Wednesday, February 7, 2018


Purim: Basic Concepts And Laws

The Talmud (Ta'anis 29a) tells us that "Just as from when the month of Av enters, we minimize our happiness, so too from when the month of Adar enters, we increase our happiness." In Adar, the nation of Israel was saved from annihilation. The Jewish people, who lived throughout the empire of Achashverosh, were faced with certain death. Through a miraculous turn of events, this threat was removed and the Jews were saved. There was celebration everywhere. The Jews renewed their commitment to Torah. It was a time of overwhelming happiness. Our souls experienced a redemption: the Jews were threatened with death as a punishment for their sins, and because they repented, they were saved. The Jews raised their commitment to G-d and the Torah to new levels. It is for this spiritual redemption that we celebrate throughout the entire month of Adar.

The minor holiday of Purim occurs on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar.

Purim is celebrated by poking fun at ourselves and our Jewish institutions, throwing synagogue decorum out the window, dressing in costume, reading the Book of Esther, exchanging gifts of food, giving charity to the poor, and general silliness. The entire month of Adar, and not just Purim itself, is a time for silliness and humor. Purim is the holiday that proves Judaism has a sense of humor.

The story of the events Purim celebrates can be found in the Book of Esther in the Bible. This story relates the downfall of the vicious anti-semite Haman, prime minister of ancient Persia, who sought to murder all the Jews of that land. Most non-Orthodox Judaica scholars are of the opinion that Esther is fictional. Purim perhaps started as a Babylonean holiday that eventually became integrated into Judaism. When and how this occurred is not exactly known. There is decent evidence suggesting that the Maccabees of the (true) Hannukah story (circa 265 B.C.E.) didn't celebrate Purim.

Purim evolved into an important holiday. Jews surrounded by anti-semitism took great joy in a holiday that reminded them that the anti-semites didn't always win.

Does it make sense to celebrate the anniversary of events we believe are fictional? Even though the "Haman" of the story is likely fictional, there have been too many real-life "Hamans" during the course of Jewish history. History has made the story relevant and compelling, even if it is not true.
The service for Purim is most unusual. Dressing in silly costumes is encouraged. Interrupting the service with noise-making devices is encouraged. Decorum is out, inanity is in. During the service, an abridged version of the Book of Esther is read. (At Conservative or Orthodox shuls, the entire book is read.) 

The tradition of exchanging gifts of food on Purim is called mishloach manot. The food should be ready-to-eat; baked goods are a popular choice. This practice is prescribed in the Book of Esther 9:22.

If Purim did indeed originate as a Babylonean holiday, the tradition of giving charity to the poor is indubitably a Jewish twist added to the Babylonean original. One nice way people coming to Beth El's Purim service can implement this tradition is to bring a donation of canned goods for the shul's Food Pantry Box. Giving charity on Purim is prescribed in the Book of Esther 9:22. (Of course, Judaism demands doing tzedakkah [charity] year-round, but we make a particular point of doing some on Purim.)

Purim is a wild and crazy holiday. The rabbis of the Talmud, usually a quite sober group, say to drink so much on Purim that one can't tell the difference between blessing Mordechai (the Jewish hero of the story) and cursing Haman. We Reform Jews believe the rabbis didn't intend anyone to take them seriously about this, but were trying to suggest a high level of inane behavior on Purim. Cross-dressing, prohibited in the Torah, is widely practiced on Purim. Many rabbis will be borrowing their spouse's clothes this Purim.

No discourse on Purim could be considered complete without mentioning THE Purim delicacy, the hamantashen. The hamantashen is a triangular cookie, with a poppy seed or fruit filling. At some point, someone got the idea of altering the German name of these cookies, "mohn taschen" ["poppy-seed pockets"], to "haman taschen," and invented the story that it represents Haman's hat. (Of course, three-pointed hats were all the rage in ancient Persia.)

