and slaves (as well as animals) were supposed to be fed before their “master” could themselves eat. If a slave is grievously injured, they were to be freed.

A fellow Hebrew could not become a slave unless voluntarily (e.g., to pay back a debt) or by court order (e.g., for restitution of a crime). Hebrew slaves may only serve as such for six years (although there are some exceptions). However, non-Jews could be bought into slavery and placed into slavery as a prisoner of war (although could not be slaves of any private individuals). Depending on the reason for becoming a slave, a non-Hebrew slave can be freed at various times, but there are occasions when they may serve in perpetuity, where the children of a slave may become slaves themselves. According to these antiquated laws, a father can sell his daughter into slavery.

Luckily, this barbarous practice stopped in Judaism for the most part after biblical times, but unfortunately, there are still mentions in the Talmud about slavery, such as the slave of the first Rabban Gamaliel in the 1st century. The practice of a Jew having a fellow Jew as a slave seemed to have ceased soon after the destruction of the Second Temple. Once the Jewish people were dispersed into the diaspora, slavery was practically abolished, although sometimes allowed if the secular law where they lived allowed it for such things as to pay back a debt.

The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews

Whereas slavery had always been an awkward comparison between Jews and people of color, it is a common thread that has sometimes brought the two groups together to fight against oppression.  However, there are those that try to use slavery as a rift between the two as well.  Several years ago, Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam had published a book entitled The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews which purportedly declared that most of the African slave trade was organized, carried out, and profited by Jews. The book has been universally discredited by recognized scholars, but is still sold (even on Amazon) and believed by the ignorant. Were there Jews involved in this monstrous process – unfortunately yes, but in a much, much smaller sense than attributed by the book.  However, blame for this black mark on humanity can also be placed on Christian, Muslims, and people from almost every religion and culture living at that time.

Human Trafficking

This year, when eating the bitter herbs, you may also want to remember that slaver is not a thing of the past. The article of a very recent article in The Times read “You’re Only Ever Five Miles from Somebody in Slavery.” The author of the article was no talking about some far away third-world country, she was speaking about Ireland.  A huge industrial country like the United States is not immune to this disease either.  In 2016 there were 3500 sex trafficking cases reported in the US (and who know how many were not). Also, when ISIS took over areas of Iran and Syria, it took the female and children inhabitants as slaves.  Even though they have lost a lot of power over the past year, the child slave trade they began continues today. While you can only remember the past, there are a number of organizations which you can support to help end modern slavery today.

Bitter Herbs

As mentioned above, bitter herbs are placed on the Seder plate to help remember the slavery endured by the Jewish people [Fast fact:  This symbolism is not mentioned in the Torah, this interpretation was derived later]. The Jewish people are commanded to eat maror in the Torah (Numbers 9:11). [Fast fact: The actual command is to eat it with matzah and the pascal lamb.  Since Jews are no longer obligated to sacrifice a pascal lamb, the rule for eating maror is likewise not an obligation. Maror is the bitter herb, or something bitter, and not defined by the Torah, so what constitutes eating “bitter herbs” can be up for interpretation, but there are some qualifiers in subsequent law (see the Mishna, Pesahim 39a), such as: the foliage must have sap, be grayish, grow from the ground, and obviously be bitter.  As mentioned above, many use horseradish and romaine lettuce, but others have used other bitter items as alternatives, such as endives (escaroles) and celery. The custom of the Chabad is to have both horseradish and romaine lettuce at the same time. Also note that some denominations do not approve of the use of bitter herbs that have been cooked or soaked in water, which leaves out the red and white stuff from a jar (also known as chrain).

Horseradish itself is a plant that has been used for over 3000 years.  It has had many uses over the years including an aphrodisiac, a medicine to treat rheumatism, coughing fits, tuberculosis, and stomach conditions, and as a flavoring for food.  The ancient Greeks used it in rubs to sooth back pain.  One theory as to how it received it name is that it was called “meerrettich” in German, which translates as sea radish (since it was found near the sea).  The British may have mispronounced the word, calling it “mareradish” translating to horse radish – and eventually called as such. The plant began to make its way towards Northern Europe during the Renaissance period. Inns along roads began to grow it so that they can provide it to travelers to help revive them after a long day of travel.  Although it made its way to England by the mid-1600s, it was only used by the lower classes, but by the 1800s, it was a common staple found in every English home and manor. By the mid-1800s, horseradish made it way to the United States, where it became a major agricultural crop in the Midwest.


One dish with horseradish as a major ingredient is chrain.  Chrain is a spicy paste used to accompany various dishes. It is a dish that originated in Eastern Europe, with its earliest reference going back the twelfth century. This dish is popular with both the Slavic people and Ashkenazi Jews. Chrain differs from other horseradish based sauces/pastes in that it does not contain sour cream, and which is why the Ashkinazi Jews took to it so well – with no milk products it can be used for both meat and dairy dishes.  There are two varieties of chrain, red and white – the only difference is that the red chrain includes beetroot.  In modern times, the dish has been made by adding a variety of different fruits such as cranberry, apricots, and oranges.

The Recipe

No big surprise here, this month’s recipe will be for some type of horseradish or chrain, so I bring to you a slight variation . . . . red apricot chrain


15 oz               Horseradish (peeled)

4 oz                 Raw beets (peeled)

6 oz                 Apricot preserve

1 tbs                Olive oil

3 ½ tbs            Sugar

½ cup              Cider vinegar


  • Peel horseradish and beets and soak in cold water for 1 hour
  • Drain and finely grind the horseradish and beets
  • Mix with all the ingredients and place into jar (closed tightly) for 5-6 hours




Bagel, What’s A Bagel?

Sexuality, sensuality, and an intense love affair are not what one considers when they first think of the holiday of Pesach (פֶּסַח), or known more commonly in English as Passover.  While the holiday itself focuses on Moses and the Exodus from Egypt, in contrast, it has become a custom to recite the Song of Songs (Shir-ha-Shirim) during this holiday. The Song of Songs tells of the impassioned love between a husband and his wife.


There are five books, which are considered scrolls (megillot), are read during Jewish holidays.  In addition to Song of Songs, there other four include the Book of Esther (read on Purim), Book of Ruth (Shavuot), Book of Lamentations (Tisha B’Av), and Ecclesastes (Shmini Atzeret, Shabbat Hal Hamoed). [Note that these may be read on days other than those listed in parenthesis.]

Song of Songs


The author of the Song of Songs had been originally attributed to King Solomon (it is attributed as such in the first line). However, this is highly debated.  Most scholars believe that although the language used (Hebrew) was used by Solomon, the things like vocabulary and syntax belong to a time period centuries after he had reigned, and was most probably written in the early part of the 3rd century.

The Story

The text does not flow logically, and seems to be several sub-poems or segments placed one after the other without any transition. Some see it as one story, others as separate poems, but all have the same connected idea of the love and sex (albeit through metaphor) between the man and the woman [some may even translate the text to being erotic]. A summary of the Song of Songs, by segment, are as follows:


The woman asks the man to meet. They flatter each other. She remembers a former meeting, and a dream where she is with him in her mother’s chamber (where she was conceived). The couple watches a wedding procession passing by [King Solomon is mentioned in this portion] The man then describes the beauty and sensuality woman. The woman is described as a garden, and the women invites him into the garden to taste it’s fruit. [Darn sexy stuff.]  Of course the man accepts the invitation. The next section discusses a dream of the woman, and how she was searching for her lover, and when she found him, they professed their commitments to each other. The woman is praised and eventually invites the man to enjoy her fruits once again, but warns against loving until one is ready.

[Fast Fact: The woman was a Shulamite, coming from the city of Shulem, which is mentioned a few times in the Hebrew scripture, and other historical documents (e.g., Amarna letters). It may be the the modern city of Sulam, located in Northern Israel.]


As in most things of a religious nature, they are interpreted differently by each faith, faction, and individual.  One individual may look at the poem as a love story between two lovers, yet another may see it as a story of eroticism.  In a religious context, the story can be seen as a story of the love between the Jewish G-d and Israel, while others may see it as the love of Jesus to the Christian Church. Everyone that reads the text is free to interpret the story as they wish.

My original idea for this article included the writing of a long discussion of each part of the Song of Songs. However, since we all will interpret it differently, why not just go and read it yourself?

When is the Song of Song Recited?

In Judaism, the Song of Songs is recited during the year. However, each sect has its own custom as to when to recite it:

  • Ashkenazi – Shabbat during Passover
  • Chabad – “Intermediate days” of Passover before the morning Torah reading and the morning of the Seventh Day of Passover
  • Chasidim – Every Friday afternoon (in preparation to Shabbat)
  • Sephardim – Friday night before the evening service (all year)

My idea is to also have it recited on Tu B’Av, the Jewish version of Valentines Day.

Chag Aviv

For Ashkenazi, the Song of Songs is sung this month during the holiday of Chag Aviv. You may know it better as Passover, or Pesach (פֶּסַח).  There are three holidays that celebrate the harvest cycle (in Israel), Passover, Shavuoth, and Succoth. Because of this, Passover, which signals the beginning of the cycle is also called Hag Aviv, which translates to “Spring Holiday.” In preparation for this holiday, the first shaves of barley were cut and brought to the Temple the day before Passover. No one could eat from the crop until this offering was made. The proper time to cut wheat is 50 days after the barley is ripe. They would count off the next 49 days until it was time to harvest the wheat.  This is the tradition of the Counting of the Omer for 49 days, which is the holiday of Shavuot.  Shavuot is also called Chag Hakatzir (“Reaping Festival”) and Chag Habikurim (“Holiday of the First Fruits”). [Fast Fact: Succoth, the final celebration in this trilogy, celebrates the final harvest of the year.]

Since this month begins the grain harvest, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss two of my favorite foods, the bagel and bialy. As the commercial asks, “A Bagel, What’s a Bagel?” It is now my job to answer.

Simply defined, a bagel is round bread with a hole in it. But that is just the start.  The dough is made with fairly straight-forward ingredients (gluten flour, salt, water, yeast, and malt). However, unlike most breads, and what gives the bagel its distinctive flavor, is that it is first boiled, and then baked. And of you ask me, it should be baked in a fire-heated oven.

The origin of the bagel can be traced back to at least the 1300s, when Polish immigrants brought their recipes for pretzels with them into Germany. [Fast fact: The “pretzels” of that time were more doughey and were used as feast day breads.] At some unknown point, the dough began to be made round with holes in the middle. In Poland, they were called “obwarzanek.” The bagel, which was a delicacy at that time, was consumed by the Polish Queen (Jadmiga) for Lent instead of the other types of pastries. Bagels as mentioned, are made from wheat, which was expensive at the time, so most commoners could not afford what is considered an inexpensive snack back then. However, it caught on with the upper class.  One possible origin of the name of the bread dates back to 1638, when a baker in Vienna wanted to honor the king for his defeat over the Turkish.  So he made the bread in the shape of a stirrup (which is mostly round); stirrup in German is buegel.

