Rabbi's Message: The 17th of Tammuz – A Fast Day

     The Seventeenth of Tammuz is a fast day commemorating the breach of the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the Second Temple. It marks the beginning of the three-week mourning period leading up to Tisha B'Av. This year, the fast of the 17th of Tammuz takes place on the 18th of Tammuz (21 July 2019) because the fast day fall on a Saturday – we do not fast on Shabbats.

     The day also traditionally commemorates the destruction of the two tablets of the Ten Commandments and other historical calamities that befell our people on the same date.

     According to the Mishnah, five calamities befell the Jewish people on this day:

  1. Moses broke the two tablets of stone on Mount Sinai;
  2. The daily tamid offering ceased to be brought;
  3. During the Roman siege of Jerusalem, the city walls were breached (proceeding to the destruction of the Second Temple);
  4. Prior to Bar Kokhba's revolt, Roman military leader Apostomus burned a Torah scroll;
  5. An idol was erected in the Temple.
     As a minor fast day, fasting lasts from dawn to shortly after dusk. It is customary among Ashkenazi Jews to refrain from listening to music, public entertainment, and haircuts. Other deprivations applicable to the major fasts (i.e. Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av) do not apply.

     A Torah reading and a special prayer in the Amidah (Aneinu) are added at the morning Shacharit service. The Torah reading is Exodus 32:11–14 and 34:1–10, which discusses the aftermath of the Golden Calf incident, how Moses successfully interceded on the Israelites’ behalf and attained forgiveness for their sin.

     We will hold the 17th of Tammuz Shachrit service at 8:30 am on Sunday, 21 July 2019. There will be no Sunday morning breakfast.

A Bit of Israel - The Tree of Life Shtender in Safed

     Safed is a small town located in Northern Israel, in the mountains of the Upper Galilee. According to the great mystics of the past, Safed is to play an important role in the final redemption - the Messiah will come from Safed on his way to Jerusalem, and, until the Third Temple is built, the Shechinah (God's Manifest Presence) rests above Safed. According to legend, Safed is where Shem and Ever, son and grandson of Noah, established their yeshiva where Jacob studied for many years.

     The town was founded in 70 C.E. It flourished in the 16th century, when many famous Jewish religious scholars and mystics moved to Safed following the Spanish Expulsion. Safed then became the spiritual center of the Jewish world, where Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) reached the peak of its influence. Kabbalists, such as Rabbi Yitzhak Luria (Ha-Ari HaKadosh) and Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz (author of Lecha Dodi) and Rabbi Yosef Karo (author of the Shulchan Aruch) just to name a few, made the city famous. It was here that the first printing press in the Middle East was set up, publishing in 1578 the first Hebrew book to be printed in Israel. Safed suffered terribly during the ensuing years due to earthquakes, plagues and Arab attacks. In modern times, the liberation of Safed was one of the most dramatic episodes in the 1948 War of Independence.

     Safed is one of the four holy cities in Israel, together with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias. The old part of town consists of narrow cobblestone alleys revealing artists' galleries, medieval synagogues, private homes and small guest houses.

     Safed’s main narrow cobblestone street is lined with open-air shops selling everything from menorahs to mezuzahs, Seder plates and Shabbat candlesticks to swords and other historical/cultural items. These shops are also known for pictures that are made up of the words of songs or Scripture. Also located in Safed is the home of Noah Greenberg, a woodworking artist and co-creator of a very unique Shtender.

     A Shtender, a stand in Yiddish, is used when praying and studying. It is generally a simple wooden lectern with a top that slants so that a book can lean, facing the reader, to make it easier to read. Synagogues and study halls often have one shtender for each man.

     Almost 30 years ago, partners David Moss and Noah Greenberg began to think about the Shtender; how it represented two pillars of Jewish life, prayer and study, but seemed to lack the third aspect; physical acts of observance. Their challenge was to unite those various aspects in a comprehensive work of art. Their Shtender would incorporate all the objects that would represent Judaism's major holidays, life-cycle events and religious commandments - each object would nest neatly into the shtender, to be taken out at the appropriate time. These objects include a tefillin box (box for phylacteries), tzedakah (charity) box, etrog (citron) box for the Succoth holiday, Seder plate for Passover, Challah board for the Sabbath bread, Kiddush (sacramental wine) set, and candlesticks for the Sabbath lights. Each object would be carved with designs in the motif of the plants and trees of the Land of Israel, including the Seven Species of fruits of grains of Israel.

     Noah and David worked together to conceptualize the Tree of Life Shtender, and Noah, in his Safed workshop, crafted and carved the pieces. The actual production of the shtender today is done outside of Israel, but Noah travels to the workshops frequently to ensure the quality of these complicated reproductions. The Shtenders are produced slowly in a numbered limited edition. Each object in the shtender requires the expertise of different artisans from throughout the world. The Shtenders are purchased by private individuals, synagogues, museums and educational institutions. In the home, most of the Shtenders are in actual use; their owners use the objects in their personal observance of the various traditions. The institutionally owned Shtenders are primarily used for educational and inspirational purposes: the exquisite and carefully researched and designed objects comprise a springboard to revealing and studying Judaism and the Torah.

     The name of the project, the Tree of Life Shtender, reflects the motif of the Land of Israel's plants and trees in the Shtender's objects' carvings, but also the message which the Shtender is meant to convey - that the Torah is the Tree of Life of the Jewish people, and observance of the mitzvot, the commandments, of the Torah is what keeps the Jewish people alive.

     Noah continues to create beautiful Judaica in his Safed carpentry workshop, accepting private commissions for wooden art pieces and religious artifacts, which are created by commission for synagogues, museums and private collectors.

Tree of Life Shtender

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