There are two other days of note before and after Purim. The "Fast of Esther" precedes Purim. This is the anniversary of the day the fighting against the anti-semitic forces occurred; Purim is the day the victorious Jews rested and celebrated. There is no explicit record in the Book of Esther that Esther actually fasted on this day. But the rabbis felt that any self-respecting Jewish leader would have fasted on the day when the Jews were struggling to defend themselves against those attempting to carry out the edict to exterminate them. Therefore, Esther MUST have fasted, and the Jewish community should fast in commemoration of her fast. This fast is not exactly widely observed by Reform (or Conservative) Jews. The day after Purim is "Shushan Purim." According to the Book of Esther, the fight against the anti-semites in the capital city of Shushan took a day longer than in the rural areas. The Jews in Shushan didn't get to rest and celebrate until the day after those in rural areas. In commemoration of this, the Book of Esther says that Purim is celebrated a day later in cities, on the day now known as "Shushan Purim." The rabbis decided that a "city" in this case means a city that had walls (if they are still standing or not) at the time of Joshua (Moses's successor). Jerusalem celebrates on Shushan Purim.
Recipe for Hamentaschen
  • 2/3 cup butter or margarine
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup orange juice (the smooth kind, not the pulpy)
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 cup wheat flour (DO NOT substitute white flour! The wheat flour is necessary to achieve the right texture!)
  • Various preserves, fruit butters and/or pie fillings.
Blend butter and sugar thoroughly. Add the egg and blend thoroughly. Add OJ and blend thoroughly. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, alternating white and wheat, blending thoroughly between each. Refrigerate batter overnight or at least a few hours. Roll as thin as you can without getting holes in the batter (roll it between two sheets of wax paper lightly dusted with flour for best results). Cut out 3 or 4 inch circles. Put a tablespoon of filling in the middle of each circle. Fold up the sides to make a triangle, overlapping the sides as much as possible so only a little filling shows through the middle. Squeeze the corners firmly, so they don't come undone while baking. Bake at 375 degrees for about 10-15 minutes, until golden brown but before the filling boils over!
Traditional fillings are poppy seed and prune, but apricot is my favorite. Apple butter, pineapple preserves, and cherry pie filling all work quite well.

The Observance of the Day
There are four mitzvot which on Purim: the reading of the Megilah, festivity and rejoicing, the sending of gifts and gifts to the poor.
  • Reading of the Megilah: One is required to read the Megilah both by day and night. One may read the Megilah all night until dawn and from sunrise til sunset. If one has read the megilah even before sunrise, but at least after dawn, he has fulfilled his obligation to read the Megilah. Both men and women are obligated to hear the Megilah.
  • Feasting and Rejoicing: It is a mitzvah to have a sumptuous meal on Purim, including meat dishes and wine. This feast must be held during the day. When Purim is in on Erev Shabbos (the day preceding Shabbos) (as it is in Jerusalem in 5758) one must begin his meal early in the afternoon before Mincha (afternoon prayers) in order that one finish early enough so as to have a good appetite for the Shabbos meal.
The miracle of Purim came through wine. Vashti's downfall and Haman's downfall came through a wine feast! There is also a custom to drinking til intoxication as our Sages tell us, "A person is obligated to drink on Purim til he no longer knows the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Modechai." If one fears that he may be harmed by excessive drinking of wine or come to levity thereby or even forget the required brachot one is required to make, drinking excessively is forbidden.
  • Gifts for the Poor: One is required to give at least two gifts to two poor people on Purim, in other words, one gift to each. Even a poor person who subsists on charity is required to perform this mitzvah. This obligation can be fulfilled through food or drink or even clothing. The gift should be a sufficient gift to buy bread. The gifts to the poor are given during the day, usually after the reading of the Megilah.
  • Gifts to one another: One must give a gift which consists of two portions to another person. Men and women are included in this mitzvah. The food must consist of something edible or drinkable without further cooking or preparation. One may send meat, fish. cooked pastry, wine and other beverages. These gifts should be sent to as many people as one chooses but they should be sufficient to convey regard for the recipient. If at all possible, these gifts should be sent by messengers, rather than delivered personally because the Megilah uses the word mishloach (sending).

Saturday, January 27, 2018


IX. The Jews - 1860
The material embodied here is in the main abridged from articles published by Mr. Podmore in the Community Messenger.

THE first organization in the life of Trenton Jewry was the Har Sinai Cemetery Association, formed in 1857. Prior to the beginning of the Har Sinai Hebrew Congregation, which was the outgrowth of the cemetery association, religious services were held in the homes of individuals. An early mention of Jewish worship here is given in the State Gazette, April 30,  1856, relative to the Passover observance. The following is an extract from the item published on that day:
There is quite a large number of the Hebrew race in Trenton who adhere to their ancient worship of the one, only, and true God.

The nearest syna­gogue, we believe, is at Philadelphia.

In connection with the observance of the Jewish New Year of 5619, which fell in September of 1858, services were held in Temperance Hall. According to an item in the Daily True American, September 10, fifty-two persons participated in the ceremonies of the first day.