So where do the Jews come into all of this?  Well, up until after the middle ages many countries did not allow Jews to bake bread, and some would not even allow Jews to touch bread. Due to the connection between Jesus and bread, Christians did not want members of other religions anywhere near it.  One ruler, Prince Boleslaw the Pious of Poland created a revolutionary law allowing Jews the same privilege to buy, sell, and bake bread as all other citizens. Using the local bread recipes, they began baking, and bagels was one of those items they made. In later centuries, Jews (especially in tough times) would peddle bagels on the streets.

The bagel first came over with immigrants in the late 1800s. No one is sure where the first bagel was sold, but it was most likely on the streets of New York (and may have been sold from a street cart).  By the turn of the century there were 70 bakeries in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and the Beigel Baker’s Union was formed in 1907. The bakeries, which catered to the many Jews would sell the breads of their homelands (Europe), challah, rye bread, and bagels. At that point, the bagel became associated with Jewish cuisine.  The question “what’s a bagel” would continue for many years, especially outside of New York. It may have had its biggest boost in 1951, when the comedy “Bagel and Vox” appeared on Broadway, and became an instant national notoriety. [Fast fact: bagels and cream cheese were handed out to the audience during an intermission.] About that time, the spread, cream cheese was introduced, which created the perfect accompaniment to the bagel, add to that lox, and you had a trifecta of mouth watering perfection.

The next step in bagel domination of the US occurred in 1956, when Murray Lender came home from the Korean War.  His family had already had one of the few bagel distribution bakeries outside of New York, but upon his return, he purchased a freezer.  They then decided that they could sell their bagels to further locations without having the bagels go bad if they froze them.  Bagels then began being sold, and eaten all across America. However, since bagels do not look or taste “ethnic,” they have lost some of their association as being a “Jewish food.”

As of 2015, the total sales for bagels in the US was $1.4 billion (with a “B”), and in a recent survey, 61% of Americans answered that they eat at least two bagels a week.

Canada got into the bagel game as well. However, they put their own northern twist on the bread.  The Canadian bagel was first invented in Montreal, and has gained the moniker “Montreal Bagel.” Their bagels are much sweeter than those in the States.  They use eggs and sugar in their dough, and do not add any salt.

In many New York area bagel stores, they usually also sell bialys.  Bialys are not bagels, nor are they an off-shoot of the bagel.  They are an entity unto themselves.  First of all, bialys (unlike bagels) are NOT boiled, secondly they usually do not have holes through the middle, and thirdly, they do not contain malt.

The Recipe

With so many places to easily purchase bagels, I am not going to give you a recipe for making bagels. I have never made cream cheese myself, so that is out.  But what I would like to give you is an idea for the most rockin’ EZ pizza bagel!

Ingredients (for 1 person)

1                      Bagel (sliced)

6 Tbs               Butter

2 oz.                Mozzerella Cheese (shredded)

2 Tbs               Ricotta Cheese

2 pinches         Parmesan Cheese

2+ Tbs               Marinara Sauce

1 tsp                Garlic powder

1 tsp                Red pepper flakes (optional)


1) Preheat oven to 350.

1) Shmear 2 Tbs of the butter onto the bagel.

2) Add Tbs, butter to a pan and melt, spreading butter around the bottom of pan.

3) Place bagels into pan with uncut sides towards pan.  Cook 1 minute, then flip over and cook on cut side for about 2 minutes, then place bagels cut side up onto baking pan

4) Add cheeses, garlic powder,  cheeses, sauce, and red pepper (optional)

5) Place bagels (on baking pan) into oven for 5-6 minutes (until cheese is melted)

6) Eat warm with sharp knife and fork.


“A Brief History of Bagels” (Mark Miller: Aish.com) @

“A Short Story of the Bagel) (Joan Nathan: Slate.com: 2008) @ http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2008/11/a_short_history_of_the_bagel.html

“Bagels By The Numbers – America’s Favorite Breakfast Food” (NewYorkBagels.com: 2016) @ https://www.newyorkerbagels.com/blogs/bagels/bagels-by-the-numbers-america-s-favorite-breakfast-food

“Difference Between Bagel and Bialy” (DifferenceBetween.net) @ http://www.differencebetween.net/object/comparisons-of-food-items/difference-between-bagel-and-bialy/

“Everything You Need to Know About the Bialy (Including a Recipe)” (Lauren Bloomberg: Food Republic: 2012) @ http://www.foodrepublic.com/recipes/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-bialy-including-a-recipe/

“The Harvest Cycle and the Holidays of Pesach, Shavuoth, and Succoth” (AHB Jewish Center) @ http://www.ahbjewishcenter.org/harvest.htm

“Kisses Sweeter Than Wine: Understanding the Song of Songs” (Rabbi Adam Greenwald: My Jewish Learning) @ https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/song-of-songs/

“The Secret History of Bagels” (Ari Weinzweig: The Atlantic: 2009) @ https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/03/the-secret-history-of-bagels/6928/

“Shabbat HaChodesh: Reconstructing Passover” (Rabbi Mordechai Liebling: 2012) @ https://dorsheitzedek.org/writings/shabbat-hachodesh-reconstructing-passover

“Song of Solomon” (Britanica.com) @ https://www.britannica.com/topic/Song-of-Solomon

“Song of Songs” (Wikipedia.org) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Song_of_Songs

“The Song of Songs: A New Translation with an Introduction and Commentary” (Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch: University of California Press: 1995) @ https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Song_of_Songs.html?id=r_sUl5TN1oIC&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button#v=onepage&q&f=false

“When Do We Read the Song of Songs?” (Menachem Posner: Chabad.org) @ http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/483802/jewish/When-do-we-read-the-Song-of-Songs.htm



Jewish Pirates

Jewish Pirates

You’re in Jamaica: C’mon and smile!

(In Jamaica, y’all) Get it together, y’all!

(In Jamaica) Get it together, now!

In Jamaica, y’all.

[ “Smile Jamaica” by Bob Marley and the Wailers]

Coming to Jamaica

It is during the winter, and especially in February, when I think of the beautiful Caribbean islands. So, it is apropos that this month’s article is about the Caribbean, and one island in particular – Jamaica, and one of its most talented sons, who would have turned 73 on February 6th.

Jamaica is a beautiful island in the Caribbean. It was first inhabited about 2500 years ago by the Arawaks (also called the Tianos), a people that originated from South America.  They named the island Xaymaca, which means “land of wood and water.” The Arawaks lived peacefully in their wooden huts, eating what they grew from the land or caught in the sea. This changed when the Spanish first landed on their island on May 5, 1494.  In only a matter of years the Arawak population was decimated due to killings, overwork, and newly-introduced European diseases for which they had no immunity.

A few small towns were created by the Europeans on the island.  The first was New Seville, but the only one to be developed was Spanish town.  Other ships followed bringing additional Spanish and Portuguese settlers to the island.  Many of these were Jews that had converted to Catholicism under threat of death [these new converts were also called marranos or conversos].  The island, however, was not well maintained nor did it have much support from Spain, add to that the occasional attacks by pirates, and it was not the most prosperous land in the world.

In May of 1655 the English set their sights on the Island and in a short battle, they overtook the island.  The Spaniards freed their slaves and high-tailed it to Cuba.  The slaves and their descendants are known as Maroons. However, this did not end slavery on the island; it became reinstated with the slave trade from Africa once sugar plantations began to grow in size and profitability by the 1730s. Sugar was used for many things, including the alcoholic beverage known as rum. [Fast fact: There were many slave rebellions over the years, including a war between the Maroons and the British, which eventually led to the abolition of slavery. The slave trade was stopped in 1808 and full freedom of the slaves by 1838 (32 years before the United States).]

Besides the small towns that were formerly Spanish, and now English, other settlements began to be established on the island, such as Port Royal. It was originally set up by the Spanish in 1518, and known as a haven for pirates, but became and remained a center of commerce until the late 17th century when an earthquake in 1692 and tsunami destroyed the town. The British and pirates formed a symbiotic relationship on the island.  The British allowed the buccaneers to control Port Royal in exchange for acting as the coast guard of the area keeping the Spanish and Portuguese out of the way.. While under the control of the buccaneers, Port Royal was known as one of the wealthiest and wickedest cities in the world.

A Pirate’s Life For Me

Old pirates, yes, they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the Almighty
We forward in this generation
[“Redemption Songs” by Bob Marley & The Wailers]

One of the most well known, and influential pirate of his day was Captain Henry Morgan. He was a terror on the high seas as a pirate (especially against Spanish vessels), then later became a privateer for the English, once again causing trouble against the Spanish. For his actions he was knighted by King Charles II, and appointed as Lt. Governor of Jamaica. [Fast fact: most of Morgan’s exploits come from a book written by Alexandre Esquemeling, who allegedly exaggerated Morgan’s adventures by making him seem very blood thirsty in order to sell more books.  Morgan sued the publisher for being portrayed in such a bad light. The publisher did print a retraction, although the book became a best seller in bother Europe and the Americas.]

Other famous pirates that you may have heard of include Sir Francis Drake, Captain Kidd, Thomas Hawkins, and Blackbeard.  But amongst these swashbucklers, there are many lesser known seamen that took to the profession of pirateering, including a number of Jews. No, I am not pulling your leg, there were a number of Jewish men that were pirates.

Jolly Roger

I am not talking about Pirates such as Barney Dreyfus (first Jewish person to own a professional baseball team), Cal “Abie” Abrams (OF), John Grabow (P), Dave Roberts (P), Jared Lakind (P), Erskine Mayer (P), Jake Pitler (2B), Edward “The Midget” Mensor (OF), Harry Shuman (P), or even Hank Greenberg (the “Hebrew Hammer” ended his career as a Pirate). I am referring to actual pirates, that happened to be Jewish (or of Jewish ancestry), such as Yaakov Curiel, Samuel Pallache, Sinan Reis (“The Great Jew”), and Moses Cohen Henriques.

Piracy is the committing of criminal acts on the high seas.  It was not long after sea trade was first organized in the second century BCE that the first pirates began to terrorize the open waters.  One of the earliest mentioned of pirates are found in records that described the raids of Likka sailors in the Mediterranean Sea (in 1400-1200 BCE).  Pirates would raid ships – both private and military, and in one famous incident, Julius Caesar himself was kidnapped after pirates raided his ship in 75 BCE (a ransom was paid for his safe return).  Since Jewish settlements in the area of Israel were mostly situated away from the Mediterranean, there were not many sea-faring Jews until they began to settle in the city that is now called Jaffa. By the beginning of the last millennia were many Jewish sailors, and a few of them were pirates, but the first wave of Jewish pirates started making a name for themselves in the first century during the Jewish revolts against the Romans.  They were called “pirates” since they were disobeying the laws of the Roman Empire, but they were in fact Jewish revolutionaries who were trying to fight back against their oppression. [Fast fact:  Sadly, one of the outcomes of this rebellion was the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70, on Tisha B’Av, but also led to the creation of Rabbinic Judaism.]

