Frequently Asked Questions on Soc.Culture.Jewish
Part 4: Observance, Marriage, Women in Judaism
[Last Post: Mon Mar 1 11:07:27 US/Pacific 2004]
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This portion of the FAQ contains answers to the following questions:
1. What are the different holidays?
2. What are the dates of the upcoming Jewish holidays?
3. How can I get a Jewish calendar
4. Why do some people take off one day, and others two?
5. Why does the Jewish day start at sundown?
6. What are the origins of the Chanukah Dreidel?
7. Is it appropriate for Christians to "celebrate" Pesach using
the form of a seder meal?
8. What are the months of the Jewish Year?
9. How does Judaism measure the day?
10. Are the Four Questions asked on Pesach in the Torah?
11. What are the different days of the Jewish week?
12. How are Yahrzeits observed in Leap Years?
13. What happened to the observance on 14 Nisan as Passover?
14. For Mother's Day, how should one bless their mothers?
Jewish Dietary Law and Kashrut
1. What is Kosher? Doesn't a rabbi just bless the food?
2. How can I learn about Kashrut? Is there a "Kosher" FAQ?
3. There are a wide variety of kosher symbols. How do I learn
who's behind them?
4. I'm going to be in (insert city here). How do I find the kosher
5. Do I need to have a kosher kitchen and kosher home to keep
6. I have heard that Polish Orthodox Jews wait 6 hours between
eating milchig and fleishig and Dutch Orthodox Jews wait about an
7. Why do Sephardim and Ashkenazim have different customs
regarding permissible foods on Pesach (Passover)?
8. I'm a vegetarian health-food proponent. Is kosher food
9. Is vegetarianism kosher?
10. What process is involved in Kosher Slaughter?
11. I work in a prison, and I have an inmate that is demanding
Kosher Food? How do I know if his claim is justified?
12. What are the issues involving Filet Minion?
13. Why don't Jews eat Pork?
14. Would the laws of Kashrut prevent Mad Cow Disease?
15. Is Monkfish Kosher?
16. Why do Jews separate Milk and Meat?
17. Must Jews use wine?
18. Are there parts of a kosher animal that cannot be eaten?
19. I have a friend coming over that keeps Kosher. What do I do?
1. What is the Jewish Sabbath and why is it on Saturday?
2. Why do my Orthodox Jewish friends leave work early on Fridays
and before Jewish holidays?
3. Why can't Jews use electrical appliances and motor vehicles on
4. Why are there 18 minutes from the time candle lighting starts
on Shabbat until the last time you can light?
5. I've heard that Jews can't tear on Shabbat? Why? What is
6. How do people know when to light candles in the Arctic?
7. What is the significance of Challah?
8. Why do women wave their hands three times before lighting
Shabbat [or Holiday] candles?
9. What is an Eruv?
10. If your home is burning, can you put out the fire on Shabbat?
11. What Medical Procedures May Be Performed on Shabbat?
12. What happens on Shabbat?
13. Do Conservative Jews play musical instruments on Shabbat?
14. Why is there a prohibition on travel on Shabbat?
15. Can an observant Jew use a camera on Shabbat?
Woman and Marriage
1. What role do women play in Judaism?
2. What is the Conservative view of the role of women in Judaism?
3. What is the Reform view of the role of women in Judaism?
4. What is the Orthodox view of the role of women in Judaism?
5. Is it true that Orthodox men bless G-d every morning for not
making them a woman? What do you mean, this isn't terrible?
6. I've heard polygamy is permissible among Sephardic and
Yemenite Jews. Doesn't Judaism mandate monogamy?
7. What does clean/unclean refer to?
8. What is "Niddah"?
9. I've heard that Orthodox men can't touch women. Is this true?
10. Are there any rituals for purification after childbirth for
11. What is the Jewish position on contraception and abortion?
12. How does Judaism view Marriage?
13. How do Jews find Mates?
14. What is a Jewish Marriage?
15. What happens before a Jewish Wedding?
16. What happens during a Jewish Wedding?
17. What happens after a Jewish Wedding?
18. What should I wear to a Jewish wedding?
19. Why is the glass broken at Jewish weddings?
20. What is a Ketubah?
21. What are the "Seven Blessings"?
22. What does Judaism say about premarital sex?
23. What are some good wedding greetings?
24. Can a wife refuse to have marital relations with her husband?
25. What should a man do if his wife leaves him for another man?
26. Can a Jewish woman who has not been to a mikvah get married in
an Orthodox wedding?
27. Is it possible for a Cohanim to marry a divorced Jewish woman?
28. I've heard Jews can't get married on certain days. What are
29. What is the role of the parents or the rabbi at a wedding?
30. How long after a spouse dies can the surviving partner
remarry? Must they marry their spouse's younger brother?
31. What relationships are prohibited?
32. What is the restriction on woman to sing in public and infront
33. What can be done if the wife refuses to sign the get (divorce
Subject: Question 5.1: What are the different holidays?
The holidays are described in the list below. R' Donin's book To Be a
Jew gives a good overview of the holidays from a traditional
perspective. The following is based on a summary posted on the net by
Robert Kaiser, which in turn was based on material from A Guide to
Jewish Religious Practice by Rabbi Isaac Klein, published by The
Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Note that liberal Jews do not
observe all of these holidays, nor do they all follow the practice of
two-days of observance of certain holidays in the diaspora. The
principal year-cycle events observed by liberal Jews are: Shabbat,
Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Chanukkah, Tu
B'Shevat, Purim, Pesach (Passover), Lag B'Omer, Shavuot, and Tish'a
Note also that as the Jewish day runs from sundown to sundown,
holidays start the evening of the secular day before secular calendar
date of the holiday.
Rosh Hashanah (Tishri 1)
Also known as Yom Hadin, Yom Hazikaron (Day of Remembrance) and
Yom Teruah (Day of the sounding of the shofar). In traditional
congregations, the shofar is not sounded when Rosh Hashanah
falls on the Sabbath. This holiday celebrates the creation of
the world, and as such is the new year for calculating calendar
years, sabbatical and jubilee years, vegetable tithes, and
tree-planting (determining the age of a tree). This holiday is
characterized by the blowing of the shofar. During the
afternoon of the first day, many follow the practice of
tashlikh, symbolically casting away sins by throwing stones
into the waters. Rosh ha-Shanah, the 1st of Tishri, never falls
on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday, in order that Yom Kippur
should never fall on a Friday or Sunday and Hoshana Rabbath
should not fall on the Sabbath.
The one practice unique to Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the
shofar, in accord with the biblical command "... it is a day
when the horn is sounded" (Num. 29:1). Since it falls on the
first day of the month, when new months were proclaimed by the
Sanhedrin on the basis of the testimony of witnesses, there
existed an uncertainty as to when exactly Rosh Hashanah would
be. Even when the Temple stood, it was sometimes necessary to
celebrate two days of Rosh Hashanah due to the late arrival of
witnesses. As a result it was decided to celebrate two days
every year. Unlike other holidays, this is unrelated to the
Rosh Hashanah is also known as yom ha'din, "the day of
judgement", when according to the Talmud, God determines who
will be inscribed in the "book of life" and who will be
inscribed in the "book of death" for the coming year. The
decision is made on Rosh Hashanah and sealed ten days later at
the conclusion of Yom Kippur. One's behavior in the interim can
supposedly alter a harsh decree, thus the period from the
beginning of Rosh Hashanah to the conclusion of Yom Kippur is
known as the Ten Days of Repentance. During the Middle Ages, it
also became common to refer to Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur as
the Days of Awe.
After the service in the synagogue, it is customary for
worshippers to wish one another le-Shanah tovah tehatem
ve-tikatev (May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year).
It is traditional to eat bread and apples dipped in honey
followed by the meditation, "May it be Your will to grant us a
good and sweet year."
In Ashkenazi communities, a special custom known as Tashlikh
occurs; it invokes the recitation of biblical verses and a
prayer near a body of water. It is performed on the first day
of Rosh Hashanah (unless the first day falls on the Sabbath, in
which case it is deferred to the second day). The custom
symbolizes purification of sin in the water.