Formal services, regularly conducted, began in Trenton about 1860 with the formation of the Har Sinai Hebrew Congregation. In the summer of that year meetings were held in the old Chancery Building which stood on the site of the Trenton Trust Building, West State Street and Chan­cery Lane.

At a meeting held on July 22 the congregation decided to incorporate and the following were elected trustees: Simon Kahnweiler, Isaac Wymann, Henry Shoninger, Herman Rosenbaum, Marcus Aaron, L. Kahnweiler and David Manko. Soon after this time the body was incorporated with the trustees named as the incorporators. Nearly all of the founders of the Har Sinai Temple congregation were of German extraction. For many years the services were conducted in German and Hebrew only.

In 1865 Simon Kahnweiler, credited as the first president of the congrega­tion, purchased from the Lutherans a little brick chapel on North Montgomery Street, known as Christ Church of the Evangelical Lutheran Congregation. The edifice was refitted as a temple and on March 23, 1866, it was dedicated with appropriate ceremonies, the Rev. D. Frankel, of Philadelphia, officiating, assisted by the Rev. Isaiah Gotz and the Rev. Reuben Straus. Judge David Naar delivered the dedicatory address. The Rev. Isaac Lesser made a few remarks appropriate to the occasion, and the ceremonies were brought to a close by the singing of the 150th Psalm by the choir.

The year of 1872 was a dark one for the small congregation. Evidently the benefactor had not deeded the temple to the congregation and there seems to have been some dissension among the members. Matters went from bad to worse, reaching a climax on March 16, when Kahnweiler's holdings, including the little house of worship, were sold at public auction held at the Trenton Home, with Ex‑Mayor Napton acting as auctioneer. D. P. Forst became the new owner of the temple building.

Left without a permanent place of worship the congregation drifted. The prospects for the future were far from bright. However, there was one member who was not disheartened. Mrs. Toretta Kaufman, mother of S. E. Kaufman, saw the possibilities for securing the building and through her tireless activities in making a personal canvass she collected a fund and aroused such an interest in the project that when autumn had arrived the property was owned by the congregation. It is said that the contributor of the largest amount to the fund was the late Joseph Rice who made up the balance needed after all the money that could possibly be collected had been brought in.

In July 1903 the congregation sold the little temple on Montgomery Street to Bayard Post, No. 8, G.A.R. In the same year a lot was purchased at the southwesterly corner of Front and Stockton Streets and upon it a house of worship was erected. On the evening of October 7, 1904, the building was dedicated. The officers of the congregation at that time were: Sigmund Baron, president; Abraham Siegle, vice-president; Louis Cohen, treasurer; and Jonas D. Rice, secretary.
In 1925 the congregation purchased a lot on Bellevue Avenue where a new temple will be erected in the near future.

The present rabbi of the temple is Abram Holtzberg. Some of the others who have served in that capacity are: M. Lessler, Simon Rosenberg, Israel Goldvogel, Morris Ungerleider, ‑ Wagenheim, ‑ Schomberg, ‑Kahn, Joseph Gabriel, L. Weiss, ‑ Bloch, Nathan Rosenau, Louis B. Michelson, Nathan Stern, Harry K. Jacobs, Joel Blau and Jacob Goldstein.

The second oldest religious body in the life of Trenton Jewry is the Congregation of the Brothers of Israel. This organization, which was founded by Jews of Polish and Russian extraction, was incorporated in 1883, but it seems that the group was not fully established until three years later. In August 1887 the Union Street M.E. Church was purchased and converted into a synagogue. On September 11, 1887, the remodelled edifice was dedicated. In 1900 the building was demolished and a new one was erected upon the site.

In 1885 the congregation established a place of burial on Vroom Street, adjoining Har Sinai Cemetery. In 1907 the place was enlarged by the purchase of an additional lot, and in 1913 an auxiliary cemetery was established near Cedar Lane, Hamilton Township.

The third organization, the Congregation of the People of Truth, was organized either in the late ‘8o’s or in the early ‘90’s. The group filed papers for incorporation in December of 1891. In 1902 the Second Presbyterian Church, on Union Street, was purchased by the congregation and refitted for a synagogue.   On March 15, 1903, the edifice was dedicated to the worship of Jehovah. In 1893 the congregation established a cemetery near Cedar Lane, Hamilton Township.