A millennium and a half later, in the late 15th century there was a second large influx of Jews to take on the pirates life in the Mediterranean Sea. This was prompted by Alhambra Decree in 1492 (also known as the Edict of Expulsion, and more commonly called the Spanish Inquisition). [Fast fact:  The “Spanish Inquisition” technically began in 1478 with the establishment of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Spain, which became more active following the Decree.] Tens of thousands of Jews (and Muslims) were forced to convert to Catholicism, leave the Iberian Peninsula, or be killed.  Many Jews immigrated to Islamic countries in the South and East or to the Protestant Netherlands.  In order to fight back against the Spanish and Portuguese that kicked them out of their homes, many Jews took to fighting with their host countries, and sometimes doing so in the form of piracy (either directly or as financiers).

What is ironic about the expulsion of Jews from the Iberian countries is that it was Jewish cartographers (map makers), navigators, and creators of navigational instruments (known as the Majorcan Cartographic School) that helped Spain rise to become a naval power and global Empire.  Christopher Columbus (whom I have discussed possibly having Jewish roots) also mentioned the irony in his diary by writing “In the same month in which their Majesties issued the edict that all Jews should be driven out of the kingdom and the territories, in the same month they gave me the order to undertake, with sufficient men, my expedition of discovery to the Indies.” So, with their knowledge of the seas, they helped the Muslims and the Protestants to fight against the Catholics.

Many of these Jewish buccaneers belonged to the famed Barbary Pirates, that ravaged Ottoman ships.  Two of the more famous Jewish pirates were Sinan Reis and Samuel Pallache. Sinan “The Great Jew” Reis, who sailed in the early to mid 16th century under Admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa where they defeated Andrea Doria in battle. Samuel “Rabbi Pirate” Pallache’s was born in Morrocco, but his family had left Spain to escape persecution before he was born. He became a merchant and also ran piracy raids against Spanish ships.  In 1608 he was appointed by the sultan of Morrocco (Zidan Abu Maali) to help negotiate an alliance (“The Treaty of Friendship and Free Commerce”) with the Dutch against Spain. He was also a co-founder of the Sephardic community in Amsterdam, and three of his decedents had become Grand Rabbis in Turkey and one in the Netherlands. Yaakov Curiel was another notable Jewish pirate that was a captain of a Spanish ship who’s family had been forced converted to Christianity.  Inquisitors discovered that he was secretly practicing Judaism, and tried to arrest him.  With the help of his crew (many who were marranos themselves), he escaped, and formed his own company of three pirate ships to gain revenge against Spain.

You teach the youths about the pirate Hawkins

And you said he was a very great man

You teach the youths about the pirate Morgan

And you said he was a very great man

 So, you can’t blame the youths, when they don’t learn

You can’t fool the youths

You can’t blame the youths of today

You can’t fool the youths

[“You Can’t Blame the Youth” by Bob Marley & The Wailers]

A third gathering of Jews taking on the act of piracy also occurred in the 16th century, this time on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in the Caribbean.  The first Jews called Jamaica home in 1530, and Columbus’ rule over the island kept the Inquisition out. [Columbus was granted the right of rule over any land he captured during his journeys.] However, eventually, the Columbus family started to lose authority, the inquisitors came to Jamaica and began their prosecution of the Jewish inhabitants.  So the Jews took to piracy to help the British fight the Spanish.  It was Jewish pirates that helped torment the Spanish ships, and help the British take over the island of Jamaica in 1655. One of the most prominent Jewish pirates was Moses Cohen Henriques, a Sephardic Jew formerly from Portugal, who helped Admiral Piet Pieterszoon of the Dutch India Company capture a Spanish treasure fleet in 1628, which was carrying what would be the equivalent of $1 billion in today’s currency (the only time it had ever occurred).  He later set up his own pirate island off of Brazil, until the Portuguese forced him to leave. He then served as an advisor to Henry Morgan. David Abrabanel, who’s family included a long line of Spanish rabbi’s also took to a life of piracy in revenge of the slaughter of his family, went by the name of “Captain Davis” and captained a ship named “Jerusalem.” [Fast fact: Jewish pirates named their ships after people and places in the Torah, such as “Queen Esther,” “Prophet Samuel,” and “Shield of Abraham]

Although most Jews after the 17th century did not take up piracy or privateering, there were a few that still took up the profession.  One such man was Jean Lafitte, was a smuggler, pirate, and privateer, and most notably helped Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans against the British in the final battle of the War of 1812. [Fast fact: It is argued that Lafitte was able to obtain a copy of the British battle plan and show it Jackson. Lefitte helped the US Army in order to avoid being imprisoned for smuggling.]

Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the band
Pretty eyed, pirate smile, you’ll marry a music man
Ballerina, you must have seen her dancing in the sand
And now she’s in me, always with me, tiny dancer in my hand

[Elton John, Tiny Dancer]

Fun Fact: While doing my research I had come upon the term “pirate booty” more than once.  However, the word “booty” come up in modern colloquial discussions. So I took a detour from the focus of this article and researched the origin of the word.  Forgive this digression, but I thought that it may be an interesting addendum to this essay.  The etymology of the word “booty” derives from the Middle English (1150-1500 BCE) word būte an/or the Middle French word butin, both translating to “exchange.” It came to mean the distribution of spoils divided amongst those that gained by war, swindling, robbery, or other nefarious means. Note that Merriam Websters does not include the vernacular of booty, meaning one’s derriere. However, it does note that a “boot” is an English word for the rear of a car, which is one possible derivation for the etymology of the word’s modern use, which Dictonary.com notes may have its origin from “Black English” during the late 1920s, although OxfordDictionaries.com provides this origin as “probably an alteration of body or botty,” but also deriving from the same time frame. The word “botty” is also an old English word used informally by children to describe a person’s bottom, which also may be an origination of the modern use of “booty.” Also note, I did some research on the term “pirate smile,” but came up empty. Some theories is that it means a sly smile, a smile that can make you do anything, a smile with missing teeth, and a slit throat. Since Bernie Taupin (lyricist for Tiny Dancer) has not commented on it, your guess is as good as the ones above.


Jews in Jamaica

Not all Jamaican Jews turned to a life of piracy.  They first arrived on the island in 1530 as secret Jews (maranos and conversos from Spain and Portugal) to live a life without persecution from the inquisitors.  In fact, it was the grandson of Christopher Columbus (Portugallo Colon) that allowed them to settle.  Although the first secret Jews had first stepped on Jamaica during Columbus’ second voyage in 1494 (it is known that at least Columbus’ interpreter, Luis de Torres, was a marrano). When the Columbus family began to lose power, the Jews on the Island helped the British to defeat the British and take over the island and under British rule, they no longer needed to practice in secret.

Jewish congregations began to form in the Island, the first synagogue thought to have been built is Neveh Shalom in 1704 (in Spanish town).  It most likely followed the Sephardic style of having a sand floor. Other synagogues were built afterwards. Under the leadership of Moses Delgado, in July 1831 Jewish citizens of Jamaica received full civil rights. By 1849 eight (of 47) members of Jamaica’s House of Assembly were Jewish, and they closed for Yom Kippur due to too many members needing to observe the holiday. Although the number of Jews living on the island has dwindled over the last century and a half, they have always been a presence on the island.

Jamaica does have several Jewish Heritage sites on the island (including 21 Jewish cemeteries), and has been trying to attract tourists by providing Jewish themed tours of the island. The big problem with Jewish tourism on the island is that most of these sites are in places like Kingston, which has the longest continuously operating synagogue in the Western Hemisphere (Sha’are Shalom, founded in 1732), which is miles away from the sandy beaches that tourist flock too on the other side of the island.  The synagogues in Jamaica Another issue for kosher travelers, is that there are not many food options on the island. Besides the fruits and vegetables you may find in local groceries, you may find some boxed and canned items that happen to also be kosher.  There is one kosher “restaurant” on the island, run by Chabad that will deliver food to the local resorts and hotels. A third option is to bring kosher food with you while travelling, however, Jamaica is very strict with any food being imported into the country, so visitors must secure a special permit to do so.

One Love – One Heart

One Love! One Heart!

Let’s get together and feel all right

Hear the children cryin’ (One Love!)

Hear the children cryin’ (One Heart!)

Sayin’: give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right

Sayin’: let’s get together and feel all right.

[“One Love/People Get Ready” by Bob Marley and the Wailers]

Many Jews had contributed to the economic and cultural growth of Jamaica. The first well known Jamaican artist was named Isaac Mendes Belisario (1795-1849), and he was Jewish.  The first black Jamaican millionaire, George Steibel (1820-1896), had a Jewish father.  The oldest operating newspaper on Jamaica (since 1834), the Jamaica Gleaner, was founded by a Jewish journalist named Jacob De Cordova. The Jewish poet David Lopez (1635-1730), known for transforming psalms into poems also called Jamaica home. In the late 1800s, due to economical decline on the island, many of its Jewish residents (estimated at over 2,500) left the Island to seek better lives in the United States.

It has been widely accepted that, there are only 200 practicing Jewish residents in Jamaica. However, a recent study found that over 20,000 Jamaicans identify as being Jewish (although most are non-practicing, and 424,000 Jamaicans are decedents of Jews. [?source?] In fact, common Jewish surnames are found in Jamaica including: Abrahams, Isaacs, Levy, DeCohen, and many more.

A few such notable Jamaican of Jewish ancestry of more modern times are Chris Rockwell, the founder of Island Records, the rapper/singer Sean Paul, and legendary musician Robert Nesta Marley, better known as Bob Marley.  Bob Marley, known for bringing Reggae music to the world-wide stage, his association with kaya (marijuana), and Rastafarianism, had a Jewish father (Norval Sinclair Marley). Norval Marley had come from a Jewish Syrian family, was a sixty year old white plantation overseer, when he married Afro-Jamican eighteen year old Codella Booker. His father provided financial support to him and his mother, but was often away on business, so the two rarely saw each other before passing away when Bob was only 10.  He eventually went on to form the group Bob Marley and the Wailers, when went on to produce many international hits, until his untimely death at the age of 36 in 1981.

Two, three, four Exodus, movement of Jah people! Oh, yeah!

(Movement of Jah people!) Send us another brother Moses!

(Movement of Jah people!) From across the Red Sea!

(Movement of Jah people!) Send us another brother Moses!

(Movement of Jah people!) From across the Red Sea!

Movement of Jah people!