Fast of Gedaliah (Tishri 3)
This fast commemorates the slaying of Gedaliah Ben Akhikam,
whom Nebuchadnezzar appointed governor of Judah after the first
destruction of the Temple (Jeremiah 40:7, II Kings 25:22.). He
was assasinated on the third of Tishri (582 BC) by Ishmael son
of Nethaniah of the royal family. Nebuchadnezzar, king of
Babylon, had appointed Gedaliah governor of the Jews who
remained in Eretz Israel after the destruction of the First
Temple. After he was murdered, large numbers of the people fled
to Egypt (Jer. 40 and 41), and the last vestige of Jewish
autonomy in Judah came to an end. His death was the final blow
to hopes that the Jewish state might survive the Babylonian
domination. It is mentioned in the Torah (Zec. 8:19) as the
"fast of the seventh month". The sages established the fast in
"order to demonstrate that the death of the righteous is
equivalent to the destruction of the Temple, which is also
commemorated by the fast" (Rosh ha-Shanah 18b).
Yom Kippur (Tishri 10)
The day of repentance. The holiest and most solemn day of the
year. Its central theme is atonement and reconciliation. It is
described in the Torah as "It shall be a Sabbath of complete
rest for you" (Lev. 23:32). Traditionally, there are
prohibitions on eating, drinking, bathing, anointing the body,
wearing leather shoes, and conjugal relations. Most of these
prohibitions are followed across the spectrum of Judaism--such
is the importance of this holy day. The fast on Yom Kippur is
the only fast which can take place on the Sabbath.
Yom Kippur services begin with Kol Nidrei, which must be
recited before sunset. A Talit is donned for evening
prayers--the only evening service of the year in which this is
done. The Ne'ilah service is a special service held only on the
day of Yom Kippur, and deals with the closing of the holiday.
Yom Kippur comes to an end with the blowing of the shofar,
which marks the conclusion of the fast.
The Day of Atonement concludes the Ten Days of Repentance that
began on Rosh Hashanah; it is regarded as the day on which ones
fate is sealed for the coming year. At one timem the Temple
ritual performed by the high priest on the Day of Atonement was
the most important event of the whole year. It was the only
time he entered the Holy of Holies in order to atone for the
sins of the children of Israel. The precise order of his
activities is outlined in the Torah in the Book of Leviticus
(Ch. 16) and is described in the talmndic tractate (Yoma).
After the destruction of the Temple the notion of penitence
became the main feature of the Day of Atonement when the Jew
confesses his sins. A main feature of the services of the day
is the confession, of which two versions are read. The long
confession of 44 double, alphabetically arranged lines begins:
"For the sin wherein we have sinned ..." while the shorter form
is made up of single words or phrases, again in alphabetical
order, beginning with Ashamnu (We have trespassed).
Sukkot (Tishri 15)
The third Pilgrimage festival, it is also known as The Feast of
Booths (Tabernacles), The Feast of Ingathering, or just simply
The Hag (The Festival). Sukkot is an eight day festival: the
first two days are celebrated as full holidays, the following
five days (Hol Hamo'ed) are weekdays that retain some aspects
of the festival, the seventh day (Hoshanah Rabbah) and eighth
(Shemini Atzeret) days have special observances of their own.
Liberal congregations typically only celebrate the first and
Sukkot is also called "zman simchaseinu" (the time of our
rejoicing). This is because the Torah tells us that at that
time when we harvest it is a time for rejoicing. We also
rejoice in the coming start of a new cycle of Torah, as Simchat
Torah ends the Sukkot holiday. Succot is also known as Hag
ha-Asif, "The Festival of the Ingathering", due to the fact
that it falls during the season when the final summer produce
is gathered from the field. Another name is simply Ha-Hag, "The
Holiday" par excellence (Ex. 23:16, II Chron. 7:8).
The first day of Succot is a full holiday on which work is
prohibited. The next six days have their own special
regulations, but work is permitted under most circumstances.
Outside Eretz Israel, the second day of Succot is also observed
as a full holiday and the following five days are hol ha-mo'ed.
Succot has a number of unique observances. During the entire
seven days (prior to Sheini Atzeret), one is required to dwell
"in the succah", a temporary structure whose roof must be made
of materials that grow from the ground, e.g. palm fronds, tree
branches, bamboo poles. Dwelling in the succah commemorates the
temporary structures in which the Israelites dwelt during their
40 years wandering after the Exodus from Egypt (Lev. 23:42-43).
On each of the seven days of Succot, except the Sabbath, the
Four Species - the palm branch (lulav), citron (etrog), myrtle,
and willow - are taken up (after the appropriate benediction)
and waved. The species are held also during the recitation of
Hallel, and during the recitation of Hoshanot, when the entire
congregation joins in a procession encircling the bimah. One
such procession is held as part of the Shaharit service on each
of the seven days. The seventh day of Succot, i.e. the last day
of hol ha-mo'ed, is known also by the name Hoshana Rabbah, "The
Great Hoshana." On Hoshana Rabbah seven such processions are
held during and after which appropriate prayers are recited.
After these willow branches are beaten on the ground.
Sukkot commemorates the life of the Israelites in the desert
during their journey to the promised land. During their
wandering in the desert they lived in booths (Sukkot). Four
species of plants are used to celebrate the holiday: the lulav
(palm branch), etrog (lemon-like citron), myrtle, and willow.
The etrog is handled separately, while the other three species
are bound together, and are collectively referred to as the
There is a special commandment in the Torah to rejoice on
Succot, "You shall hold the Feast of Booths for seven days. You
shall rejoice in your festival .. and you shall have nothing
but joy" (Deut. 16:13-15). In the Temple period, an observance
unique to Succot was the Simhat Bet ha-Sho'evah that
accompanied the special water libations of Succot, and the
celebrations at that time were especially joyous. Once in every
seven years, during Succot at the termination of the Sabbatical
Year (Shemitah), there was a public reading of certain passages
of the Book of Deuteronomy. This reading, known as hakhel, is
commanded in Deuteronomy 31:10-13.
During the five intermediate days of Sukkot, it is customary to
read the book of Ecclesiastes.
Hosha'nah Rabbah (The seventh day of Sukkot).
This day closes the period of repentance that began on Rosh
Hashanah. Tradition has made this day into a sequel to the Days
of Awe, lengthening the period of penitence and postponing the
day when final sentence is to be rendered.
On this day the worshippers go round the bimah of the synagogue
seven times while holding the four species. During the
circuits, piyyutim are recited with the refrain Hoshana (Save
us, we beseech thee). The name Hoshana Rabbah (the great
hoshana) derives from the sevenfold circuit. The source of this
custom is in Temple worship. During the festival of Succot,
according to tradition, the world is judged for water, and it
was the custom to take branches of the willow and go around the
alter saying "O Lord, deliver us! O Lord, let us prosper!" (PS.
118:25). Each day the alter would be circled once, and on the
seventh day seven times, The custom was then to beat the ground
with the willow branch after saying the hoshanot prayers.
In the Talmud, Hoshana Rabbah is referred to as a day when
everyone comes to the synagogue. Its special character was
emphasized during the time of the geonim, who saw it as the day
in which each human being receives from heaven a note on which
his fate is registered. And so there are those who greet each
other on this day with the Aramaic blessing a pitka tava, or in
Yiddish gut kveitl. Many and varied liturgical customs have
developed for Hoshana Rabbah. The most widespread are the
inclusion of the additional Sabbath and festival psalms in the
Shaharit (morning) service and the introduction of High
Holidays melody and usage for the ritual of taking out the
Torah from the ark. Another custom is to remain awake studying
Torah throughout the night. This custom was already known in
the thirteenth century, and its source is in the need to give
additional time to those who had not yet finished reading the
Torah and needed to finish by Simhat Torah.
Shemini Atzeret (Tishri 22)
The eighth day of Sukkot. In the Talmud it is written that "the
eighth day [of Sukkot] is a separate festival", so Sukkot is
really observed as seven days, and Shemini Atzeret is observed
as a separate holiday. It marks the beginning of the rainy
season in Israel.
The holiday is referred to in the Bible as atzeret, which means
assembly or closing. It is a closing in that it follows the
seven days of Succot and closes that holiday and the Tishri
holiday season. Thus the name Shemini Atzeret means the closing
or assembling of the eighth day, although obligations of Succot
are not observed.
By rabbinic tradition, Shemini Atzeret celebrates the
conclusion of the annual cycle of the reading of the Torah.
