Rosh Hashanah and the Book of Life

The Jewish people have been called the “People of the Book.” Books take on additional significance at this of year with the Talmud describing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, as a time during which G-d inscribes the virtuous in “the Book of Life.” Indeed, across the world, during this season, Jews wish for each other to be written and signed in G-d’s Book of Life. 

Jewish tradition tells us that G-d does not put away this book once Rosh Hashanah has ended. Even those who did not merit being inscribed in this Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah may still be written in the Book of Life if they change their ways through repentance prior to Yom Kippur. Hence the solemnness of the High Holiday period as a season of personal reflection.

Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay

The Touro College Libraries have many books related to Rosh Hashanah and the High Holiday period.

[Maḥzor zikhron Reʼuven : le-Rosh ha-Shanah] = The complete ArtScroll machzor : Rosh Hashanah : a new translation and anthologized commentary

This is a machzor, a special prayer book used on Rosh Hashanah accompanied by an English translation, which is very popular and has been printed in many editions.

The Wolfsberg labor camp machzor, 5705 (1944)

This machzor contains a facsimile of Maḥzor Rosh ha-Shanah hand-written by from memory in Wolfsberg labor camp. When reading this machzor, one can only be awed by the dedication of the Jewish people to their faith under the most trying circumstances.

Rosh hashanah : its significance, laws, and prayers: a presentation anthologized from Talmudic and traditional sources

This book provides readers with an understanding of the many aspects of Rosh Hashanah that they may wonder about.

As librarians, we have a special appreciation for books. But at this time of year, it is fitting that we pause and reflect on how we live our lives so that we may be inscribed in the book that counts most: the book G-d opens on Rosh Hashanah. 

From the Libraries to the entire Touro Community, may you be inscribed in the Book of Life!   

This post was contributed by Michael Kahn, Librarian, Touro College School for Lifelong Education

It’s Shavuot—please pass the cheesecake!

illustration of crowd of people looking at mountain
The people of Israel waiting for Moses to bring down the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai. Illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Original source: TheBibleRevival.com

Shavuot, the festival of weeks, is celebrated exactly seven weeks after Passover. It is the conclusion of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, which ends at the highest point of biblical Jewish history: Matan Torah, receiving and accepting the Torah and all its commandments.

In commemoration of Matan Torah, the first night of Shavuot is often dedicated to learning, with many staying up late into the night, and even until dawn, immersed in Torah study. This year, the special night of learning will be different. We will not be gathering in synagogue as usual to study together due to quarantine restrictions for the novel coronavirus. The learning, however, will be no less powerful.

biblical illustration
Bringing Bikkurim (first-fruit offerings) to Jerusalem for Shavuot, 1730, illustration from a biblical dictionary. Image hosted by the National Library of Israel.

In the days of the Temple, it was customary to bring Bikkkurim, first-fruit offerings, to the Temple in Jerusalem for this holiday, as seen in the illustration above. For more information on the rituals—or lack thereof—of the holiday of Shavuot, please see Dr. Simcha Fishbane’s essay “In the Absence of Ritual: Customs of the Holiday of Shavuot” from his book The Impact of Culture and Cultures Upon Jewish Customs and Rituals : Collected Essays, available as an ebook from the Touro College Libraries.

Personally, Shavuot is one of my favorite holidays. While all Jewish holidays (and Shabbat!) require us to eat festive meat meals together, Shavuot is the one holiday of the year that at least one meal is customarily dairy instead of meat. According to The Book of our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov (v.3, p.73), this is due to the reception of the Torah and the laws of keeping kosher. Before accepting these laws, the Jews had been permitted to eat non-kosher foods; after, their utensils and dishes became prohibited under these new laws. They could, therefore, only eat dairy foods at that time. We continue that tradition today.