[“Exodus” by Bob Marley and the Wailers]

Although I was unable to find many sources describing a direct relationship between Bob Marley and Judaism, he did embrace Rastafarianism, which has many similarities to Judaism, such as a strict dietary code (called Ital) and there are Commandments at the heart of their beliefs (13 as opposed to 10 in Judaism), they follow many of the teachings in the Torah, and their messiah is a descendant of King Solomon (Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie), to name a few. [The topic of the similarities (and differences) between Judaism and Rastafarianism will be discussed in greater detail in a future article.] His son, Ziggy Marley, married an Israeli woman (Orly Agai) and his band Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers received the Shalom Peace award from the Jewish National Fund in 2015.  During his acceptance speech, Ziggy stated that he fully supports Israel, and has always had a connection to the country, which was taught to him by his father and mother at an early age.  He went on to say “If you’ve heard of my father…you’ve heard of Exodus….We are strongly connected to the history of Israel and feel a very spiritual and personal connection to that land and the people of that land,” In a 2011 interview, Ziggy Marley also discussed the Jewish-Rastafarian connection by stating “Rastafarianism has a lot to do with the Old Testament and Solomon and David and Moses, so we have a strong connection [to Israel] from many years back.”

The Food of Jamaica

Give me the food and let me grow

Let the Roots Man take a blow (Ay!)

[“Burnin’ & Lootin’ ” by Bob Marley and the Wailers]

The food of Jamaica is as colorful and diverse as the people and history of the island. The food we identify with as being Jamaican was most likely influenced by the many other cultures that have settled there.  The food, like the people are a melting pot of tastes, with Spanish, British, African, East Indian, and Chinese cultures all with their hand in the pot. The islands motto, out of many, one people, can also easily also be modified to state “out of many, one cuisine.”

For instance, escovitch fish is a dish that can be traced to Spain, brought by the Sephardic Jews fleeing persecution from the Spanish. Escovitch is usually fried fish that is pickled with vinegar (almost like a ceviche).  We can thank the British (who took the Island from the Spanish) for their influence in the creation of the Jamaican pattie.  If you were wondering why much of the cuisine is spicy, it was the Chinese and East Indians (whom unfortunately came to the island as slaves) that turned up the “heat” on many of their dishes; for instance, the popular Jamaican dish curried goat, was most likely influenced in such a manner (goats were first introduced to the island in the 16th century by the Spanish and Portuguese).  The dish, ackee and saltfish, can trace its origins from Africa, Canada, and Northern Europe. Ackee is a fruit (although really used as a vegetable) that was brought to Jamaica from Ghana in the 18th century and salt fish is (usually) cod that has been cured with salt. Plantation owners would import salted cod to feed their slaves, since it was very cheap food supply which can be stored for long periods of time. After the abolishment of slavery, the locals continued to eat the salt fish (sometimes called bacalao or bacalhau), combined with ackee, and although it had a stigma for years of being a “poor man’s meal,” it has more recently been looked at as a national dish. Bammy is a fried flat bread made from cassava (a shrub native to South America) that was brought by the original inhabitants of Jamaica, the Arawaks. Pepperpot Soup has its origins from West Africa, where it originated as an African stew, then modified by the African slaves using the available ingredients of the island.

One of the cooking styles most often associated with Jamaica is known as “jerk.”  Although you may see jerk chicken, jerk fish, and other jerks at the super market, it was made with dried meat.  [Fast fact: Note that the Arawak Indians had been using a process of drying meat eons before the Spanish had landed on Jamaica.] The term “jerk” is believed to have come from the Spanish word (via Peru) for dried meat, charqui, which probably was transliterated as “jerky” in English (aka beef jerky). The dish has its origins from Africa. The Spanish had brought Coromantee Africans (from an area in Ghana) as slaves. When they fled the oncoming British, they left their slaves behind.  Instead of returning to slavery under the British, the former slaves fled to the secluded part of the island, and lived with the Tainos (who had formerly escaped the Spanish Because they did not have the same spices they used back in Africa, they adopted and made due with  two spices that are native to the island – allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers, which gives jerk seasoning (which is applied via a dry or wet rub) its distinctive flavor. [Fast fact: Scotch bonnet peppers have a Scoville heat rating of 100,000 to 350,000 units. Compare that to the 3,500 to 8,000 units for a jalapeño pepper or 10,000 to 23,000 for a Serrano pepper that many Americans find too spicy.]

An article on the food of Jamaica would not be complete without a mention of its most notable drink – rum. Alcoholic beverages made out of sugarcane juice has been made for thousands of years.  In the 1300s, Marco Polo mentions a wine made of sugar in his journal, and remnants of rum were found in a sealed jar when they raised the ship Vasa, which sunk in 1628.  However, when it was discovered that fermenting of molasses (a byproduct of sugar cane) can produce an alcoholic beverage, it changed history (and brought about the worst in humans, by forming the slave trade triangle, and the popularity of the drink brought about the Sugar Act in the Colonies, which was one of the factors leading to the Revolutionary War). It had long been thought that the creation of rum from sugar cane began on the island of Barbados, more recent evidence shows that it may have begun in Brazil. During the years of piracy, the popular drink was called bumbo – which was a mix of rum, water, sugar, and nutmeg. [Rum will be the subject of a future article.]

Photo of Vasa, from Vasa Museum (courtesy L. Dobbs)Vasa

The Recipe

I usually try to keep my recipes simple for these articles, so I am not going to provide my complete Jamaican Jerk Chicken recipe – there are too many ingredients, and probably too hot for most of my readers palates.  Instead, I am going to give you permission to go very simple by using any Jerk Chicken spice you find on your grocery shelf.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

Chicken           3 lb. (cut into 8ths)

Jerk spice        To taste (read container)

Oil                   4 tbs

Cinnamon       1 tsp

Wine               2 tbs (white)


1) With fork, poke holes in chicken

2) Mix jerk spice, oil, cinnamon, and wine – then coat chicken

3) Let sit for 2 hours

4) Heat oven to 400 degrees

5) Cook for approx. 40-45 minutes (skin should be brown) or place on grill/BBQ until inside of chicken has cooked and skin is charred




Rites of Passage

In the magnificent wonder that is life there is a beginning.  There is the miracle of birth – the start of something special.  Life eventually comes to an end.  Most of the time, the end comes far too soon, as I know all too well. During the cycle of life there comes a time when the seed grows into a tree, the bud blossoms into a flower, the fruit ripens into a delectable morsel, and the child becomes an adult.

Keeping Up With the Brooks

Although the blossoming of a child into adulthood is a natural procession, many cultures and religions have their own rituals for coming of age.  A person very dear to me will be undergoing this very ritual, as commanded in the Jewish religion, called a Bat Mitzvah. It is a rite of passage that every child goes through in their passage to adulthood in the eyes of their religion.  The earliest known “Bar Mitzvah” (Bar for boys, Bat for girls) may have been written about thousands of years ago in the Torah itself.  Genesis 21:8 states “And the child [Isaac] grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.”  In Pirkei Arvot (a book of the Mishnah), it discusses that this “weaning” occurred on Isaac’s 13th birthday, and was his rite of passage in which he was weaned out of his childish being, and stepping into his adult responsibilities. This was followed by a feast. What exactly does weaned mean?  Weaning, according to Rabbi Hoshaya, in this case refers to the fact that Isaac was “weaned away from the evil inclination.” At the age of thirteen, a person should be able to distinguish between right and wrong and good from evil. Bar/Bat mitzvah translates to daughter/son of the commandment – or in other words, they are not old enough to fulfill all of the responsibilities of Jewish law.

However, it is not commanded anywhere that a child should or needs to have a bar/bat mitzvah and the accompanying feast (and definitely nowhere is it written that there needs to be a party with a DJ and pretty dancing girls).  A boy at thirteen, and a girl at twelve automatically become a bar/bat mitzvah upon turning that age – even if there is no party, no reading of the Torah or Haftorah, or even if they do not go to temple.  However, the Polish scholar Rabbi Shlomo Luria, stated in the 15th century that attending the bar/bat mitzvah feast was a “seudat mitzvah” – it is considered a mitzvah to attend the associated feast. The making of the feast is also considered such a mitzvah (Mishnah Brurah §225:6).

What constitutes the celebration of a “bar mitzvah” has changed over the years, and is different for various groups even today.  For instance, the Orthodox community does not believe in the fancy party.  A big feast is held in the honor of the boy, with much food and dancing including many baked goods, and usually includes a derashah (learning/discussion) during the course of the meal. The more orthodox will include a reading of the Torah by a boy, but not by a girl (whereas the Conservative movement allows for women to read from the Torah). [Fast Fact: The literacy rate for the Jewish population was probably around 10 percent, so it was unlikely that most 13 year olds (or even adults) would have read the Torah until that time.] The Conservative Jew may hold a lavish party with DJs and all the bells and whistles, reminiscent of the Steins (in Keeping up with the Steins).

There are no real rules for how to celebrate a bar/bat mitzvah, but the custom seemed to have become popular about 400 years ago. It was not until after the Middle Ages that literacy amongst Jews (really most people) began to rise, so until then neither the child, nor his father could read Hebrew, or any other language.

There was not one steadfast custom. The custom had many different flavors and varieties, and it still does. Outside of the Ashkenazi and Italian Jewish communities, the bar mitzvah was not celebrated before the 1800s, and it was strictly for the boys.  Prior to the 1600s, the bar mitzvah celebration consisted of the father saying a special blessing over his son, followed by a festive meal. In the 1500s, the reading of the Torah by the bar mitzvah was added, as well as a speech. In the 1600s, a test was also given.   The idea of this being a Jewish confirmation did not begin until the 1920 by German Jews. [For a detailed history of Bar Mitzvahs, see Bar Mitzvah, A History by Rabbi Michael Hilton @


In recent years Bar and Bat Mitzvahs have sometimes gone too far into extravagance. The rich have spent millions of dollars on some outrageous parties that have included performances by top entertainers.  In 2005, David Brooks spent a whopping $10 million on his daughter’s bat mitzvah, which included live performances by Aerosmith, Kenny G., Tom Petty, and 50 Cent.

Why 12 and 13?

In the Torah it does not specify at what age a child becomes an “adult.”  There is the story I mention above about Isaac, but it does not really specify the age or if that is the age of adulthood.  The only reference to age in such a sense is when Aaron is asked to take a head count of every male of age 20 and over – for the purposes of allowing them to bear arms (see Numbers 1:20). In the Mishnah, many rabbis differ and argue that different ages or actions distinguish the age of maturity into adulthood. However, the Mishnah does discuss the age at which a person is able to take a vow.  For a female it is 12 years plus one day, and 13 years and one day for a male. [???Source: Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 55:12???] This may be where the notion of those dates originated.  However, it should be noted that these ages are discussed in the section of the Mishnah called the Niddah, because it covers the topic of puberty.

It is interesting to note that the celebration of a birthday was only mentioned once in the Torah (the pharaoh in the story of Joseph).  In ancient times, records of the precise date of birth were rarely kept, so the celebration of birthdays was not very common. The only way they would have known their approximate age was by keeping track of the number of seasons that have passed since their birth.