This celebration is known as Simhat Torah. In the Diaspora
(exile) Shemini Atzeret is a two-day festival, with the Torah
reading concluded on the second day, and it is common to refer
to the second day as Simhat Torah and only to the first day as
Shemini Atzeret. In Israel, where the festival lasts but one
day, the two names are used interchangeably.
In the Diaspora, a few observances of Succot "spill over" into
Shemini Atzeret, and according to some customs, the meals on
that day are taken in the succah, although the benediction
recited when eating in the succah is omitted. On the other
hand, the benediction She-heheyann, marking the advent of a new
holiday, is recited. In the Diaspora, the ceremony of bidding
farewell to the succah is performed on the first day of Shemini
Atzeret, whereas in Israel it is performed on the seventh and
final day of Succot.
The prayer for rain (Tefillat Geshem) is recited on Shemini
Atzeret and from the time of its recitation, the phrase mashiv
ha-ruah u-morid ha-geshem (He causes the wind to blow and the
rain to fall) is inserted in the second benediction of the
Amidah. This continues until Passover when the phrase is
replaced with morid ha-tal (He brings dew). Among Ashkenazi
Jews, the memorial prayer, Yizkor, is recited on Shemini
Simhat Torah (Tishri 23)
The celebration that marks the conclusion of the annual cycle
of readings of the Torah (Keri'ar ha-Torah) in the synagogue.
Simhat Torah ia a rabbinic institution timed to coincide with
the biblical festival Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of
Succot, and which in Eretz Israel lasts but one day.
Consequently, in Eretz Israel, Simhat Torah and Shemini Atzeret
are in practice one and the same holiday. In the Diaspora
(exile), where Shemini Atzeret lasts for two days, each day is
popularly known by a different name: the first day as Shemini
Atzeret, and the second day, when the reading of the final
portion of Deuteronomy is concluded, as Simhat Torah.
The last portion of the Torah is read on this day. The
following Shabbat the reading of the Torah starts again at the
beginning of Bereshis (Genesis). Festivities begin in the
evening with Ma'ariv. There are seven hakafot (processions) of
the Torah around the Synagogue. Services are joyous, and
humorous deviations from the standard service are allowed, and
In antiquity there were actually two different traditions with
regard to the weekly Torah readings. In Eretz Israel, the cycle
lasted three years. In the Babylonian tradition, the cycle
began on the first Sabbath after the holidays of the month of
Tishri. This became the Sabbath of Genesis (Shabbath Bereshit).
The cycle was completed a year later on the last of the Tishri
holidays, i.e. Shemini Atzeret. In time, all Jewish communities
adopted the Babylonian system.
The central features of the Simhat Torah celebrations are the
hakkafot - the perambulations around the synagogue, with the
participants carrying the scrolls of the Torah, to the
accompaniment of joyous singing and dancing. The hakkafot are
held both in the Arvit and in the Shaharit services. After the
morning hakkafot, three scrolls are taken from the holy ark for
the Torah reading service. From the first scroll, the final
portion of Deuteronomy is read to conclude the entire Torah;
from the second scroll, the first chapter of Genesis with a few
additional verses in order to indicate there is no pause in the
cycle of the Torah readings; while from the third scroll, the
appropriate maftir is read relating to the ancient sacrificial
service for Shemini Atzeret. According to custom, everyone is
called for an aliyah la-Torah, and different practices have
developed in this connection. In some congregations, the Torah
reading is repeated several times in order to accommodate all
the worshippers with an aliyah in other groups of worshippers
ascend together for the reading; while in most non-Orthodox
synagogues women worshippers also approach the bimah for the
aliyot. Because of the emphasis on the Torah as the heritage of
every Jew, even young children who have not yet reached Bar
Mitzvah age are honored with special aliyah. They come up to
the bimah accommpanied by an adult who leads them in the
traditional blessing, as a large tallit is held over them. The
person honored with the last aliyah la-Torah is named Hatan
Torah, the Bridegroom of the Law, while the one called for the
first aliyah of the Genesis portion is named Hatan Bereshit,
the Bridegroom of Genesis. In modern Israel, the custom had
developed to organize a second hakkafot celebration on the
night after the conclusion of the festival. These second
hakkafot have become public celebrations and are frequently
held to the accompaniment of joyous orchestral music.
Chanukah (Kislev 25)
Also known as Hag Ha'urim (The Festival of Lights).
The story of Chanukah is preserved in the books of the First
and Second Maccabees. These books are not part of the Tanakh,
but are part of the Apocrypha (Hebrew historical and religious
material that was not codified as part of the Bible.) The
miracle of Chanukah is referred to in the Talmud, but not in
the books of the Maccabees. It marks the defeat of Assyrian
forces who had tried to prevent Israel from practicing Judaism.
Judah Maccabee and his brothers destroyed the overwhelming
forces, and rededicated the Temple. The eight day festival is
marked by the kindling of lights with a special Menorah, called
The story of Chanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the
Great, who conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine, but allowed
the lands under his control to continue observing their own
religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy. During this
time, many Jews assimilated much of Hellenistic (Greek)
culture, adopting the language, the customs and the dress of
the Greeks, in much the same way that Jews in America today
blend into the secular American society. More than a century
later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV, was in control
of the region. He began to oppress the Jews severely, placing a
Hellenistic priest in the Temple, massacring Jews, prohibiting
the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple
by requiring the sacrifice of pigs (a non-kosher animal) on the
altar. Two groups opposed Antiochus: a basically nationalistic
group led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah
Maccabee, and a religious traditionalist group known as the
Chasidim, the forerunners of the Pharisees (no connection to
the modern Chasidism). They joined forces in a revolt against
both the assimilation of the Hellenistic Jews and oppression by
the Selucid Greek government. The revolution succeeded and the
Temple was rededicated. According to tradition, at the time of
the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not
been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah in
the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night
every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet
miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to
prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day
festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that
the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the
military victory: Jews do not glorify war.
Chanukkah candles should be set at the doorway, or by the
window in a place where they can be seen from the outside. This
is in order to "publicize the miracle" (Heb. pirsume nisa).
Since one may not use the candles for any other pupose, not
even to light from candle to candle, one special additional
candle is used, called the shamash (the "serving candle"). Some
use wicks soaked in oil, but wax candles are perfectly
There is significance to how the candles are lit. The menorah
in the Temple was lit in two stages: the middle and rightmost
were lit, then the incense altar was set up for the day, then
the other five -- from right to left. We traditionally light
the Chanukah menorah from left to right. This is because over
the course of the holiday, we fill the menorah from right to
left. The first day we light only the rightmost oil / candle /
bulb, the second day the rightmost two, etc... And on each day
you want to start lighting with the new candle (or whatever) so
you end up starting with the leftmost one.
After the lighting of the candles the Hanukkah hymn Ma'oz Tzur
is sung. It is customary not to do any work during the time the
candles are burning, for this is the hour when all the family
may sit together and enjoy the traditional foods of the
festival, such as potatoe pancakes (latkes) and doughnuts
(sufganiyot) and play the traditional spinning top game
(dreydel). It is also customary to give money to children as a
In the prayer services, the Al ha-Nissim paragraph is added to
the Amidah and to the Grace After Meals the full Hallel is
said. After the morning Amidah, each day the Torah is read from
Numbers (7:1-89), describing the sacrifices which were brought
by the princes at the dedication of the Temple.
The Fast of the Tenth of Tevet (Tevet 10)
The fast marks the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by the
forces of Nebuchadnezzar, and is thus connected with the
destruction of Jerusalem. "And in the ninth year of his reign,
on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar moved
against Jerusalem with his whole army. He besieged it, and they
built towers against it all round" (II Kg. 25:1). The prophet
Ezekiel was commanded to "record this date, this exact day"
(Ezek. 24:2). Asarah be-Tevet is the fast mentioned in the Book
of Zechariah as the "fast of the tenth month" (Zech. 8:19). All
the general regulations and customs associated with public fast
days are observed, including the recitation of special selihot
on the particular theme of the day. If the fast falls on
Friday, it is not moved to Thursday or Sunday, since it is
mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel as the "exact day." This is
not observed by liberal Jews.
The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has chosen Asarah be-Tevet as Yom
ha-Kaddish ha-Klali, the memorial day for those who perished in
the Holocaust whose day of death is unknown.