The fourth religious body, the Congregation of Ahavath Israel, was incorporated in December 1909, In May 1910 the body purchased the Wesley Methodist Church on Centre Street. The edifice was then remodelled and dedicated to Jewish worship. The founders of the Congregation of Ahavath Israel were in the main of Austro‑Hungarian extraction. The first officers and trustees of the congregation were: Samuel Goldmann, president; Leo Eisner, vice-president; Peter Littman, secretary; Henry Wirtschafter, Herman Lefkowitz, Jacob Blaugrund, Louis Warady, Nathan Fuchs, Adolf L. Moskowitz and Armin Bonyai, trustees.

The fifth religious body, the Congregation of the Workers of Truth, filed incorporation papers in 1919. A few years later the organization purchased two dwellings on Union Street, near Market Street, and remodelled them into a house of worship.

The Adath Israel Congregation was organized at a meeting held on September 30, 1923. On October 15 the congregation was incorporated. Services were held in the Community Home on Stockton Street until the time of the erection of the temple on Bellevue Avenue. The formal opening of the temple was on Friday evening, July 23, 1926, and in October of that year it was dedicated.

Next in importance to the synagogue in the religious life of a Jewish community is the Talmud Torah, or school where the youth are taught Hebrew and the traditions and religious precepts of the race. Dr. Herzl's Zion Hebrew School on Union Street serves the local community in this capacity. The institution, under its present name, had its beginning as a school maintained by the Congregation of the Brothers of Israel. Prior to this time there was a Hebrew school which held sessions in a rented hall on Union Street near Fall Street. This body in 1904 erected a school house (the first of its kind in Trenton) on Union Street, opposite the temple, which was named in memory of Dr. Theodor Herzl, father of political Zionism, who died during the same month that the cornerstone was laid (July 1904). The institution did not come up to the anticipations of its sponsors. The building was subsequently sold to tile city for a public school house.

The new Dr. Herzl's Zion Hebrew School stands on the upper part of Union Street. This institution is supported by the entire Jewish community.

Another institution that is part of every Jewish community is the sheltering home where meals and lodging are furnished the traveller who is without funds. The   local home at the comer of Mill and Market Streets is conducted by the Hebrew Benevolent Society whose members purchased it in October 1904. The organization applied for incorporation papers in 1894. Harry Haveson and the Rev. Max Gordon are prominently identified with the body.

Har Sinai Cemetery Association was organized at a meeting held November 19, 1857. In the same year a lot was purchased for burial purposes at the corner of Vroom and Liberty Streets and the body became incorporated. The founders of this association were: Marcus Marx, Julius Schloss, Isaac Wymann, Morris Sanger, lgnatz Frankenstein, Lantos Golheim, Isaac Sanger, Joseph Rice, Ephraim Kaufman, Marcus Aron and Gustavus Cane.

Among other Jewish places of burial are several congregation and small lodge cemeteries which are located near Cedar Lane in Hamilton Township.

Simon Kahnweiler, one of the incorporators of the Har Sinai Temple Hebrew Congregation, was born in Bavaria, Germany, August 26, 1820. He was the first prominent Jewish merchant of Trenton, member of the Common Council 1863-64, president of the Protection Hook and Ladder Company, and a member of several local military companies. During the time that he was a member of the temple congregation he served as president and head of the Sunday school. He died in Philadelphia, May 4, 1890.

Joseph Rice, prominent member of Har Sinai Temple, was one of Trenton's most highly-respected citizens. Born at Riechen, Baden, Germany, June 26, 1834, he served in several public offices, was made a director of the Mechanics National Bank, January 13, 1891, and was vice-president and director from August 5, 1909, up to the time of his death, July 14, 1913. For many years he was a clothing merchant.

Mrs. Amelia Kaufman Block, for many years an active worker in the Har Sinai Temple Sisterhood, was born in Trenton. She is the daughter of Ephraim and Toretta Kaufman. Toretta Kaufman, one of the early active workers of the Har Sinai Temple Congregation, was born in Germany. She died May 25, 1887.

Among those who have been active in the religious life of the Orthodox congregations are the Rev. P. Turman, the Rev. Mr. Prail, the Rev. Max Sufnoss, the Rev. Meyer Rabinowitz, the Rev. Israel Price, Rabbi Isaac Bunin, the Rev. Joseph Konvitz, David Lavine, Isaac Levy (Levie), who was one of the founders of the Talmud Torah, Hyman Levy (Levie), first president of the congregation of the Brothers of Israel, Max Gordon and Rabbi Issachar Levin.

South Trenton 2

South Trenton

Shirst Factory * 1898 * Union St. 

Kohn's  Bakery

Kohn's Bakery, Kunes' Bakery


South Wareen, Mill, Union