The Rite of Passage

The bar/bat mitzvah is the rite of passage into adulthood in Judaism. However, this is not something inherent to Jews. Many different religions and cultures have their own rites of passage, and vary greatly from what one might expect. A few of these rites are listed below (many come from a list created by Brian Pegg).



  • Jumping with ropes around your ankles so that your head comes as close to the land as possible (South Pacific: Vanuatu People)
  • Kill a lion with only a spear [note: this has been outlawed by the government] (Tanzania: Maasai People)
  • After learning how to fight, young men would then show their skills in battle against slaves (Ancient Greece: Sparta)
  • Either sacrifice or capture and bring a prisoner back to their village (Mecico: Ancient Aztecs)

Physical Pain

  • Jumping over cows while men of the village whip the young person (Ethiopia: Hamar Tribe)
  • Before a boy’s first hunt, a poison is put into their eyes, then they are beaten and whipped, and then insert the poison of the Giant Leaf Frog into themselves using a wooden needle (Brazil: Matis Tribe)
  • The initiates whip each other with sticks (with sharpened points). The winner is chosen by the crowd has become a man (West Africa: Fula People)
  • At the age of seven, young boys are taken away for ten years to live in an all-male hut, during which time they engage in nose bleeding, forced vomiting, ingesting semen, and defecation (Papua New Guinea: Sambia People)
  • For cleansing purposes: wooden canes are stuck down the boy’s throat until they vomit, reeds are forced up their noses, their tongues are stabbed (Papua New Guinea: Sambia People)
  • Initiates are forced to stay away for four days, on the fifth day, while maintaining a smile, they hung from poles by the chest until they passed out. Upon awakening, their little finger is cut off as a sacrifice (United States, North Dakota: Mandan Nation)
  • First circumcised without anesthesia, then cut from the head to the scrotum while bleeding over a fire (Australia: Mardudjara Aborigines)
  • Young boys put on a glove for ten minutes with the stingers of bullet ants pointing inward – and they cannot flinch (Brazil: Satere-Mawe Tribe)
  • Female circumcision – practiced throughout the world


  • Sending young men into the forest to fast and reflect (United States: various Native American Tribes)
  • Young men and women are circumcised, then secluded from the adults for several months – during which time the initiates would paint themselves white (with clay) and act like wild creatures (Kenya: Okiek Tribe)
  • Young men are sent into the wilderness and need to keep themselves alive for 6 months without any help (Australia: various Aboriginal Tribes)
  • Young men are shaven, then brought into the wilderness in a hut built for him by his family. At some point someone will come out to circumcise them – they can return on when they are healed.
  • Young girls, after their first menstruation are secluded in a small chamber for a few months, where they are presumed to travel the underworld (Northwest Amazon: Ticuna People)

Physical and Mental Changes

  • Young women chisel their teeth to sharp points (Indoneisa: Natives of the Mentawai Islands)
  • Young women have their face tattooed with a sharpened piece of wood, which usually takes several hours (West Africa: Fula People)
  • Young men are placed into a cage and made to drink a powerful drug which would make them forget everything about their youth.  If it does not work the first time, they will take a second helping (United States: Algonquin Nation)
  • Young men are scarred throughout their bodies (scarification), many times into specific patterns. This practice has actually been widespread through history.
  • Young women will sit by the river and sing to them for days at a time in order to end their relationship with the water spirits (Nigeria: Okrika Tribe)
  • Young men shave their beards and remove their bulla (an amulet meant to protect youth), and put on their toga virillis (“toga of manhood”) during a celebration called the Liberalia (Ancient Rome)

Celebrations & Ceremonies

  • Young girls, at 16, have parties, sometimes very elaborate (United States)
  • Usually followed by a reading of the Torah, there is a party to celebrate (Worldwide: Followers of Judaism)
  • Young children wore breeches, then between the ages of 2 and 8, they were “unbreeched” and wore dresses or gowns (Western World – 16th to 19th century)
  • Young women of rich/aristocratic families who were of age had large parties called debutante balls. It originally began as a way to show that a young woman was ready for marriage. (Worldwide)
  • Young men and women have a confirmation in many religions throughout the world.  The age and ceremonies performed differ between religions and even within each religious sect. (Worldwide)
  • Imitates go through the Amrit Sanchar ceremony (Followers of Sikhism)
  • Upon turning 15, a young girl has a huge party called the Quinceañera (Latin America)

A Torah Connection

Both the Parsha Shemot and its Haftorah (Isaiah 27:6), which are recited this month, mirror each other in the lesson of redemption for each of the story’s main characters (Moses and Isaiah). Shemot tells the story of how the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, and a young child named Moses was born, raised by the daughter of the Pharaoh, killed an Egyptian taskmaster to protect a Jew, then fled to the dessert. [Fast Fact: Scholars estimate that it was 210 years between the time the Jews were first enslaved and the killing the Egyptian by Moses; and it was another 60 years between the time Moses fled and returned to Egypt.] When Moses returned to Egypt to free the Israelites, the Pharaoh refused, but G-d promised that there would soon be redemption.  In the Haftorah, the Jewish people were settled in Israel, and had begun to prosper, but the leaders had begun to get drunk and become corrupt.  G-d came to Jacob and said that this too shall pass, and they shall be redeemed.

Another parallel that both of these stories have in common, is that they both make use of variations on the word “fruit.”

  • Isaiah 27:6 – Those who came, whom Jacob caused to take root, Israel flourished and blossomed and they filled the face of the world with fruitage.
  • Isaiah 27:9 – Therefore, with this shall Jacob’s iniquity be atoned for, and this is all the fruit of removing his sin; by making all the altar stones like crushed chalkstones; asherim and sun-images shall not rise.
  • Isaiah 28-1 – Woe is to the crown of the pride of the drunkards of Ephraim and the young fruit of an inferior fig is the position of his glory, which is at the end of a valley of fatness, crushed by wine.
  • Isaiah 28:4 And his glorious beauty shall be the young fruit of an inferior fig, which is on the head of the valley of fatness; as a fig that ripens before the summer, which, if the seer sees it, he will swallow it while it is still in his hand.
  • Exodus 1:7 The children of Israel were fruitful and swarmed and increased and became very very strong, and the land became filled with them.

The word is being used to describe how the Jewish people have grown and prospered. It is being used to describe just rewards, it is being used to describe coming of age, and it is being used to describe the food.

This was a great segue into the culinary portion of this article – the fruits of Israel, and then more specifically, nature’s candy – grapes.

[In the Torah reading, Moses strikes down an Egyptian taskmaster to save a Jew, who he makes the connection with as one of his “brethren.”  This moment can be thought of as the Bar Mitzvah of Moses, where he grows and matures to understand right and wrong, and the possibly connection to his Jewish roots.]

The Fruit of Israel

Did you know that there are forty different types of fruit grown in Israel?  Besides the five listed as part of the Seven Species of Israel (grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates – the two grains are wheat and barley) – they are so called because they are the only fruits and grains allowed for use in the Temple.  [Fast fact: only one other fruit is mentioned in the Torah – the apple tree.] Other fruits commonly grown in Israel include avocados, bananas, apples, cherries, plums, nectarines, strawberries, prickly pears, persimmons, and loquat. However, the country’s leading exported fruits include oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and pomelit (a pomelo and grapefruit hybrid). [Fast fact: Although it is now grown in Israel, the etrog is not indigenous to the region, it was first brought to the Middle East from India sometime in the 7th century BCE.]

Israel exports over $2 billion in produce each year.  Much of this is due to science, and scientifically engineered fruits and vegetables that last longer and taste better. Some of these new fruits include the Galia melon, nectarine-mango, pomelit, nano watermelon, and the Anna apple.


Archeologists have found evidence (in Gadachrilli Gora, Republic of Georgia) that humans began cultivating grapes as early as 6500 BCE – possibly one of the earliest fruits cultivated by humans. Grapes are classified as being a type of berry. There are two major species of grapes – New World (genus vitus) found in the Americas and Old World (vitis  vinifera) found in Asia and Europe.  However, there are over ten thousand varieties of grapes.  Most grapes are used in the making of wine, however, very few varieties (about 50) can be used for wine making.

By 4000 BCE, the fruit was grown throughout Western Asia and even in Northern Africa (e.g., Nile Delta). When the Hittites expanded their empire further into the Mediterranean area around 3000 BCE, they brought the grape along with them. Grapes were spread further throughout Europe by the Romans, although the growing of grapes, and the making of wine was mostly under the auspicious of monasteries.  They not only used grape for wine or as a food, they also created syrups with the grapes that they would use as sweeteners (since sugar was almost non-existent at that time).

When Europeans first came to the Americas, they brought cuttings of their Old World grapes with them, but they could not survive the climate.  Americans improved upon the indigenous New World grapes until they came upon the Concord grape, which is very popular today.


Although grapes are great to eat, most grape production is used for wine making.  The act of making wine is thousands of years old. There is evidence of a winery existing in ancient Armenia in 4100 BCE.  References to wine are found in antiquity, including the Torah, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and many other ancient texts. A 3,700 year old wine cellar was discovered in Northern Israel which they estimate could hold the equivalent of 3,000 bottles of wine.

[Note: Do to the length of this article I will most likely discuss wine in greater detail at a future date]

The Recipe

Although you can use grapes in many recipes to make great dishes – especially desserts, here’s a recipe for a grape syrup with you can use to accompany and enhance many of your own dishes, such as pancakes, waffles, and yogurts.