Tu B'shevat (Shevat 15)
The day designed as Rosh ha-Shonah la-Ilanot - the New Year for
Trees. This day was set aside in the Mishna on which to bring
fruit tithes. It is still celebrated in modern times. Fruit
that began to grow after the flower stage (or to ripen,
according to Maimonides and the geonim, before Tu bi-Shevat,
belongs to the previous year. Fruit reaching the stage of
development after Tu bi-Shevat belongs to the new year. The
consequences of this determination is whether ma'aser sheni,
the "second" tithe (first, second, fourth, and fifth years of
the seven year cycle), or ma'aser ani, the tithe for the poor
(third and sixth years of the seven year cycle) are to be taken
from the fruit. The importance of this determination stems from
the prohibition against setting aside fruit from the new year's
crop as a tithe for the previous year's crop. To facilitate
compliance with the commandments of orlah and fourth year's
fruits, this date is used to determine the first four years
that the tree bears fruit. Tu bi-Shevat also marks the
beginning of the second year in a tree's life, so long as it
has taken root some time before Tu bi-Shevat. This date was
chosen "because most of the winter rains are over" (RH. 14a)
and the fruit has begun to ripen.
In the Diaspora (exile), Tu bi-Shevat has lost its halakhic and
agricultural significance, yet it is still regarded as a
festive day. Thus, no fasting or eulogizing is permitted, nor
is the Tahanun prayer recited. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed
and his disciples began the custom of eating fruit on this day.
For this purpose, they composed liturgical poems (piyyutim) and
a seder for Tu bi-Shevat eve, during which they drank four cups
of wine. This custom was adopted first by varios Sephardi
communities, and then by Aschkenazi Jewry who initiated the
custom to eat on Tu bi-Shevat the fruit for which Eretz Israel
In modern Israel, this is the day when children plant trees in
the forests and in public places.
Fast of Esther (Adar 13)
A fast held on the 13th of Adar, the day preceding Purim. When
the 13th of Adar falls on the Sabbath the fast is moved back to
the preceding Thursday, the 11th. Ta'anit Ester is marked by
the usual observances of fast days, including the recitation of
penitential prayers (selihot) and the reading at both Shaharit
and Minhah of Exodus 30:11-14 (Va-Yedab).
It commemorates the fasts of Mordecai, Esther, and the Jews of
Shushan in reaction to the decree of Haman to liquidate the
entire Jewish people. According to the Talmud and other
sources, the 13th of Adar was formerly a feast day celebrating
the decisive victory of Judah Maccabee over the Syrian general
Nicanor. Because no fasting was permitted on "Nicanor's Day",
the Fast of Esther was held after Purim. But that usage was
annulled and the Fast of Esther was shifted more appropriately
to the day before Purim.
Purim (Adar 14)
This festival commemorates the events found in the Book of
Esther. The Shabbat preceding Purim is called Shabbat Zachor
(the Sabbath of remembrance). The day before Purim - Adar 13 -
is the Fast of Esther. The book of Esther is written in the
form of a scroll - the Megillah. It is chanted on Purim in the
evening, and on the next day after the Torah reading.
The holiday commemorates the Jewish people's escape from
extermination at the hands of Haman, minister to the Persian
king Ahasuerus. The word Purim means "lots", and the holiday is
so named as a reminder of the lots cast by Haman to determine
on what date the slaughter of the Jews would commence. The 13th
of Adar was the day marked for the Jews' destruction until a
royal decree rescinded the order, enabling the Jews to rout
their enemies within the Persian empire. On the 14th, the Jews
rested and celebrated their victory; thereafter it became the
day on which Purim was observed in most locales.
In leap years, Purim is celebrated during Adar II. In such
years, the 14th of Adar I is called Purim Katan (Little Purim)
and is marked by the omission of certain penitential prayers
normally recited on weekdays.
The following rabbinic commandments are observed on Purim:
1. The reading of the Megillah (the Book of Esther, which
narrates the story of Purim; it must be handwritten on a
scroll of parchment) twice; once during the evening and once
on the day of Purim. When the reader mentions the name of
Haman, it is customary for the assembled to make loud noises
in order to "blot out" the name of the oppressor.
2. Mishloah Manot, the sending of gifts of prepared food to
friends and neighbours. At least two types of food must be
sent to at least one person.
3. Se'udat Purim, a festive meal (se'udat mitzvah). The meal is
usually held in the afternoon, although it may be held in the
The historicity of the story as recorded in the Book of Esther,
as well as its apparent lack of a deep spiritual lesson, has
been questioned by some critical scholars. However, it would
seem that the main character of the festival is of a carnival
celebration. Since the Middle Ages, custom developed to
masquerade on Purim. Amongst Aschkenazim, a popular amusement
became the commical plays known as Purim Shpiel. In modern
Israel, carnival parades (Adloyada) are organized in the
In the course of Jewish history, it often occured that
individuals and communities who had been saved in a miraculous
fashion established a special "Purim" each year to commemorate
the date. The best known of such "private Purims" is that of
the Jews of Frankfurt-am-Main, commemorating the community's
deliverance in 1616. Frankfurt's notorius anti-Semite, Vincent
Fettmilch, who called himself the new Haman, was hanged, and
the Jews whom he had expelled returned to their homes. As a
result of the events of that period, the Jews of Frankfurt
proclaimed the 27th of Elul as a day of fasting and repentance,
and the 20th of Adar as Purim Winz - the Purim of Vincent.
Shushan Purim (Adar 15)
In the Book of Esther, the rejoicing in the walled city of
Shushan took place one day later (Adar 15) than elsewhere (Adar
14). Therefore, this day has come to be known as Shushan Purim.
This is because the Jews of Shushan, capital of Persia, were
granted a one-day extension to eliminate their enemies; hence,
their celebrations began on the 15th. Since Shushan itself was
a walled city, it was decreed that in deference to the cities
of the Land of Israel, which lay in ruin at the time, cities
walled at the time of the Israelite conquest would celebrate on
the same date as the Jews of Shushan. The 15th is, therefore
known as Shushan Purim.
To the present day, Purim is observed on Adar 15 in such cities
--- most notably Jerusalem --- as were walled cities at the
time of the events described in the Book of Esther.
New Year for Kings (Nisan 1)
Nisan is the first month of the Hebrew calendar; in Mishnaic
times it was celebrated as the New Year for Kings and months.
In biblical times, kings reckoned the years of their reign from
the first of Nisan. If a king mounted the throne on the
previous day, then the Ist of Nisan marked the beginning of the
"second year" of his reign. In addition to this "new year", the
Mishna sets up three other New Year's: Elul 1, for animal
tithes, Tishrei 1 (Rosh HaShanah), and Shevat 15, the New Year
for Trees/fruit tithes. Ever since the Babylonian diaspora,
only the Rosh HaShanah and Tu B'Shevat are still celebrated.
Tzom Bechorot: The Fast of the First Born (Nisan 14)
In commemoration of the slaying of the first-born sons of the
Egyptians as the Tenth Plague visited on Pharaoh, while their
Hebrew counterparts were "passed over" (i.e. spared, hence the
English name Passover for Pesach), first-born sons are required
to observe a minor fast on the day before Passover. However, if
they attend a simcha (joyous occasion) such as a wedding or a
siyum (a celebration marking the completion of the study of a
tractate of the Talmud), they are allowed to break the fast.
Therefore most Orthodox synagogues arrange for a siyum on that
Pesach (Nisan 15)
The first Pilgrimage Festival (recall that Nisan, not Tishri,
is the first month of the Hebrew calendar). Pesach commemorates
the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. The first seder is
on the 14th. On the night of the 15th, the second seder is
held, and the counting of the Omer starts. The Omer is a
counting down of the days from the time of the departure from
Egypt, until the time the Torah was received at Mount Sinai.
Pesach is also called "zman cheruteinu" (the time of our
freedom), because it is the time when the Jewish people were
freed from Egyptian slavery.
The holiday is called the "Passover" because God "passed over"
the Israelite houses when smiting the Egyptians with the tenth
plague (Ex. 12:23, 12:27). It is also called the Festival of
Unleavened Bread since the only bread that may be eaten during
the festival is unleavened (matzah), and the Festival of Spring
because of the command to "observe the month of Abib(spring)
and offer a passover sacrifice" (Deut. 16:1). Because the
Jewish lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar year, the
Jewish calendar was adjusted so Passover should always fall in
Passover's first and last days ( in the Diaspora, the first two
and last two) are holy days on which most work is forbidden,
and the days in between are known as hol ha'mo'ed ("the
festival's weekdays") or "the intermediate days." The principal
observance of the festival is the eating of matzah and the
removal of all hametz (leaven or any products containing it)
from one's abode prior to the festival.