I find it very exciting to have dairy options. There are only so many ways to make a brisket—not to mention the utter delight of selecting a variety of cheesecakes for your holiday table!

cheesecakes in a bakery display
Cheesecakes on display in a retail bakery—so many choices! Image by Trilok Rangan courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

No matter how many cheesecakes I have tasted, however, my mother’s homemade recipe remains my favorite (naturally!). I am very pleased to share her recipe below. Chag Shavuot Sameach! Have a happy and healthy Shavuot!

Shavuot begins at sundown on Thursday, May 28, 2020 and concludes at sunset on Saturday, May 30, 2020.

Mommy’s cheesecake recipe

(My sincere apologies to the lactose intolerant!)

Use a 9 or 10 inch spring-form pan or make half the recipe to use smaller tins or pans. Best when round. If using a spring-form pan, place aluminum foil on the outside around the bottom and sides to prevent leakage.

Ingredients:

  • Prepared graham cracker crust (optional; if using, pre-bake 40-45 mins at 350°)
  • 16oz container whipped cream cheese
  • 16oz container cottage cheese (small curd is preferable for fewer lumps)
  • 8oz container sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 ½ cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 6 eggs (beat with fork before adding)
  • 1 cup milk (the more fat, the better the taste, but we prefer 1%)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Combine all ingredients in a big bowl using a whisk, wooden spoon, or even your hands (be sure to wash them first!). Prepare another bowl.
  3. Use a food processor or blender and process the mixture in batches until smooth, pouring the smooth batter into the second bowl as you go. You may also beat the mixture with an electric beater until smooth if you do not have a food processor or blender.
  4. Pour batter into spring-form pan or smaller pans or tins with the prepared graham cracker crust.
  5. Bake for 1 hour at 350°
  6. Turn oven off. Leave in oven for another hour to solidify.
  7. Remove from oven and leave on counter to fully cool.
  8. Store in refrigerator. Do not release spring-form until after cheesecake has spent time in the fridge.
  9. Release and top with whatever you wish—we often use fresh berries or a variety of pie fillings. One memorable year I made caramel sauce!
  10. Enjoy!

References and Resources Used

Bikkurim: First Fruits by Menachem Posner

Shavuot by Louis Jacobs, in Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed.

In the Absence of Ritual: Customs of the Holiday of Shavuot by Simcha Fishbane, in In The Impact of Culture and Cultures Upon Jewish Customs and Rituals : Collected Essays

Staying up all Night and Greenery (lecture) by Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein

Jewish Holidays and Food by The Jewish Food Experience

The Book of our Heritage, volume 3 by Eliyahu Kitov

Recipe dictated to me by my mother!

 

This post was contributed by Toby Krausz, Judaica Librarian.

 

The Joyous Holiday of Lag BaOmer

This year, on May 12, Jews will be celebrating the joyous holiday of Lag BaOmer.

typewrite with lag baomer typed out
Photo by Marco Verch (trendingtopics). CC BY 2.0.

What is Lag BaOmer?

Gematria, or Jewish numerology, is related to the philosophy of number and mathematics. ‘Lag’ stands for the Hebrew letters lamed — numerical value of 30 — and gimel — numerical value of 3 — with a sum of 33; this marks the 33 days of the Counting of the Omer in the Hebrew calendar. The Omer was a religious rite observed in the Temple on the second night of Passover.

There are some similarities between Lag BaOmer (sometimes spelled Lag B’omer) and the current quarantine and social distancing necessitated by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Rabbi Akiba and the Plague

The 33rd day after the beginning of Passover is celebrated as Lag BaOmer, because it was on that day that the deaths of Rabbi Akiba’s disciples ceased.