2 lbs                Concord grapes (de-stemmed)

¼ cup              Water

1 ½ cup           Sugar


1) Place grapes into pot with water and heat

2) Once at a boil reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes (stir occasionally), then let cool

3) Strain grape “juice” with colander

4) Strain juice again through cheesecloth

5) Place the juice and sugar in a saucepan and heat

6) Once at a boil reduce heat and simmer for approximately10 minutes when juice begins to thicken

7) Take off heat and place into sealed glass jars – store in refrigerator

Keep on Cookin’

Chef Lon


“25 Crazy Rites of Passage” (Brian Pegg: list.com.com: 2017) @ http://list25.com/25-crazy-rites-of-passage/

“Agriculture in Israel” (Wikipedia.org) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agriculture_in_Israel

“The Bar Mitzvah” (BeingJewish.com) @ http://www.beingjewish.com/cycle/barmitzva.html

“Bar Mitzvah, A History” (Rabbi Michael Hilton: JPS.org: 2014) @ https://jps.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/HiltonExcerpt.pdf

“The Birth and Afterlife of Israel’s Precious Etrog Fruit” (Emily Harris: The Salt: 201) @ https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/10/03/353311090/the-birth-and-afterlife-of-israels-precious-etrog-fruit

“Etrog” (Jewish Virtual Library) @ http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/etrog

“Fruit in the Bible” (David Moster: BiblicalArcheology.com: 2017) @ https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/daily-life-and-practice/fruit-in-the-bible/

“Grapes: A Brief History” (University of Missouri Integrated Pest Management: 2013) @ https://ipm.missouri.edu/MEG/2013/8/Grapes-A-Brief-History/

“How Wine Colonized the World” (VinePair.com) @ https://vinepair.com/wine-colonized-world-wine-history/#0

“The Laws of Bar Mitzvah” (Aryeh Citron: Chabad.org) @ http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1048736/jewish/The-Laws-of-Bar-Mitzvah.htm#footnote1a1048736

“The Most Star-Studded Bar Mitzvahs” (The Daily Beast: 2013) @ https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-most-star-studded-bar-mitzvahs-photos

“The Origin and History of Grapes” (Rutuja Jathar: Buzzle.com: 2011) @ https://www.buzzle.com/articles/the-origin-and-history-of-grapes.html

“Top 12 New Fruit and Vegetables Developed in Israel” (Abigail Klein Leichman: Israel21c.org: 2013) @ https://www.israel21c.org/top-12-new-fruit-and-vegetables-species-developed-in-israel/

“What is the Origin of the Bar Mitzvah Celebration?” (Baruch S. Davidson: Chabad.org) @ http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/484213/jewish/What-is-the-Origin-of-the-Bar-Mitzvah-Celebration.htm



Holiday Sweets

Holiday Sweets

מה טבו אהליך יעקב משכנותיך ישראל

Ma tovu ohalekha Ya’akov, mishk’notekha Yisra’el.

How great are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!

Ma Tovu

 Ma Tovu is a prayer commonly recited by Jewish practitioners to begin the morning prayers to show their awe of being within a synagogue.  However, what I found most interesting about this particular prayer is that the first line of the prayer was not written by a Jew.  The words are taken from Numbers 24:5, in which Balaam (a non-Jew) gives praise to Jacob and the Jewish people. [The remainder of the prayer is a conglomeration of beautiful text from various Psalms.]  This is just one small incident of how people – people of different races, creeds, and religions, mesh to improve upon each other.  As I have tried to drive home in many of my articles is that we are all more alike than different.  This month Jews around the world celebrate the holiday of Chanukah, and most Christians celebrate Christmas. [Fast fact: Some church sects (e.g., Eastern Orthodox) celebrate Christmas on January 7th.] So let’s take a look at the similarities between Judaism and Christianity.


In last month’s article I showed a direct lineage between Judaism and Islam to a common forefather in Abraham.  There is also a direct connection to Christianity as well, since Jesus was Jewish.  That idea, however, was in contention for a while.  Some scholars have tried to bring forth contrary evidence to the contrary during the 19th and 20th centuries. However, according to an August 2017 article by the Biblical Archaeology Society, most evidence supports his Jewish origin. The Jewish origin of the founder of Christianity is one of the many connections between these two religions. What is interesting about my research is that I found it easier to find the similarities between Judaism and Islam than between Judaism and Christianity.  However, some of the similarities I discovered between Jews and Christians are as follows:

  • Both religions are monotheistic
  • They both acknowledge the Torah (Christians refer to it as the “Old Testament”). [Abraham is not as important in Christianity, and Moses is the most often mentioned figure of the Torah in the New Testament (and even thought of as a saint and/or prophets in some sects).]
  • They both believe in angels and demons
  • Ancient Jewish law and some sects of Christianity practiced polygamy.  However, this practice was outlawed in Judaism in 1310, and most Christian sects that had allowed it in the past had banned it by the early 1900s (e.g., Mormons (Later-Day Saints) officially banned it in the Second Manifesto in 1904).
  • Judaism and some Protestant denominations do not allow the use of religious idols/statues.
  • They both do not allow for witchcraft.
  • There is a holy day of the week for both religions (Shabbat (Friday night to Saturday night) for Jews because that is when they believe G-d rested after creating the world; Sunday is celebrated by Christians because they believe that is the day Jesus rose from the dead). [Note: Seventh Day Adventists celebrate on Saturday.]
  • There are laws and traditions about head coverings in both religions.  Married Jewish women are required to cover their heads.  Christian women, depending on the sect’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:5, may be required (or through tradition) to wear head coverings during prayer.  While yarmulkes have become a tell-tale sign of one’s religious leaning, there is no law in the Mishnah or Talmud requiring men to cover their heads; and was not practiced until the 7th or 8th century. It eventually became halakah (Jewish law) to do so while studying or praying (as per Masekhet Sofrim (14:15) in the 8th century), but did not become widely accepted until the 14th century (through the decree of Rabbenu Yerucham). It was not for another 200 years that Rabbi Joseph Karo dictated that Jewish men should wear a head covering at all times – but even then, it did not immediately become a widespread practice. The Roman Catholic clergy wear a head covering as part of their uniform called a zucchetta, but it is not required for men who are not in the clergy (although the reason is not known, the clergy began to wear the zucchetta as early as 1290, as depicted in an old church fresco).
  • The ritual of baptism may have its roots in Judaism’s ritual of the mikveh (ritual washing by submersion in water), and ritual washing was mentioned in the Torah on a number of occasions. However, the earliest archeological evidence of a mikveh is only dated to about the first century BCE. Note that there are a few Christian sects that do not practice baptism (e.g., Quakers, Salvation Army, and Hyperdispensationalists (followers of only Paul’s Epistles).
  • Both religions use bread and wine as part of their rituals (although in very different ways).

Everyone Loves Jelly Donuts

A long-held custom that both of these religions have followed since their inceptions is the tradition of serving food, lots of food, for holidays and special events.  For many of these holidays, not only are many savory dishes prepared and served, but are usually accompanied by sweets.  For instance, in Poland, it is a tradition for Christians to eat jelly donuts (called pączki, which translates as “flower buds”) on Fat Thursday (the last Thursday prior to Ash Wednesday and sometimes referred to as Paczki Day,). One origination idea for this dessert is that the ingredients needed to make the donuts (sugar, eggs, fruit, etc.) are not consumed during Lent, and it was a good way to use them up before Lent begins. This month Jews around the world observe the holiday of Chanukah, celebrating the defeat of the Roman army by the Maccabees and reclaiming the Holy Temple. One of the miracles of the holiday is that there was only one day’s worth of oil to light the lamp within the Temple, but it lasted for eight days.  Due to this miracle, many of the dishes of the holiday are associated with oil. Many of the foods are made with oil, or are deep fried in oil.  One of the most enjoyed dishes is the sufganiyot (jelly donuts), a deep fried dough with a sweet fruit center (and many times coated with sugar).

The first known published recipe for a jelly donut can be found in the German cookbook, Kuchenmeisterei (Mastery of the Kitchen), which was first printed in 1485. The name of the recipe was entitled “Gefüllte Krapfen,” which consists of jam placed between two pieces of yeast bread dough and then fried. However, since sugar was an expensive commodity until the mid-1600s (and usually only enjoyed by the rich), most of the “donuts” of the time were filled with various meats (fried meat pies).  Once the price of sugar dropped by the early 1700s, the sugar/jelly filled variation became popular in Germany and quickly spread across Europe. By the early 1800s, jelly donuts were commonly called Berliners as they spread across the globe. [Fast fact: the donut received its name from a military baker from Berlin that would fry these desserts over an open fire, since ovens were hard to come by in the field.] By the early 1900s, these sweets were referred to as Bismarks (after Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck), and still known as such in parts of the Northern Midwest and Canada.

“Ich bin ein Berliner”

“Ich bin ein Berliner” were the words spoken by President John F. Kennedy in a speech he gave in 1963 in Berlin during the heat of the Cold War.  The paper his speechwriters gave him were inadequate to fully elicit the feelings he wanted to express to the world as he looked upon East Berlin from his side of the wall.  He took it upon himself to mold the speech he was to give that day. He looked back in history to the words he would use.  In antiquity, it was a noble statement and a compliment to the Empire to state that “I am a citizen of Rome” (civis Romanus sum). So he turned those words for his own purpose and stated Ich bin ein Berliner – which translates to “I am a donut.” The “ein” before the word Berlin modified the meaning from being a citizen of Berlin to that of a donut. Although his speech was eloquent, and spoke of West Berlin as a beacon of freedom in the world, the faux pas was noticed by his detractors and the Soviet Union listening on the other side of the fence.

 “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words Ich bin ein Berliner.”

An Oily Tradition

Although traditionally fried in lard, Polish Jews used schmaltz or oil instead to make their kosher version of jelly donuts called ponchiks. At some time during the Middle Ages, a tradition had begun for eating these during Chanukah.  The tradition slowly spread across Europe, to the U.S., and around the world. When the tradition became introduced in Israel, they renamed the donut a sofganiyot after the soft and spongy treat mentioned in the Talmud (“sofgan and sfogga” – in fact sfog means “sponge” in Hebrew).

The enjoyment of fried dough (donuts) during Chanukah had already begun long before the jelly donut was created.  Rabbi Maimon Ben Yossef (1110-1166), in one of his commentaries on the Siddur, writes that:

“Anyone who is able to should engage in a festive meal to publicize the miracle of Channukah, and should eat the fried donuts known as sufgenin that are covered with honey, for this is an ancient custom. They are fried in oil as a memory of the blessing that occurred (with the oil).”

As stated, this was already an ancient custom by the time he wrote these words in the 12th century. [Fast Fact: Rabbi Maimon Ben Yossef is the father of Maimonides.] The sweet that he describes is not exactly like today’s jelly donuts.  It was most likely a pancake coated with a sweet syrup (in Arabic, they are called svingous).

The consumption of sofganiyot during Chanukah was given a big push by the Histadrut (Israeli Labor Federation) in 1920. In order to create jobs, they heavily promoted selling this sweet during the holiday instead of (or in addition to) the more traditional potato latke (potato pancake). While latkes could be made in the home easily, jelly donuts cannot. This campaign created jobs for the bakers, sellers of the ingredients, and the delivery system; as well as made it a more accepted traditional food for the holiday. Although there are other a number of different fillings that are inserted into the sufganiyot, the most common (70%) are made with jelly. [Fast Fact: the largest jelly donut ever made weighed 1.7 tons.] Potato latkes are still the overwhelming food for the holiday in the U.S., but Sufganiyot take the prize in Israel, with 24 million being sold each year.

Although kosher bread is not to be baked as a dairy item, sufganiyot fall under an exception: it does not look like bread, nor cannot mistaken for bread.  Or as the Talmud states, it can be dairy if it is “like an oxen’s eye.” This allows you to make or purchase the donuts to match your meal. [If you are interested in the Jewish laws regarding sufganiyot (e.g., what blessing do you say over them), see the following article by Beit Hillel: Sufganiyot and Jewish Law.]