In antiquity, the central Passover rite was the sacrifice of
the paschal offering - ofter called simply "the Pesah" - on the
14th of Nisan, and the eating of it that evening together with
matzah and maror (bitter herbs). The Samaritans continue to
perform this rite on Mount Gerizim, but for other Jews the
Seder became the central rite after the destruction of the
The Passover prayer services are essentially the same as those
of other pilgrim festivals. The first days Musaf service
includes the prayer of dew , the petition for rain (Heb.
Tefillat Geshem) , is no longer recited. In the Arvit (evening)
service for the second day, the counting of the Omer begins.
The laws of Passover are discussed in Pesahim, the third
tractate in the Order Mo'ed. It contains ten chapters with
Gemara in both Talmuds and Tosefta.
Sefirah (The counting)
Also known simply as The Omer, this 49 day period between
Pesach and Shavuot is defined by the Torah as the period to
bring special offerings to the temple in Jerusalem; This makes
physical the spiritual connection between Pesach and Shavuot.
Pesach marks the liberation from Egypt, and Shavuot marks the
receiving of the Torah. The counting begins the second night of
Traditionally, the Sefirah is a time of sadness. During this
period, 12,000 of Rabbi Akiva's disciples died. This occurred
during the Hadrianic persecution that followed the Bar Kokhba
revolt, in which Rabbi Akiva was involved. During this period
(with one exception), customarily no weddings take place, no
hair is cut, and no activities occur involving dancing and
music. The period is more culturally-dependant than the ban
itself. In some cultures, the period is from Pesach to Lag
B'Omer. Others go from Rosh Chodesh Iyyar to Shavuot. Yom
Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalaim are days on which people who
celebrate them take haircuts or take haircuts the day before.
Yom Ha'Shoah (Nisan 27)
Holocaust remembrance day, which is dedicated to the memory of
those who perished in the Holocaust. It was on that day in 1943
that the Nazis finally suppressed the Warsaw ghetto revolt. On
this day the people unite in remembering the six million
victims, the ghetto fighters, and the partisans.
All places of entertainment and restaurants are closed for the
24 hours commencing on the eve of Memorial Day. Candles are lit
on public buildings and in synagogues, flags are lowered to
half-mast and Yad Vashem conducts a state memorial service. The
president of the State of Israel, former members of the
underground and partisans, survivors and members of the public
See also: Yom Yerushalayim.
Yom Hazikaron (Iyar 4)
Day of remembrance. A memorial day to those who fell in active
service in Israel's wars. Observed on the 4th of Iyyar, the eve
of Independance Day. This date was determined by the Israel
government in 1949. On this day all places of entertainment
throughout the country are closed by law, flags are flown at
half mast and memorial candles burn on public buildings and in
synagogues. People visit military cemeteries and official
memorial services are held. Since 1968 an official service is
held at the Western Wall to mark the beginning of Yom
ha-Zikkaron . At both Arvit (evening) and Shaharit (morning)
services in many synagogues a special memorial prayer is
recited. A siren is sounded during the morning and all activity
is halted as citizens observe a two-minute silence. After the
closing ceremony of Remembrance Day, the festivities of
Independence Day begin.
See also: Yom Yerushalayim.
Yom Ha'atzma'ut (Iyar 5)
Israel Independence Day, which commemorates the establishment
of the State of Israel on the 5th of Iyyar (14 May 1948).
National celebrations begin with a ceremony on Mount Herzl in
Jerusalem, near Herzl's grave, presided over by the chairman of
the Knesset. National flags are hoisted in the streets and on
the buildings, and people celebrate the holiday with dancing in
the street, parties, day trips and outings. For many years the
central event of the day was the Israel Defence Forces military
parade. In recent years the central event is the Bible Quiz for
Jewish youth. Each year on the day of the Israel Prize is
awarded to outstanding figures in their particular field. In
many synagogues a special service, which includes Hallel, is
recited. Many people celebrate with a festive meal on the eve
of the holiday.
See also: Yom Yerushalayim.
Lag Ba'Omer (Iyar 18--The 33rd day of the Omer)
Thirty-third day of Omer counting, as indicated by the
numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters lamed (30) and
gimmel (3), hence the word lag. . Lag Ba'Omer takes place
during the Sefirah. During this day there was a break in the
Hadrianic persecution. Weddings and joyful occasions are
Lag Ba'Omer is considered a joyous day on which the
semi-mourning observed during the seven-week Omer period is
suspended. It is commemorated as the day of the cessation of
the plague in which 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiba were said
to have died during the Bar Kokhba revolt (TB. Yev. 62b). It
also marks the yahrzeit of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai. Lag ba-Omer
has been traditionally celebrated with the lighting of bonfires
on the eve and during the day, and with hiking excursions in
the countryside. Sporting events and games with bows and arrows
are held, as a symbolic remembrance of the Bar Kokhba revolt
and the physical prowess and courage required of his soldiers.
In Israel, it is customary to light bonfires at the tombs of
Simeon bar Yohai and his son Eliezer at Meron, near Safed, and
at the tomb of Simeon the Just in Jerusalem. Throngs congregate
to sing and dance, and to honor the memories of Simeon bar
Yohai and Rabbi Akiba, who were among the main rabbinic
supporters of anti-Roman resistance
In hasidic circles, three-year-old boys are traditionally given
their first haircut at these festivals. Older Torah students
and adults celebrate the day as the "Scholars' Holiday". Lag
ba-Omer is also a traditional day for wedding ceremonies to be
held because of the general halakhic injunction against
weddings during the period of the Omer counting.
Yom Yerushalayim (Iyar 28)
Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) marks the reunification of
Jerusalem and The Temple Mount under Jewish rule almost 1900
years after the destruction of the Second Temple. This
reunification occured during the Six Day War (June 1967). On
this day East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, was
captured by the Israeli Defence Forces. Many events take place
in Jerusalem to mark Jerusalem Day. A memorial service is held
on Ammunition Hill, where many paratroopers fell during the
battles. Large numbers of Israelis pay a visit to Jerusalem to
pray at the Western Wall and tour the city. The Chief Rabbinate
has composed a service of special prayers, including the
recital of Hallel, for the occasion.
The Hallel [a series of prayers of praise] is recited by most
Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform congregations. Israel's
Chief Rabbis advocate reciting Hallel with a blessing.
The new holidays of Yom Yerushalayim, Yom Hazikaron, Yom
Ha'atzma'ut and Yom HaShoah are still too new for any consensus
to have developed in the Jewish community as to the appropriate
liturgy. Many liberal Jews observe them (and create new
liturgies for them). Traditional Jews vary in the observance of
these days. Some observe them. Some prefer to commemorate
Churban Europa on Tisha B'Av along with the other catastrophes
which have befallen the Jewish people. Some celebrate the
Israel-related days, but don't assign them religious
significance, and others ignore all three.
Shavuot (Sivan 6, 7)
The second Pilgrimage Festival, it is also known as The Feast
of Weeks, Hag Haqatsir (The harvest festival), Hag HaShavuot,
or just 'Atseret (The conclusion of Pesach). [Literally, the
Hebrew word 'atseret' means conclusion.] Shavuot marks the end
of the counting of the Omer; it occurs on the day after the
conclusion of the counting of the 49 days of the Omer, in
accordance with the biblical command to count seven complete
weeks from the morrow of Passover (Lev. 23:15-16). According to
Rabbinic tradition, the Ten Commandments were given on this
day. It is customary to read the Book of Ruth on this day.
Shavuot is also called "zman matan toratanu" (the time of the
giving of the Torah).
The interpretation of the counting of the Omer was the subject
of a bitter dispute between two parties within the Jewish
people during the Second Temple period. The Pharisses, the
party that accepted the Oral Law and claimed that it was the
only authoritative interpretation of the Bible, took the words
"day of rest" to refer to the opening holiday of Passover, on
which no work could be performed. The Sadducees, who repudiated
the Oral Law, took the phrase literally (in Hebrew the text
reads "Sabbath") as the first Sabbath of Passover. Accordingly,
the date of the holiday came out differently for each of these
groups, with the Sadducees sometimes celebrating Shavuot as
many as six days later than the Pharisses.
