What is Sukkot?

This is a happy time of the year, when booths that were built to house the Jews during their 40 years of wandering in the desert, from the time when they were brought out of Egypt until they entered the Land of Canaan. These days, the Festival is spent partially in prayer and partially in the Sukkah, which is primarily used for meals. The palm branch and the esrog are shaken every day except for the Sabbath.

CC-BY 3.0: Wannapik Studio

G-d Almighty wanted to keep the Jews for one more day, much as a father would when the children have visited and are going home, and with that, the Festival ends. The next day is called Simchat Torah, which is when we finish the reading of the Old Testament and then start all over again reading the weekly portions over the next year.

Moadim L’simcha!

This post was contributed by Edward Schabes, Library Assistant, Midtown

Resources for the High Holidays on the Touro College LibGuides

The Touro Libraries research guides provide High Holiday resources, not only in the library guide known as parasha ha-shavua (the weekly torah reading) and Hagim (festivals), but also through additional guides on various topics, including links to online resources for archival research and education. In 2020, Rosh Hashanah falls on evening of September 18th.

The High Holidays within the context of all the Jewish holidays in the organization of the Jewish calendar are represented throughout Touro College Library Guide resources.

Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay 

For example, one sketch raises the question of whether the symbolic foods eaten on Rosh Hashanah is merely symbolic for the rational contemplation vs. theurgic supernatural mystical act championed by the Hasidim, which the Rambam as a deontological ethicist might warn risks being a form of delusional theurgic magic.

A second link examines the metaphor of the book on the High Holidays particularly in the Unetanneh Tokef (a Hebrew prayer by Rabbi Amram of Mainz) sung in the synagogues, that states to the effect, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur sealed and implies based on a Talmudic text, on hoshanah rabbah the angels deliver the blueprint to Hashem’s heavenly Temple archive” and the importance of the reverence and cherishing of text in general in general for Judaism.

A third link explores both in Powerpoint form related to the guide on the Jewish arts as the last slides are fine art representations of this event in Genesis 22, and a written sketch of the akedat yitchak known as the “Binding of Isaac” which is chanted on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, raises the question of Providence (hashgahah pratit) vs. free will (behira) and G-d’s foreknowledge (yediah) and is the topic of midrashim found in the Cairo Geniza.

A fourth link of a Powerpoint considers the afternoon reading known as maftir yonah on the day of Yom Kippur, from the perspective of Biblical archeology excavations of ancient Ninevah, cartography, and close textual analysis, among other topics. Ethics is a theme of the book of Jonah in that the Ninevites must repent. On Yom Kippur, we repent our ethical failings in the communal Al chet prayer where one gives a din ve-heshbon (accounting) before the heavenly court in business ethics and in general Jewish ethics, ethical monotheism that Avraham revealed when he left Ur of Chaldea. Up until today in online ethics by applying the laws of forbidden gossip (Hilchot issurei loshon ha-ra) by the Chofetz Chaim and applied in case law to social media.

Photo by Esther Wechsler on Unsplash

The fifth set of resources relate to the book of Koheleth chanted on the festival of Sukkot, which raises the important question of the nature of time in all its dimensions. One link shows that striving to dwell poetically in time is the essence of being in the sukkah, whose construction requires that the roof (sakh) allow one to see the stars causing wonder, expressed in King David’s Psalm eight. Other links examine Koheleth themes in the afterlife, and further ideas of Nachmanides knowledge of shemitah ha-olamot.

This post was contributed by David Levy, Chief Librarian, Lander College for Women

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

Yom Kippur: A Day of Atonement

Jews praying in the synagogue
Maurycy Gottlieb: Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, aka The Day of Atonement: this represents the time when Jews will have their fate decided. How much money will be earned for the year, what a person’s health will be, as well whatever is supposed to happen to a person in their life during the year.  People of course pray that everything that will happen should be good for the person.

I should note that on this occasion, the prayers are only directed between people and G-d, not between people and other people.  Any “offense” that take place between people is not covered by Yom Kippur.  The individuals involved need to ask for pardon from each other.

Yom Kippur is the end of this Holy time of year, which began with Rosh Hashanah.  This is a ten day period when forgiveness is asked from G-d as well as from “man”. As it says in the Liturgy, on Rosh Hashanah G-d writes down what will be and on Yom Kippur that decree is sealed.

This year, Yom Kippur will begin the evening of Tuesday, September 18th and conclude the evening of Wednesday, the 19th.

Contributed by: Edward Schabes, Library Assistant, Midtown

(Updated with 2018 dates and new picture.)

The Celebration of Purim

Hamentashen, a traditional Purim sweet (CC image by Rebecca Slegel)
Hamantaschen, a traditional Purim sweet (CC image by Rebecca Slegel)

The observation of Purim begins the evening of February 28th through March 1st.

Purim is a holiday that represents a tangible victory over an enemy. Many things are done to commemorate this victory. The Book of Esther is read both on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. People go around in costume to show their happiness, a festive meal is eaten, and charity is given to help those who otherwise couldn’t celebrate this occasion. People give out packages of food to friends (usually in the form of a dessert) to celebrate camaraderie.

For more on the history and celebration of this holiday, see “Who is that masked man?” Happy Purim!

Contributed by: Edward Shabes, Library Assistant, Midtown

 

(Originally posted in 2016)

Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks

800px-PikiWiki_Israel_8879_Gan-Shmuel_-_Shavuot_holiday_1965
Young women celebrating Shavuot in Israel, 1965 (CC image via Wikimedia)

Shavuot, or the Festival of Weeks marks 7 weeks since the conclusion of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, when the Torah and the Ten Commandments were received at Mount Sinai. There are a number of customs associated with the celebration of Shavuot, which can be enumerated using the mneumonic of the Hebrew word acharit (אחרית‎, “last”). These include the reading of a liturgical poem and from the Book of Ruth, the consumption of dairy foods (like cheesecake, blitzes, and kreplach), the decoration of homes with flowers or greenery, and all-night Torah study. Read more about the meaning of Shavuot and its traditions.

This year, Shavuot begins the evening of Tuesday May 30th and end the evening of Thursday June 1st. Most library locations will close at 2 p.m. Tuesday 5/30 and reopen Friday 6/2.

Chag Shavuot Sameach! Happy Shavuot!

Yom Kippur: A Day of Atonement

(source)
(Yom Kippur)

Yom Kippur aka The Day of Atonement: this represents the time when Jews will have their fate decided. How much money will be earned for the year, what a person’s health will be, as well whatever is supposed to happen to a person in their life during the year.  People of course pray that everything that will happen should be good for the person.

I should note that on this occasion, the prayers are only directed between people and G-d, not between people and other people.  Any “offense” that take place between people is not covered by Yom Kippur.  The individuals involved need to ask for pardon from each other.

Yom Kippur is the end of this Holy time of year, which began with Rosh Hashanah.  This is a ten day period when forgiveness is asked from G-d as well as from “man”. As it says in the Liturgy, on Rosh Hashanah G-d writes down what will be and on Yom Kippur that decree is sealed.

This year, Yom Kippur will begin the evening of Tuesday October 11th and conclude the evening of Wednesday the 12th.

Contributed by: Edward Schabes, Library Assistant, Midtown