The filling, which is made up of jelly or some type of preserved fruit, also has its own history. Early man had a need to preserve food, and may have done so in primitive ways as far back as 2.6 million years ago.  By 12,000 years ago drying foods was a popular method of preservation.  The earliest known recipes for making jams and preserves are from the 4th century (although the process had probably been performed for years) in the antique cook book De Re Coquinaria (“The Art of Cooking”). However, it was not until sugar became available in Europe due to soldiers returning from the Crusades with this new spice that jams and preserves started to become a little more widespread, although sugar at this time was still very expensive. [Fast Fact: A record from 1319 in London shows sugar being purchased for two shillings a pound. That would be $50 today, so only the rich could afford this luxury at that time.] The full history of jams and jellies is a lot more detailed than what I have written above, but that will be a story for a future article (only eight more years – December 2025).

Other Sweet and Oily Traditions

Suganiyot are not the only fried desserts that have been used to celebrate the holiday of Chanukah. For instance, there is also an old Spanish & Portuguese custom of eating waffles cooked in oil during Chanukah. Another dessert which I would be negligent not to inform you about are loukoumades. These are a Sephardic treat made during the holiday, which are fried balls of dough usually topped with honey (or honey syrup) and nuts. They are also known by different names, such as zvingoi in Greece, sfingi in Italy (of course, with olive oil), and bimuelo in Spain. In Morocco and other areas of Northern Africa, they make a donut called sfenji, which is light and airy on the inside, with a little crust on the outside, and usually infused with juice from the Jaffa orange; it can be eaten plain, with powdered sugar, or soaked in honey.  In Colombia, instead of dough, they fry slices of plantains in oil, which are called patacones (or tostones).

This is the time of year to celebrate. Not only your own traditions, but to also celebrate the diversity of the world we live in. Make a tray of your favorite sweets and enjoy them with friends regardless of their beliefs – we are all more similar than different. Don’t be afraid to embrace your differences, but also be able to respect and honor the differences of others. There is no better time during the year than this holiday season.

The Recipe

I have tried to make sufganyot myself twice, and I cannot claim that either time was a huge success. So, I would like to offer a recipe for Loukoumades (see above), which is a bit easier to pull off (although getting these perfectly round is a challenge), and it is perfect for Chanukah or any time of the year.


Yeast                           1 packet

All Purpose Flour       2-1/2 cups

Sugar                           2 tsp

Egg (lightly beaten)   1

Salt                              1/2 tsp

Oil                               for frying

Honey                         1 jar

Water                          3/4 cup plus 2 tbs warm


  1. Combine yeast and warm water, wait 10 minutes (until you see bubbles)
  2. Mix flour, sugar, salt, and egg
  3. Slowly add water until it forms a sticky dough
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and place in warm area for 90 minutes
  5. Add oil to pan and heat
  6. Form dough into small balls and place into oil until golden brown on all sides (don’t worry if they are not round)
  7. Remove from oil and place on tray – cover with honey
  8. Optional – you can also add crushed nuts or powdered sugar to top them off


“24 Million Donuts, 10.8 Billion Calories – it’s Hanukkah in Israel!” (Marion Lebor and Sally Halon: Israel21C.org) @ https://reformjudaism.org/video-24-million-donuts-108-billion-calories-its-hanukkah-israel

“Ahaba Beta’nugim – Hanukkah” (Rabbi Ira Rohde: ShearitIsrael.org) @ http://shearithisrael.org/content/ahaba-betanugim-hanukkah

“Baptism” (Wikipedia.org) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptism

“Christianity vs. Judaism” (Diffen.com) @ http://www.diffen.com/difference/Christianity_vs_Judaism

“Food 101: The History of Jam, Jelly, & Preserves” (The Nibble: 2017) @ http://blog.thenibble.com/2017/04/03/food-101-the-history-of-jam-jelly-preserves/

“Hanukkah Traditions Around the World” (Kara Wexler: JScreen.org: 2015) @ https://jscreen.org/blog/hanukkah-traditions-around-the-world/

“The History of Jam and Jelly” (Christopher Wilson: LunaGrown.com: 2013) @ https://www.lunagrown.com/the-history-of-jam-jelly/

“History of the Jelly Donut/Sufganiyah” (Gil Marks: LeitesCulinaris: 2010) @ https://leitesculinaria.com/60405/writings-histotry-of-sufganiyah.html

“Hyperdispensationalism” (Wikipedia.org) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperdispensationalism

“The Jewish Roots of Baptism” (OneForIsrael) @ https://www.oneforisrael.org/bible-based-teaching-from-israel/was-baptism-originally-jewish/

“Loukoumades (Sephardic Greek Donuts) (BreakingMatzo.com: 2016) @ http://breakingmatzo.com/recipes/loukoumades-sephardic-greek-donuts/

“Ma Tovu – From Torah to Prayer (Yoel H. Kahn: ReformJudaism.com: 2010) @ https://reformjudaism.org/mah-tovu-torah-prayer

“Paczki” (Wikipedia.org) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C4%85czki

“The Real Meaning of ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ ” (Thomas S. Putnam: The Atlantic: 2013) @  https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/08/the-real-meaning-of-ich-bin-ein-berliner/309500/

“Sufganiyot and Jewish Law” (BeitHillel.org: 2014) @ http://eng.beithillel.org.il/sufganiot-jewish-law/

“Sufganiyot Are Serious Business” (Shaarerabbi.com) @ https://shaarerabbi.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/sufganiyot-are-serious-business/

“Was Jesus a Jew” (Biblical Archaeology Staff: Biblical Archaeology: 2017) @ https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/was-jesus-a-jew/

“What Jews and Christians Should Know about Each Other: An Important Primer on the Two Religions” (Rabbi Bruce Kadden: InterfaithFamily.com) @ http://www.interfaithfamily.com/spirituality/spirituality/What_Jews_and_Christians_Should_Know_about_Each_Other_An_Important_Primer_on_the_Two_Religions.shtml

“When Christmas is Celebrated” (WhyChristmas.com) @ https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/whenchristmasiscelebrated.shtml

“Why Does the Pope Wear a Yarmulke?”  (Elon Gilad: Haaretz.com: 2014) @ https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/features/.premium-1.592753

“Winter Solstice: Beliefs about the diversity of celebrations. Origins. Ancient and recent celebrations from Ancient Brazil to Christian countries.” (ReligiousTolerance.org) @  http://www.religioustolerance.org/winter_solstice0.htm




We Are All The Same

We Are All The Same


I had a best friend in High School and in College named Stu.  We did everything together. We went to sporting events, worked on cars, went on vacations, double-dated, etc, etc.  The one thing we did not do was go to the same house of worship. Stu was my friend.  I never once referred to him, or even thought about him, as my Muslim friend – he was just my friend. When it came to religion, we both respected each other’s views, but it never became an issue in our friendship.  So I ask the question, why is it such an issue on the larger world stage? As I have been attempting to do in my articles, I try to highlight the similarities between Judaism and other people, So this month, in which we read parshat Vayera in shul (where Moses banishes Hagar and her son Ishmael) and on which many Muslims celebrate the birth of Muhammad (Mawlid Un Nabi) I have taken on the not so difficult of discussing the many similarities between Judaism and Islam. The below similarities are a summary of an article on Judaism-Islam.com:

Agree on a common history.  Both began with Abraham who had two sons.  Isaac was the forefather of the Jewish people, while Ishmael was the forefather of the people of Islam. In at least one way, the followers of both religions (if they like it or not) share a common ancestry. Both are also monotheistic religions, and both write about many of the same prophets . 

Have common prayer customs.  Both religions face towards their most holy religious site, pray in a congregation, and have prayer services for the different parts of the day. Both have pilgrimages to holy sites (Jews – hag to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem; Muslims haj to the Ka’ba in Mecca – and circle each respective places seven times – and both required (in antiquity) to perform sacrifices). They both have fast days throughout the year.

Give charity.  Both religions command charity to be given, and given freely. Both provide special obligations to the poor, orphans, and widows.

Modesty and Purity. Both religions preach modesty in dress and appearance (e.g., women cover their hair), unmarried men & woman should not be alone, and no pre-marital sex, unmarried men and women should not touch each other. Their ides and practices for purity are very similar.

Calendar.  Days begin and end at nightfall (instead of midnight). Both calendars are based on the moon (although Judaism has a lunisolar calendar, while Islam is purely lunar).

Life Events

  • Birth – There is a time after birth where the mother is “un-pure” (niddah in Judaism, and nifas in Islam); immerse/cleanse their body in water in water after the un-pure period. Baby boys are circumcised.  The child is not named until a period of time after birth.
  • Marriage – similar traditions and customs in marriage, including the creation of a marriage contract (ketubah in Judaism, katb el-kitab in Islam), adultery is forbidden, the husband provides shelter, food, and protection, the wife looks after the home, multiple wives are allowed (in the Torah),
  • Divorce – An amount of money is put aside at marriage for the bride in case of a divorce (mohar in Judaism, mahir in Islam)
  • Death – Both wash and wrap their dead in a shroud, both bury their dead as soon as possible after death, the dead are buried facing their holy sites, cremation is forbidden

Dietary Laws – Both have strict dietary laws, the slaughter of animals for food is similar (cut across the neck); both drain the blood from the animals; animals must be examined after slaughter for purity; both cannot eat pork items, certain birds, blood, amphibians, and insects, and meat that was improperly slaughtered

Respect for Each Other. The most ridiculous thing about the tension between the Jews and the Muslims is that in their own holy books, they speak highly of each other. The liturgies of both religions actually state that the Jews are the chosen people, as well as Israel being the blessed land of the Jewish people. In the Torah itself (Genesis 21:13), it says that G-d will make a nation out of (Abraham’s son) Ishmael. If there was so much respect for each other’s religion way back in antiquity, why does it not exist now, and where did it go so wrong?

Love of Eggplant

Before the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century, Jews and Muslims (Moors) lived in Iberian Peninsula.  [Fast fact: Pork dishes became very popular in Spain beginning in the 15th century so people could show that they were neither Jewish nor Muslim). Both cultures were known for their love of the vegetable we call the Eggplant, and their dishes were likewise associated with them. The eggplant, even today is associated with both cultures and of many countries area around the Mediterranean Sea.

Recent DNA tests have provided evidence that the origination of the eggplant may have come from North Africa, then made its way into the Middle East, and eventually to Asia (some scientists argue that it originated in Asia). The eggplant is believed to have been first domesticated in Southeast Asia about 4000 years ago. It may have first been used as a medicine rather than a food, and the earliest know mention (for its health benefit) is from ancient Indian texts written about 100 BCE (and it may have been referenced in Sanskrit from 300 BCE. [Fast fact: eggplants are related to the potato, tomato, and peppers – and is actually a fruit, but categorized as a vegetable.] Evidence of eggplants in the Mediterranean (from carvings) is available from about the second century AD (although it is possible that Alexander the Great brought eggplants back with him after invading India in 327 BCE). During the Medieval Age people in northern Europe shunned the Eggplant because they thought it had produce insanity (and it was called the “mad apple”). However, it did gain popularity in Germany, and by the time of the Renaissance Period also became more used in southern Europe as well. The Spanish had first brought the eggplant to the Americas, but it was President Thomas Jefferson that had first popularized the fruit on this side of the Atlantic.