Shavuot has an agricultural character and is known in the
sources as the "Feast of the Harvest" (Hag ha-Katzir, Ex.
23:16) and "the day of the first fruits" (Yom ha-Bikkurim, Num.
28:26). The main theme of the holiday, however is the
commemoration of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, which
by tradition (as inferred from verses in Exodus 19) occured on
the 6th of Sivan. When the Temple stood. the most salient
aspect of the holiday, aside from its various sacrifices, was
the bringing of the special "twin loaves" (lehem ha-bikkurim)
made from the newly cut wheat. From Shavuot throughout the
summer the first fruits of the seven species (wheat, barley,
grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates).
Among certain Jewish communities, the mourning rites of the
Omer period end with the advent of the month of Sivan, and it
becomes permissible, among other things, to hold weddings. The
3rd, 4th, and 5th of Sivan are known as Sheloshet Yemei
Hagbalah the Three Days of Restriction. These are the days when
the children of Israel were restricted from approaching Mount
Sinai prior to revelation, and certain holiday customs are
observed at this time. Thus the propitiatory prayers called
Tahanun are not recited and eulogies may not be delivered. The
2nd of Sivan is known as the yom ha-meyuhas, the day of
importance, coming as it does between the first of the month
(Rosh Hodesh), a semi-holiday, and the Three Days of
Restriction. In some communities, the Sabbath prior to Shavuot
is known as the Sabbath of the Bride (Shabbat Kallah), since
the Torah, given on Shavuot, is metaphorically described as
Israel's bride. These communities maintain the custom of
reading a ketubbah (marriage contract) between the Torah and
the Jewish people, at the time when the Torah is removed for
reading from the holy ark.
On the evening of Shavuot Arvit is recited with the festival
Amidah. It is customary to take care to recite the Arvit after
dark in order to make certain that the holiday is begun after
the completion of the seven full weeks of the Omer period. The
Torah reading consists of the account of the giving of the
Torah in Exodus (19-20) and is preceded by the recitation of
Akdamut, a special hymn written in Aramaic. Akdamut has 90
lines and details a debate between the Jewish people and the
nations and tells of the reward that awaits the righteous in
the next world. The Torah reading is followed by the festival
Musaf. In some congregations, liturgical poems known as Azharot
are recited as part of the Musaf. These are concerned with the
613 commandments. Certain Sephardi congregations recite the
azharot as well as the Book of Ruth during the Minah service
In the sixteenth century, the kabbalists instituted the custom
of remaining awake the entire night of Shavuot and complied a
lectionary known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot (Tikkun for Shavuot
Eve), which comprises the first chapters of the sacred books
and which is studied at the time. In time the custom of
studying any subject of Jewish religious interest developed,
but the observance is still known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot. Those
who remain awake for the entire night recite the morning prayer
service, Shaharit, at dawn. In Jerusalem, it has become
customary to walk to the Western Wall for the entire morning
service or at least for the Musaf, and since 1967, when
Jerusalem was reunited, many thousands can be seen streaming
into the Western Wall compound from all over the city. A very
ancient custom is to eat dishes of milk and honey on Shavuot in
keeping with the verse in Song of songs (4:11) that describes
the Torah as "Honey and milk under your tongue."
The Fast of the Seventeenth of Tamuz (Tamuz 17)
Mentioned by the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 8:19) as "the fast of
the fourth month", the 17th of Tamuz marks the beginning of the
destruction of Jerusalem. On this day in 70 C.E. the Romans
breached the walls encircling Jerusalem, which led to the
destruction of the second Temple. (During the siege preceding
the first destruction of the Temple in 587 B.C.E., the
Babylonians breached the walls on the ninth of Tamuz (Jeremiah
39:2), but both events are commemorated on the same date. The
actual destruction of the Temple itself took place on the 9th
of Av--both in 587 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. See Tisha B'Av.)
"Five catastrophies befell our fathers on the 17th of Tammuz:
the tablets (of the Covenant) were broken, the daily Temple
sacrifices were suspended, the walls to the city were breached,
Apostamus burned a Torah scroll, and an idol was erected in the
Temple" (Ta'an. 26a). The tablets were broken because Moses
ascended Mount Sinai on the 7th of Sivan, remained there for 40
days, and descended to find the people worshipping the Golden
Calf on the 17th of Tammuz. The daily sacrifices were suspended
during the civil of the Hasmoneans John Hyrcanus and
Aristobulus because the Greeks at that time laid seige to
Jerusalem and there was no access to sacrificial animals. The
inhabitants of Jerusalem would lower money over the city wall
in a basket, and the enemy would send up lambs in return. "On
one occasion, a pig was sent up instead, and it dug its hooves
into the wall, and the earth shook over an area of 500
parasangs ... Apostamus burned the Torah scroll." It is not
known precisely to what this refers. However, some identify it
with the incident in which the Roman procurator discovered a
Torah scroll, desecrated, and burned it.
For the traditional, this day is observed by fasting. The fast
begins at sunrise and concludes at sunset of the same day. this
applies to all fasts, with the exception of Yom Kippur and
Tisha B'Av, both of which begin on the preceding night. Fasting
is the only restriction imposed; Working and bathing as usual
The fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz extends only from dawn
until dark. During the Shaharit service, special penitential
prayers (selihots) are recited. The Torah is read at both
Shaharit and Minhah services, and a haftarah (prophetic
reading) is chanted as on other fast days. The Seventeenth of
Tammuz initiates a period of mourning, known as bein
ha-metzarim, "between the straits", which concludes three weeks
later with the fast of Tishah be-Av.
The Three Weeks (Tamuz 17-Av 9) and The Nine Days (Av 1-Av 9)
For the traditional, the days between the 17th of Tamuz and the
9th of Av are considered days of mourning, for they witnessed
the collapse of Jerusalem. In the Ashkenazi Jewish minhag
(custom), weddings and other joyful occasions are traditionally
not held in this period.
A further element is added within the three weeks, during the
nine days between the 1st and 9th day of Av. During this
period, the pious refrain from eating meat and drinking wine,
except on Shabbat or at a Seudat Mitzvah (such as a Pidyon
Haben or completing the study of a religious text.) Many
minhags observe a ban on cutting one's hair during this period.
However, the length of time varies: some refrain only during
the week in which Tisha B'Av falls.
Tisha B'Av (Av 9)
The saddest day of the Jewish calendar. On this day both the
First and Second Temples were destroyed. (587 b.c.e. and 70
c.e.) On this day in 1290, King Edward I signed the edict
compelling the Jews to leave England. The Jewish expulsion from
Spain in 1492 also occurred on this day. Tisha B'av also marked
the outbreak of World War I. The date is also associated with
the final collapse of the abortive Bar Kokhba revolt (135 CE).
The Tishah be-Av fast begins at sundown and lasts 24 hours
(like Yom Kippur), differentiating it from the other minor
fasts that begin at sunrise. The rules for observing the fast
day are similar to those of Yom Kippur. If Tishah be-Av falls
on a Sabbath, it is deferred to the following day, Sunday. Like
Yom Kippur, the Minhah service is held early in the day and a
last meal is eaten prior to sunset.
On Tishah be-Av, Torah study, with the exception of those
portions concerning mourning or the destruction of the Temple,
is forbidden. Before the Arvit service all leather shoes are
removed, the curtain is removed from the holy ark, and prayers
are recited in a subdued tone. after the service worshippers
sit on a low stool or on the floor as the Book of Lamentations
is read and a few kinot (elegies) are recited.
Neither the tallit nor the tefillin are worn during the
Shaharit service (Yemenite Jews do wear the tallit. The service
includes the reading of the Torah, "When you have begotten
children and children's children" (Deut. 4:25) and a prophetic
reading (haftarah), "I will make an end to them - declares the
Lord" (Jer. 8:13). After the Torah is returned to the holy ark,
a larger number of kinot are recited. In some communities,
lamentations is recited again.
It is the custom not to exchange normal greetings and to
refrain from work, until midday. At the Minhah service, the
tallit and tefillin are worn and their respective blessings
recited. The Torah reading and prophetic reading at this
service are the same as on minor fast days.
