Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What could be more Jewish than a Dreidel

If you ask most people why we play Dreidel on Chanukah, you’ll probably get a answer like the following:

A game similar to the dreidel game was popular during the rule of Antiochus. During this period Jews were not free to openly practice their religion, so when they gathered to study Torah they would bring a top with them. If soldiers appeared, they would quickly hide what they were studying and pretend to be playing a gambling game with the top.

Source: About.com

Does anyone notice any similarity between this explanation, and the reason given for bows and arrows on Lag B’Omer?

But if Dreidel is such an old Jewish custom, how come that it is not mentioned in any Talmudic or other early sources? In fact, how come there wasn’t even a Hebrew word for Dreidel until the modern era? The word סביבון (Sivivon) was coined by Eliezer Ben Yehuda, legend has it that his son Itamar came up with the word. Other early modern Hebrew speakers used other words, Bialik referred to a Dreidel as a "כרכר".

Given that Chanukah represents our rejection of foreign culture, the biggest irony is that it seems that we stole the Dreidel from the Goyim. In the 16th Century there was a popular gambling game using a top known as a teetotum, popular particularly in Ireland around Christmas time (see picture).

Lookup up Teetotum in the dictionary:

[From T-totum. Originally a teetotum was a kind of die used in a game of chance. It had a stick put through a six-sided die so that only four sides could be used. One of the sides had the letter T representing Latin totum (all), implying take the whole stake from the pot. Other sides had letters A aufer (take one stake from the pot), D depone (put one stake), and N nihil (do nothing).
Source: http://wordsmith.org/words/teetotum.html

If you’re still not convinced that the Teetotum is the original dreidel, when the game was played in Germany, the game was called “Trundl”, and the 4 sides were translated to German as follows: N (Nichts = nothing), G (Ganz = all), H (Halb = half), and S (Stell ein = put in).

You don’t have to be a language scholar to translate those letters to Yiddish.

Chanukah Sameach to all

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Practising long enough?

A big Mazal Tov to Prince William and Kate Middleton, future King and Queen of the England and the British Commonwealth. I wish them many years of happiness together. I hope that the younger generation of British royals are more successful in marriage than their parents were.

An interesting reflection on how society has changed (and not necessarily for the better) is the fact that William and Kate have been living together for a number of years, even Prince Charles joked that "They've been practising long enough."

A generation ago, it was expected that people would shack up together only after their wedding, not before. Certainly in “refined” circles, this type of arrangement would not have been joked about publically.

Today there are all types of living arrangements, there is no assumption that a man and woman living together would be married, no assumption that a child’s parents would be married to each other, we live in a society where anything and everything is acceptable.

Outside Religious circles, is there even a concept of “waiting until marriage”?

Is the world a better place now that the institution of marriage has been depreciated?

Monday, November 15, 2010

The New Zealand Jewish Community Needs Your Help

This is it – in 2 weeks the Shechita issue is going to trial in New Zeaalnd.

This is the first time since the Holocaust that a Western Democracy has attempted to ban Shechita. There is a lot riding on this case, not just for the thousand Jewish families in New Zealand, but for Jews all over the world. This trial will set a precedent that may be referred to if other countries attempt to ban Shechita, and believe me there are many organizations in Europe and other places that are looking for legal backing in their attempts to ban Shechita.

Below is a letter from the New Zealand Jewish Community asking for the help from concerned Jews all over the World.

Tizku L’Mitzvot

Are you aware that the Government of New Zealand has passed a code that outlaws Kosher slaughter in New Zealand? The last time similar legislation was enacted by a Government was 70 years ago in Nazi occupied Europe. New Zealand is the first country to ban shechita without a public mood of anti-semitism behind it.

If this code remains, Jews in NZ will only be able to import kosher meat at great expense and chicken will not be available at all. Can you imagine a Jewish home with no chicken soup?

The ramifications of this move may one day affect Jews throughout the whole disapora. It could have a domino effect.

Even though the vast majority of Jews in New Zealand are secular and don't keep Kosher, they understand the implications for worldwide Jewry and they are currently defending world Jewry’s basic human right to practice our religion.

The tiny New Zealand Jewish Community is fighting back and is taking the New Zealand Government to court to fight for their basic human right to practice their religion. The cost of this court case is in excess of NZ$300,000 - a very large sum for a country that has less than 1,000 Jewish families. Already the local Jewish community has raised half of the funds, but is struggling to find the rest of the money to fund the legal challenge.