One of the popular eggplant dishes originating in the Middle East is baba ghanoush (also spelled baba ganoush and baba ganouj. Countries from Greece to Turkey to Israel, to Egypt all claim to be the place of its origin. In Arabic, it means pampered father – possibly because it is a soft food that can be fed to the elderly with bad teeth.  It can also be translated as coquettish daddy – so it may have originated by wives in a harem for a sultan. There is not one correct way to make the dish – there are numerous variation to meet the desires of every palate.

The Recipe

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I wanted to make this recipe even simpler than usual, so I figured it was time for us to make a Quick Eggplant Parmesan.

Ingredients (feeds 8-10)

3 eggplants (sliced thin and skinned)

3 eggs (beaten)

4 oz oil

6 cups pre-seasoned breadcrumbs

8 cups pre-made sauce

16 oz mozzarella cheese (pre-shredded)

8 oz ricotta cheese

½ cup parmesan cheese (grated)

1 tbs black pepper

½ tbs salt

½ tbs sugar


  1. Dip eggplant in eggs, when moist, coat with breadcrumbs
  2. Heat oil in frying pan. When hot, fry each piece of coated eggplant until golden brown (then place on paper towels to absorb oil)
  3. In bowl combine sauce, all three cheeses (leave about 2 oz of the mozzarella cheese on side), black pepper, salt, and sugar.
  4. In a half-pan stack place eggplant in a layer. Cover with sauce. Repeat. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella over the top layer of sauce.
  5. In an oven, preheated to 350 degrees, add the pan and let it cook for about 35 minutes.



“Baba Ghanoush” (Wikipedia.org) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baba_ghanoush

“Eggplant (Solanum melongena) Domestication History and Genealogy” (K. Kris Hirst: Thought Co: 2017) @ https://www.thoughtco.com/eggplant-history-solanum-melongena-170820

“Food and Language: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking” (Richard Hosking ed.; page 341: 2009) @ https://books.google.com/books?id=3ilvBQAAQBAJ&pg=PT340&lpg=PT340&dq=eggplant+jews+muslims&source=bl&ots=dd1FGfe02J&sig=vbmU7pnqsdV-9T0QjB6UKsJixPI&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwii3LWu577WAhWMuRQKHYW3D1EQ6AEIJjAA#v=onepage&q=eggplant%20jews%20muslims&f=false

“History and Culture of the Eggplant” (InDepthInfo.com) @ http://www.indepthinfo.com/eggplants/history.htm

“Parshat Vayera” (Bar Ilan University: Dr. Joseph Fleishman: 1999) @  https://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/eng/vayera/fle.html

“The Piquant Origins of Bana Gamoush” (DeliDip.com) @ http://www.delidip.com/home-en/dipping/the-piquant-origins-of-baba-ganoush/

“The Qur’an, Chosen People and Holy Land (Seth Ward) @ http://www.uwyo.edu/sward/articles/ward-quranonisrael-boullatavol.htm

“Regarding Cervantes, Multicultural Dreamer” (Edward Rothstein: NYTimes.com: 2005) @ http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/13/arts/regarding-cervantes-multicultural-dreamer.html?mcubz=0

“Similarities Between Judaism and Islam” (Judaism-Islam.com) @ http://www.judaism-islam.com/similarities-between-judaism-and-islam/





From Supernatural to Super Sweet

From Supernatural to Super Sweet

Who can take a rainbow, wrap it in a sigh, soak it in the sun and make a groovy lemon pie?
The Candy Man. The Candy Man can.

[Bill, the Candy Store Owner; Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory]

When October comes around, the winds begin to blow hints of winter, erasing those few months where the sun warmed our bodies and minds.  October is the time of change, but in non-parochial America, the month does not end with a roar, but a scream of glee. For the end of October means making merry with Halloween costumes and sweets. Although Halloween is not a Jewish holiday, even in its current commercial form, it provides the excuse for me to discuss the supernatural this month, specifically the ghosts, ghouls, and golems in the Torah and other Jewish literature. Of course, another association with this celebration is candy

This celebration has undergone three mutations over the centuries.  The ancient druids of Western Europe (Ireland, France, England, etc.) celebrated the end of the summer harvest season while both honoring the dead and protecting themselves against evil spirits.  Although note, Judaism has its own harvest celebrations (e.g., Sukkot and Shavuot), as do most ancient cultures (however, the protection against evil spirits is not part of those celebrations).  In the 8th century, in an effort to keep converts following the Christian church doctrine, they added the celebration of Halloween to their calendar, allowing some of the “pagan” rituals to continue on All Hallows Eve, to be followed by a day to honor the Christian Saints (called All Saints Day).  The most recent transformation of the holiday has been to take this celebration and turn it into an evening of non secular festivities which is celebrated by millions of individuals, regardless of religious affiliation – or if no affiliation at all.  Children look forward to dressing up and trick-or-treating for the candy. Most people cannot identify any connection between the celebration and religion. [The question of, should Jews celebrate Halloween, is your own concern and none of mine (but click here for an interesting article on this subject with differing opinions).]

Now that we got that over with, let’s move on to the subject matter of this article . . . .


The idea of monsters is not now.  It is not a concept created by Hollywood to entertain movie goers.  Nor were horrible beast first created by nineteenth century authors like Mary Shelly and Bram Stroker. [Fast fact – the earliest known horror story in Gothic literature is The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole published in 1764.] In fact, authors have already been writing about monsters and evil creatures for centuries, including Virgil and even earlier by Homer (7th or 8th Century BCE). However, the Torah and other Jewish literature from millennia ago also include references to what modern people may consider monsters.

A few of these mythical creatures of Judaism include:


  • Many angels appear throughout the Torah and Jewish literature or are referred to many times.  They have visited a number of the people in the Torah including Moses, Jacob, and Joshua to name a few.

Animal-like Creatures

  •  Behemoth – A large beast mentioned in Job 40:15-20. Could be an elephant or large hippo. Become the term to describe a large entity.
  • Re’em – A large creature that is likened to a large ox (or modernly described as a unicorn), mentioned several times, including the Book of Job, Deuteronomy, and Numbers.
  • Shamir – A worm-like creature able to bore through any substance, and legend states that it helped Solomon to build the Holy Temple (Talmud and Midrash)


  • Bar Juchne – a large bird with a wingspan long enough to block out the sun (Talmud – Bekhorot, fol. 57 col. 2)
  • Broxa – Originally described as a bird that sucks the milk of goats during the day and blood of humans at night. During Medieval times, it was said to appear as a witch or a demon and may be able to possess one’s soul. (Jewish folklore)
  • Ziz – A giant bird that can block out the sun (Psalms 50:11)


  • Dybbuk – A spirit that possesses others (Kabbalah)


  • Nephilim – Giant humanlike creatures mentioned in Genesis 6:1


  • Animated human-like being created by magic (Psalms 139:16 and Talmud

Sea Monsters

  • Leviathan – A large and powerful sea creature (mentioned in Job, Amos, Isaiah, and Psalms)
  • Rahab – A sea monster in Jewish folklore, also described as a water dragon
  • Tannin – Great sea creatures described throughout the Torah


  • Lillith – A female demon of the night (Talmud and Jewish folklore)
  • Mazikeen – Invisible demons that cause problems (Jewish mysthology)
  • Naamah – A demon described in the Zohar
  • Qliphoth (representation of evil in Jewish mysticism)
  • Samael – Described as the archangel of death by the Talmud.
  • Shedim – Psalm 103:37 and Deuteronomy 32:17)


  • Estries – Female vampires in Jewish folklore

Ghosts – The topic of is a fascinating discussion in the context of Judaism.  Ghosts have appeared in Jewish literature (e.g., King Saul contacting the ghost of the Prophet Samuel). But note, the Torah forbids the living to contact the dead (Deuteronomy 18:11), so there are no séances and the use of Ouija boards in Judaism. However, Jewish scholars (not all), such as Maimonides,  state that in that case it was more of a miracle since ghosts rarely appear on earth – and in that case it was to help Saul defeat the Philistines.

As you can see, there are many supernatural creatures that have appeared in Judaism, including many that have appeared in the text of the Torah. The interesting thing about how many of these creatures are mentioned in its text, is not very detailed, which has allowed us to interpret them to the best of our abilities.  For instance, the Leviathan has been described as a sea monster, but to people living in the biblical era, it may have been a whale, which was not a common sighting for people living in the area of Israel [Fast fact: in 2010 a gray whale was spotted off the coast of Israel.]


Just as this late October celebration has morphed over the centuries, so has its means of celebration, including the act of trick-or-treating.   The origin of going door to door dressed up in costumes and asking for candy is an American invention and began around less than 100 years ago – in the late 1930s – and it was not for another decade that it began to catch on nationally.  In the early days of trick-or-treating candy was not the main item given out at each door – it could be coins, cakes, toys, etc. – but maybe some candy.  It was not until the 1950s that candy makers began to promote their sugary treats as great bag stuffers  – and families figured out that these small confectionaries would be great and convenient to hand out as treats. Although it still took another twenty years until candy became the king of treats for Halloween – and the reason was due to fears of parents of people tampering with homemade goodies, where they could trust a pre-wrapped manufactured piece of candy. [Fast fact: Decades before candy became a multi-billion dollar business, in 1916, candy makers tried to create a new holiday called Candy Day.]

The origins of candy itself can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, where they combined honey with fruits and nuts as far back as 2000 BCE. Not long afterwards the Greeks did the same by combining honey with various fruits and flowers. Although honey was used for hundreds of years, it was not until around the year 250 that candy using sugar was created in India.  Modern candy, as we know it today, probably had its beginnings in the 1500’s in Europe. The first candy cane can be traced back to Cologne, Germany in 1670, and the first chocolate bar was made in England by Joseph Fry in 1847. The first box of Valentine’s Day candy was produced by Richard Cadbury in 1868, starting a very sweet tradition.

The Recipe

I will give you one of the easiest recipes for candy that I know which I learned as a Boy Scout learning about Native American culture – making Maple Candy.


Oil (to grease parchment paper and spoon)

2 cups pure maple syrup

Parchment Paper


1) Line a 9×5 square pan with parchment paper

2) Add oil to the paper

3) Boil the maple syrup in a sauce pan, then turn to a medium heat

4) Cook at 250 degrees for 30 minutes

5) Pour into a bowl and mix (using beater if possible)

6) Pour into lined pan and smooth top

7) Cool for approximately an hour until it gets hard

8) Remove from pan and cut into chunks