A special prayer is added to the blessing of Boneh Yerushalayim
(Builder of Jerusalem) during the Amidah.
New Year for Animal Tithes (Taxes) (Elul 1)
This day is set up by the Mishna as the New Year for animal
tithes, which roughly corresponds to a new year for taxes. This
is similar to the tax deadline in the United States of America,
on April 15. The date is disputed; Some authorities claim that
it was observed on Tishrei 1 (Rosh HaShanah). The actual date
is now merely academic; This holiday has not been observed
since the Babylonian diaspora.
Subject: Question 5.2: What are the dates of the upcoming Jewish holidays?
[The following is courtesy of the Hebcal program, mentioned in
Section 5.3. Hebcal also provides an interactive Jewish calendar at
* January: 4 Rosh Chodesh Shvat; 18 Tu B'Shvat
* February: 2-3 Rosh Chodesh Adar I; 17 Purim Katan
* March: 4/2003 Rosh Chodesh Adar II; 16 Ta'anit Esther; 17 Purim;
18 Shushan Purim
* April: 2-3 Rosh Chodesh Nisan; 16 Erev Pesach - Taanit B'chorot;
17-24 Pesach I-VIII; 29 Yom HaShoah
* May: 2-3 Rosh Chodesh Iyyar; 6 Yom HaZikaron; 7 Yom Ha'atzmaut; 20
Lag B'Omer; 29 Yom Yerushalayim
* June: 1 Rosh Chodesh Sivan; 6-7 Shavuot I-II; 30 Rosh Chodesh
* July: 1 Rosh Chodesh Tamuz; 17 Shiva Assar B'Tamuz; 30 Rosh
* August: 7 Tish'a B'Av; 28-29 Rosh Chodesh Elul
* September: 26 Erev Rosh Hashana; 27-28 Rosh Hashana I-II; 29 Tzom
* October: 5 Erev Yom Kippur; 6 Yom Kippur; 11-17 Sukkot I-VII; 18
Shmini Atzeret; 19 Simchat Torah; 26-27 Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan
* November: 25-26 Rosh Chodesh Kislev
* December: 20-27 Chanukah I-VII
* January: 4 Asara B'Tevet; 24 Rosh Chodesh Shevat
* February: 7 Tu B'Shvat; 21 Shabbat Shekalim; 22-23 Rosh Chodesh
* March: 4 Ta'anit Esther; 6 Shabbat Zachor; 7 Purim; 8 Shushan
Purim; 13 Shabbat Parah; 20 Shabbat HaChodesh; 23 Rosh Chodesh
* April: 3 Shabbat HaGadol ; 6 Ta'anit Bechorot/Erev Pesach; 6-13
Pesach; 18 Yom HaShoah; 21-22 Rosh Chodesh Iyyar; 25 Yom
HaZikaron; 26 Yom HaAtzma'ut
* May: 9 Lag B'Omer; 19 Yom Yerushalayim; 21 Rosh Chodesh Sivan;
* June: 19-20 Rosh Chodesh Tamuz
* July: 6 Tzom Tammuz; 19 Rosh Chodesh Av; 24 Shabbat Hazon; 27
Tish'a B'Av; 31 Shabbat Nachamu
* August: 17-18 Rosh Chodesh Elul
* September: 16-17 Rosh Hashana 5765; 18 Shabbat Shuva; 19 Tzom
Gedaliah; 25 Yom Kippur; 30 Sukkot
* October: 1-6 Sukkot II-VII; 7 Shmini Atzeret; 8 Simchat Torah;
15-16 Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan
* November: 14 Rosh Chodesh Kislev
* December: 7-15 Chanukah; 13 Rosh Chodesh Tevet; 22 Asara B'Tevet
Since the Jewish day starts at sunset, all of these holidays (except
those marked "Erev", which means "Evening") start at sunset on the
civil date before. (See Subject 7.2 for details.)
Subject: Question 5.3: How can I get a Jewish calendar?
Chabad-Lubavitch and other organizations publish calendars which
include sunset times for various cities. Jewish funeral homes often
distribute Jewish calendars to local synagogues around Rosh Hashana.
Jewish bookstores and gift shops sell them as well.
In terms of software to generate Hebrew calendars, there are a number
of resources available:
+ Gnu Emacs. User's of gnu emacs will discover that there is a
Jewish calendar built into Gnu Emacs. You invoke the calendar
via M-x calendar. Once in the calendar, a number of different
commands are available. In this context, it is worth noting
that the list of holidays obtained from M-x holidays includes
Jewish holidays, the key S can be used to obtain
sunrise/sunset times for the selected date (you need to set
latitude and longitude first; the relevant variables are
calendar-latitute, calendar-longitude, and
calendar-location-name. To display the hebrew date for a
given day, use the sequence p h (calendar-print-hebrew-date),
and to move to a date on the hebrew calendar, use g h
+ Remind. This a sophisticated multi-lingual calendar and
alarm system for UNIX. It produces web-based and PostScript
calendars, and includes a powerful scripting language and
friendly graphical front-end. It was developed by David
Skoll. It is available at
+ Hebcal. This is a Perpetual jewish calendar program by
+ HEBREW CALENDAR FOR WINDOWS. Provides full-month calendars
for Jewish/Hebrew date conversion. Holidays displayed with
information available. Sunset/Sunrise, Shabbat times and
zmanim. Anniversaries may be stored in personal database.
Customized calendar printouts. Torah and Haftarah readings.
Halakhic times of day (zmanim). Covers 1600-2200 (5360-5960).
Clipboard, Notepad, and Cardfile support. Extensive city
database. Lots more features. Available from the Home
Page of the Calendar Maven (<http://www.calendar-maven.com>)
+ Kaluach. This program displays a full month (either Hebrew or
civil) on the screen with all Jewish holidays, fast days
(ta'aniot), Shabbat parshiot, counting of the omer (sfirat
haomer), birchat hachama, and more. It provides daily
halachic times (zmanim): alot hashachar, earliest time for
tallit and tefillin, netz hachama (sunrise), latest times for
shema and tefillah, chatzot hayom, mincha gedolah and
ketanah, shkiat hachama (sunset), tzeit hakochavim. It also
provides Shabbat times: hadlakat nerot (candle lighting) and
tzeit shabbat (the end of Shabbat); Halachic times calculated
according to selected shitot and location; and a choice of
Hebrew or English language display (Hebrew support even under
standard English Windows-- the Hebrew date is displayed in
the Windows 95 status line when the window is minimized.
Users can add personal data such as birthdays, anniversaries,
and yahrzeits. Additional information available at
* The Web:
+ Steven Weintraub's JEWISH CALENDAR CALCULATION. This page
gives a lot of information on the hebrew calendar, including
code in various forms, a CGI interface, and a JAVA calendar
+ HaVeinu L'Shalom. This organization provides an online
perpetual calendar in day or month at a time, as well as
Kaballah/Jewish Astrology Calendar.
Subject: Question 5.4: Why do some people take off one day, and others two?
The Jewish calendar is based on a lunar system in which each month
begins at the new moon. A month can consist of 29 or 30 days.
Originally the determination of the new moon was by the Sanhedrin
(highest rabbinic court, 70 members) when witnesses declared that they
had seen the new moon. Once the Sanhedrin declared the new month,
messages were sent to the various communities stating which day (of
the two possible) began the new month.
Note that this does not say that the Sanhedrin did not know the
methods of calculating the new moon, but merely that proper procedure
required the witnesses. The astronomical calculations could be used to
verify the validity of the witnesses, if necessary.
In those months in which holidays occurred, (such as Nisan for
Pesach), the exact date was critical for determining when the holiday
began. Since the messengers could not reach every community in the
time allotted, those communities they could not reach would celebrate
both possible days.
In 325 CE, the Byzantine (Eastern Roman Empire) administration in what
was then Palestine limited the rights of the Sanhedrin to disseminate
calendrical information. Hillel II, the Sanhedrin President at the
time, published a set of rules for the maintenance of the calendar,
which is still used today.
The Sanhedrin also determined that those communities outside of Eretz
Yisrael would continue to keep the second day of the holiday because
of a principal "Minhag Avoseinu Beyadeinu", the customs of our fathers
[remain] in our hands, and to remember the law for when the Sanhedrin
is reestablished and the month is determined by witnesses again.