You can help by :

1) Pass on this information to other people - the more people who know and are prepared to support the New Zealand Jewish community the greater the chance the New Zealand Jewish community has of success.

2) Send a short e-mail to the New Zealand Government. In New Zealand there is a huge support from animal welfare groups who are extremely vocal in their support for the Governments' actions.

Minister of Agriculture (David Carter) david.carter@parliament.govt.nz

Prime Minister (John Key) john.key@parliament.govt.nz

3) Make a donation:

The two largest orthodox congregations in New Zealand, the Wellington Hebrew Congregations and the Auckland Hebrew Congregation have together issued proceedings against the New Zealand Government. All donations large and small would be used in this fight:

Donate using PayPal:

Please visit http://bit.ly/9uiMdG to place a Credit Card


Telegraph Transfer:
Account Name: New Zealand Shechita Appeal
Account Number: 01-0297-0024731-27
Bank: ANZ Bank (New Zealand)
Swift code (for international transfers): ANZBNZ22
Reference: *Your last name and first Initial*

If you need more information please contact in New Zealand

Garth Cohen - President - Auckland Hebrew Congregation - office@ahc.org.nz

Post Script: There are a number of other countries that have bans or limitations on Shechita, including Switzerland and Norway, but most of these bans go back to before the Holocaust, and none of them have practical implications as they are either in locations where there is no Jewish Community (such as Iceland) or in places close to larger Jewish communities where meat can be imported from at a reasonable cost.

Monday, November 1, 2010

“G-d wasn't there. He was on vacation”

The Jerusalem Post has a moving article about the last 2 survivors of Treblinka.

Of over 850,00 Jewish people who passed through the gates of Treblinka in 1943-44, only these 2 people, Samuel Willenberg and Kalman Taigman, are still in the World of the Living.

Less is known about Treblinks than some of the other camps, notably Auschwitz, this is because after the rebellion of October 1943, the NAZIs murdered the few remaining prisoners and destroyed the camp.

67 people who managed to escape during the rebellion, these are the only people known to have survived the camp.

Of the over 850,000 Jews who entered Treblinka, less than 70 survived to the end of the war, and of those, only 2 are still with us.

In a few years, there will be nothing left, not even a memory, just a memorial site in a forest Northeast of Warsaw. A forest that sits on the ashes of close to a million human beings (maybe even more).

Our generation is still to close to the Churban in Europe to ask questions of “Why” or “Where was G-d”, all we can do is document and educate to make sure that the world never forgets.

Wikipedia has an informative article on Treblinka, but the following from the Jerusalem Post article is a much more personal account:

Taigman said he recalls…

He entered Treblinka holding the hand of his mother, who was quickly pulled away from him and murdered. He left [During the Rebellion] watching a Nazi flag burning in the distance from a blaze they had set — a small piece of revenge after nearly a year of torment.

"It was hell, absolutely hell," said Taigman, who lives in a retirement home south of Tel Aviv. "A normal man cannot imagine how a living person could have lived through it — killers, natural-born killers, who without a trace of remorse just murdered every little thing."

Taigman, who wandered in the Polish countryside for nearly a year after his escape, said his most lasting memory of Treblinka is fellow prisoners who had to remove bodies — often their own relatives — from gas chambers.

David Silberklang, a senior historian at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, said that in contrast to other camps where Jews were also used for industrial labor, Treblinka truly represented the essence of the Nazi Final Solution.
"Treblinka had nothing, just killing, and they almost finished the job. These camps left us almost nothing," he said. Without the survivors, he said "it would just be a black hole, we would know nothing. With them, we know quite a lot," he said.

One of the men most responsible for documenting the atrocities was Eliahu Rosenberg, who was tasked with removing bodies from gas chambers and dumping them into giant pits. He passed away in September, but before his death recounted his experiences in a video testimony to Yad Vashem.

"It poisoned, choked people within 25 minutes, all would suffocate. It was terrible to hear the screaming of the women and the children. They cried: "Mama!" ''Tata! (Dad)" but in a few minutes they choked to death," he said.

"The crematoriums were train rails which lay on a concrete base. On them were wood planks, we called it 'grills.' We threw the body parts onto those 'grills,' and with a match everything burnt. And we stood there ... and it burned all night, all night long."

After the revolt, the Nazis attempted to destroy all evidence of their atrocities. The camp structures were destroyed, the ground plowed and planted over. Today, all the remains at the site are a series of concrete slabs representing the train tracks, and mounds of gravel with a memorial of stone tablets representing lost communities.