Posts Tagged ‘judaism 101’

Tu Bishvat 101

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Tu Bishvat is a holiday intimately connected to the agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel. Falling in the middle of the Jewish month of Shvat, the 15th day of the month is the New Year of Trees. Today, this holiday is often celebrated by planting saplings and also by participating in a seder-meal that echoes the Passover seder, in which the produce of trees, including fruits and nuts, are eaten.

Ideas and Beliefs

The Bible expresses a great reverence for fruit trees as symbols of God’s bounty and beneficence. Special laws were formulated to protect fruit trees in times of war and ensure that the produce of trees would not be picked until the trees were mature enough and tithes were given from them. In order to calculate the age of trees, both for determining when they could be harvested and when they were to be tithed for the Temple, the Talmudic Rabbis established the 15th day (Tu) of the month of Shvat as the official “birthday” of trees.


When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, Tu Bishvat served as the day on which farmers offered the first fruits of the trees they planted, after the trees had turned four years old. The following Tu Bishvat signified when the farmers were allowed to begin making use of the produce of the trees they planted, whether for personal or economic reasons.

With the increased concern for the environment in recent years, Tu Bishvat has taken on an additional meaning as a day on which Jews can express and act on their concern for the ecological well-being of the world in which we live. This has led to the rediscovery of the mystical Tu Bishvat seder, now transformed into a celebration of God’s bounty and the environment.

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Jewish Food 101

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Jewish food is difficult to define. Over time, Jews have eaten many different types of foods, often no different from those of their gentile neighbors. Nonetheless, the foods Jews have eaten bear the stamp of the unique socio-economic and migratory patterns of the Jewish community, while also reflecting the Jewish dietary laws (kashrut) and other religious requirements; for instance, the prohibition against creating fire on the Sabbath inspired slow-cooked Sabbath stews in both Sephardic and Ashkenazic cuisine.

Ashkenazic Cuisine

In contrast to Sephardic Jewry, most Ashkenazic Jews–those from Europe and Russia–were very poor, and their food reflects this. Ashkenazic food also reflects the migration of a community first based in Germany that ultimately spread eastward to Russia and Poland. What Americans usually refer to as “Jewish food”–bagels, knishes, borscht–are the foods of Ashkenazic Jewry, and indeed, in many cases were foods eaten by the non-Jews of Eastern Europe as well.

American Cuisine

The “Jewish style” food of America is an enriched version of Ashkenazic cuisine. However, Jews existed in the U.S. long before the major wave of Eastern European immigration in the beginning of the 20th century. Though early Jewish life was located primarily in the major cities on the East Coast, Jews traveled and lived throughout the United States, and their foods were influenced by local custom and availability.

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Hanukah 101

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Hanukkah, or the Festival of Rededication, celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its defilement by the Syrian Greeks in 164 BCE. Although it is a late addition to the Jewish liturgical calendar, the eight-day festival of Hanukkah has become a beloved and joyous holiday. It is also known as the Festival of Lights and takes place in December, at the time of year when the days are shortest in the northern hemisphere.


Beginning in 167 BCE, the Jews of Judea rose up in revolt against the oppression of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucid Empire. The military leader of the first phase of the revolt was Judah the Maccabee, the eldest son of the priest Mattityahu (Mattathias). In the autumn of 164, Judah and his followers were able to capture the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been turned into a pagan shrine. They cleansed it and rededicated it to Israel’s God. This event was observed in an eight-day celebration, which was patterned on Sukkot, the autumn festival of huts. Much later rabbinic tradition ascribes the length of the festival to a miraculous small amount of oil that burned for eight days.

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Announcing Judaism 101, brought to you by MyJewishLearning

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

We are delighted to announce that beginning in a few weeks, My Jewish Portal will be teaming up with to bring you top-notch educational content every week in our new Judaism 101 section!

Each week we’ll send out a mini-lesson — a few paragraphs you can read in 2-3 minutes, to inform you about something you might not have known, or dust off the Jewish nuggets you learned in elementary school, and like geometry, haven’t really revisited since then.

Look for the first Judaism 101 lesson to come your way by the end of the year, and every week thereafter.