According to the Talmud, in the 2nd century CE, there was a plague that killed 40,000 disciples of the great Jewish mystic, Rabbi Akiba. The Talmud shares that this plague is a punishment for their not showing proper Jewish ethical respect, or derekh eretz (proper behavior and manners), towards each other, and for their lack of manifest proper ahavas yisrael (love of Israel) and love of all creatures (kavod ha-briut). Because of this tragic event, the weeks between Passover and Shavuot are observed as a mourning period, not only for the ethical failings of Rabbi Akiba’s disciples in the interhuman (bain adam li havaro/das zwischenmentshliche) and their lack of care and loving kindness (hesed) for each other, but also the destruction of the Temple that Rabbi Akiba merited to have witnessed. Significantly, it was on Lag BaOmer that Rabbi Akiba’s disciples ceased dying from the plague.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai

Rabbi Akiba had five disciples who actually survived the plague. One of them, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, also known as the Rashbi, was a great Jewish mystic who eventually went into a kind of quarantine by hiding in a cave to escape persecution by the Romans. In the cave, he lived ascetically, eating only carob, with his son to whom he transmitted esoteric mystical teachings of Kabbalah. It was on Lag BaOmer that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai felt that it was safe to leave the cave after many years; many years later, the Rashbi would pass away on Lag BaOmer, making that day his yahrtzeit, or anniversary of his death, a day of commemoration in Judaism. Thus, Lag BaOmer is considered a day of Kabbalistic significance in the Jewish calendar.

rashbi's cave
The site some identify as the Rashbi’s cave. Photo by Deror_avi.  CC-BY-SA 4.0

Beyond “Business as Usual”

Perhaps the being stuck at home now will spark us to devote more time to the quest for intellectual, spiritual, and moral virtue, rather than assuming a “business as usual” attitude.

Jacob Richman has organized links related to Lag BaOmer that you can explore from home this year, and the Chabad website offer a simple, introductory article on Lag BaOmer. As the power of music in the Jewish arts testifies, song epitomizes the transcendence of the spiritual over the physical, so I hope you may enjoy some music associated with Lag BaOmer, too.

This year, Lag BaOmer falls on May 12, which is coincidentally close to May 15, the target date to begin to lift some of the stay-at-home measures in New York. May we hope that, with the approach of Lag BaOmer, the tide of the novel coronavirus begins to turn.

This article was contributed by David B. Levy, Chief Librarian at the Lander College for Women

Happy Passover

Seder foods (Image courtesy of Wikimedia user Jonathunder)
Seder foods
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia user Jonathunder)

Passover is the one Holiday besides the New Year which is celebrated by a majority of all Jews from around the globe. The preparations for this Holiday very often drive people nuts.  The commandment is not to have any leavened product in your home during this 8 day period; this means that the house must be cleared of bread and all other such foodstuffs. And that’s on top of cleaning and cooking in preparation for the family gathering. Especially with small children in the household, it’s not hard to see why people get a little crazy at this time of year!   Continue reading

Happy Chanukah!

This year, the 8 days of Chanukah will occur from the evening of December 24th to January 1st. Did you know that you can learn more about the celebration of Chanuka on the Touro College Library Guides? There are many helpful resources on the Festival of Lights and other holidays on the guide dedicated to weekly Torah readings, Parashat HaShavua Sites and Hagim. From this libguide, one can gain insight on how Chanukah fits into the constellation of all Jewish holidays throughout the year. The diverse resources on Chanukah include a link to Jacob Richman’s web directory of Educational Resources for Chanukah, Chanukah audio files of Jewish music from JNUL Sound Archives, as well as a few of my essays on the topic. Continue reading

Shenandoah National Park: The lure of the mountaintop

I have always been fascinated by our national parks.  According to Wikipedia, the United States has 59 national parks. Yellowstone, the oldest, was signed by law into existence by President Ulysses Grant in 1872.

The beauty of national parks is that they are incredibly diverse and each offer completely different natural settings.  If you go to Bryce Canyon in Utah, for example, you will be astounded by the “sandstone hoodoos” that look man-made, even though they were actually formed by nature throughout millions of years.

Photo from http://alexandlish.blogspot.com
Photo from http://alexandlish.blogspot.com

Continue reading