Basic Jewish Tradition Overview

Includes:

  • Observation of the weekly Sabbath as a day of rest, starting at sundown on Friday evening
  • Strict discipline, according to the Law, which governs all areas of life
  • Regular attendance by Jewish males at Synagogue
  • Celebration of the annual festivals including:
    • Passover, or Pesach is held each Spring to recall the Jews’ deliverance out of slavery in Egypt circa 1300 BCE.
    • A ritual Seder meal is eaten in each observant Jewish home at this time.
    • Six different foods are placed on the seder plate in the order in which they are eaten:
      • Karpas (vegetables dipped in salt water) recalls the bitter tears shed during slavery
      • Maror (bitter herbs) to symbolize the bitterness of slavery
      • Chazeret (bitter vegetables) also to symbolize the bitterness of slavery
      • Choroset (apple, nuts & spices with wine) represents the mortar used by Hebrew slaves
    • Placed on the seder plate, but uneaten during the Seder meal:
      • Zeroa (lamb shankbone) to recall the Passover sacrifice in the ancient temple.
      • Beitzah (roasted egg) symbolizes mourning, sacrifice, spring, and renewal.
    • Not placed on the Seder plate, but often eaten, is a boiled egg.

After women were first allowed to become Rabbim, some Jews commented: “A woman belongs as a Rabbi like an orange belongs on a seder plate.” As such, many Reform Jews now include an orange with their Seder Plate to commemorate female Rabbim.

  • Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, and is the anniversary of the completion of creation, about 5760 years ago. It is held in the fall.
  • The 10 days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are days of penitence. Yom Kippur is a day of fasting until sundown.
  • Sukkoth or the Feast of Booths is an 8 day harvest festival; a time of thanksgiving.
  • Hanukkah or the Feast of Lights is an 8 day feast of dedication. It recalls the war fought by the Maccabees in the cause of religious freedom. It also commemorates a miracle in the Temple, when one-day’s worth of oil lasted eight days. It is typically observed in December. Originally a minor Jewish holy day, it has become more important in recent years.
  • Purim, the Feast of Lots recalls the defeat by Queen Esther of the plan to slaughter all of the Persian Jews, circa 400 BCE.
  • Shavout, the Feast of Weeks recalls G-d’s revelation of the Torah to the Jewish people. It is held in late May or early June.
  • The local synagogue is governed by the congregation and is normally led by a rabbi who has been chosen by the congregation. A rabbi is a teacher who has been well educated in Jewish law and tradition.
  • Any adult male with sufficient knowledge can lead religious services. In reform and some conservative congregations, a woman can also preside. This is often done in those Jewish communities who lack a rabbi.
  • The Chief Rabbis in France and Great Britain have authority only by the agreement of those who accept it. Two Chief Rabbis in Israel have civil authority in areas of family law.