Reform Jews believe that since the calendar is defined exactly, there
is no longer a need to keep the second day of Yom Tov outside of Eretz
Yisrael. However some Reform Jews do choose to observe two days.
Many Orthodox Jews feel that once the Sanhedrin is reestablished, that
the declaration will be disseminated by CNN [Cable News Network] or
maybe even soc.culture.jewish, and even the Jews outside of Eretz
Yisrael will only be required to keep one day. However, until that
time comes, the requirement is to maintain the calendar as established
by the original Sanhedrin, which includes two days.
Subject: Question 5.5: Why does the Jewish day start at sundown?
Because this is how the Torah describes days, starting in the book of
Genesis: "And there was evening, and there was morning, one day."
(Gen. 1:5). As another example, the Torah refers to Yom Kippur
explicitly as "from evening to the next evening".
Subject: Question 5.6: What are the origins of the Chanukah Dreidel?
Both dreidel and grogger are traditional European toys, although the
names they go by in non-Jewish cultures are quite different from the
ones we use.
The English (and Latin) name for the dreidel is teetotum -- and you
can look up its history in the Oxford English Dictionary. It turns out
to be an ancient gambling toy, known in ancient Greece, and with
national variations on the letters on the faces of the toy. In all
national variants, the letters are a mnemonic for the rules of the
game. For example, the traditional English letters are:
T - Take all
H - Take half
N - Nothing
P - Put
Although the fact that the Dreidel goes back to Greek times makes it
possible that it was known in the Hashemonean kingdom, the fact that
the Hebrew letters on the sides make a mnemonic that fits the pattern
described above when used as initial letters of Yiddish words suggests
that the dreidel entered Jewish culture through the Yiddish speaking
Ashkenazi and is not of ancient origin.
The OED entry for teetotum says that that the toy fell out of use
because cards were far better gambling games, and that by the 1890's,
it had been reduced to a children's toy in the English speaking world.
In the Jewish world, according to Schauss's guide to Jewish Holy Days,
the playing card fad of the middle ages led the rabbis issuing a
series of edicts condemning excessive gambling. They didn't ban the
dreidel, though, perhaps because the "A great miracle happened there"
interpretation of the letters allowed the dreidel to escape their
As to the grogger, the rest of the English speaking world calls them
ratchets. You can buy orchestral ratchets from the precussion section
of good music supply catalogs, and in much of the world, the ratchet
is an important part of the equipment you take to things like soccer
matches and new-years parties.
Subject: Question 5.7: Is it appropriate for Christians to "celebrate" Pesach
using the form of a seder meal?
Although there have been demonstration Seders at a goodly number of
Christian churches, the key word is "demonstration". These are
educational experiences, rather than observances. Note that there is
no historical basis for the assumption the the Last Supper was a
Note that the Seder states "We do this because of the Eternal One did
for US, when he led us out of the land of Egypt." The Seder can not be
separated from Jewish peoplehood.
Subject: Question 5.8: What are the months of the Jewish Year?
Note: This is based on material at
The Jewish calendar has its months determined on a lunar basis, and
its years on a solar basis. As the lunar year consists of about 354
days and the solar year has 365.25 days, the lunar cycle must be
adjusted to the solar calendar in order that Passover should always
fall in the "month of Abib" (Deut. 16:1). This adjustment is made by
having a leap year seven times in each nineteen-year cycle;
specifically, in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th years
of the cycle. In a leap year, an extra month of Adar (Adar Sheni) is
added into the calendar.
The months in the Jewish calendar are as follows:
* Nisan. The first month of the Jewish calendar (Ex. 12:2); the
seventh from the beginning of the civil year. The name appears in
the Bible only in Esther 3:7 and Nehemiah 2:1. In Ex. 13:4, 23:15,
34:18; Deut. 16:1, it is called "the month of Abib (Spring).
According to one tradition, the Creation occured in the month of
Nisan. It is also the month in which the biblical patriarchs were
born, Moses led the Jews out of Egypt, and the final redemption is
to take place (TB. RH 11a). In biblical times, kings reckoned the
years of their reign from the first of Nisan. It is customary
during the entire month of Nisan to refrain from reciting tahanun
(supplication) prayers, eulogies and memorial prayers. Notable
holidays are Pasover (15-21/22), Holocaust Memorial Day (27).
Historically, the Tabernacle was completed in the wilderness on
the 1st; the Paschal sacrafice was offered in biblical times and
the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt in 1943 began on the 14th.
* Iyyar. The Bible calls this month Ziv (radience) (I Kg. 6:1,
6:37), and it is referred to as Iyyar in the Talmud (RH 1:3).
Notable Holidays are Israeli Independence Day (5), Lag b'Omer
(18), and Yom Yerushalayim (28).
* Sivan. The name appears in the Bible only in Esther 8:9. Notable
holidays are Shavuot (6/7).
* Tammuz. Tammuz is mentioned once in the Bible in reference to the
Babylonian god (Ezek. 8:14); in the Talmud it appears frequently
as the name of the month. Notable holidays are the Fast of Tammuz
* Av. Av first appears in Jewish sources in Megillat Ta'anit of the
talmudic period, but appears earlier in Assyrian inscriptions,
apparently referring to spring and meaning "fresh growth". As many
national calamities occured in Av, it is also called Menahem
(consoler), expressing the hope it will be a month of consolation.
"When Av arrives, gladness is diminished," say the talmudic sages
(Ta'an. 4:6). Hence, celebration is severely curtailed until after
the ninth of Av. During these nine days, amusements, bathing for
pleasure, business dealings, new construction, planting and
nonvital repairs are avoided; meat is not eaten and wine not drunk
except on Sabbath and at a se'udat mitzah repast. Notable holidays
are Tish b'Av (9). Notable historic events: Aaron died on the 1st;
on the 9th: the First Temple was destroyed (586 BCE); the Second
Temple was destroyed (70 CE); Jerusalem was razed by Hadrian (132
CE); Bethar fell as the Bar Kokhba revolt was crushed (135 CE);
England expelled the Jews (1290 CE); Spain expelled the Jews (1492
CE); and the Jews of Rome were enclosed in a ghetto (1555 CE); on
the 10th, France expelled the Jews (1306 CE).
* Elul. As Elul immediately precedes the Days of Awe, it is a month
of repentence in which special prayers are said and the shofar is
sounded at the weekday morning service. In the Sephardi rites,
selihot are recited daily throughout the month, whereas Ashkenazim
recite them only during the week before Rosh ha-Shanah.
* Tishri. In the Torah, Tishri is referred to as "the month of
Ethanim", the month of natural forces (I Kg. 8:2). The expression
is possibly a reference to the winds that are expected to bring
the season's first rains, or to the torrents that are supposed to
fill the wadis in Eretz Israel at this time of year. The name
"Tishri", from the Akkadian root meaning "to begin", first appears
in Jewish sourses in the Talmud. Notable holidays are Rosh
Ha-Shana (1/2), Fast of Gedaliah (3); Yom Kippur (10); Sukkot
(15-22); Hoshana Rabbah (21); Shemini Atzertet (22); Simchat Torah
(23). Notable historic events: on the 10th, the Jews were expelled
from Paris (1394 CE) and the Yom Kippur War began (1973 CE).
* Heshivan. The Torah calls it "the month of the Bul" (I Kg. 6:38)
in reference to the bountiful harvests associated with the season.
The name Heshivan first appears in Jewish sourses in talmudic
literature and Josephus (Ant. 1,3,3). It is often referred to as
Marheshivan, i.e. with the prefix "mar". The term "mar" is thought
to mean "a drop" and relates to the month as the beginning of the
rainy season. There are no festivals or fast days in Heshivan. In
that respect it is unique. Notable historical days: On the 16th,
Kristallnach, the the destruction of synagogues in Nazi Germany
and Austria, occured.(9/10 November 1938).
* Kislev. Kislev is mentioned in the Torah (Zech. 7:1; Neh. 1:1).
According to the Talmud, "If rains have not fallen by the 1st of
Kislev, three public fasts are decreed" (TB. Ta'an. 10a). Notable
holidays: Chanukkah (starts on the 25th). Notable historical
events: on the 17th, the U.N. General Assembly decided on
partition of Palestine (29 November 1947); on the 22nd, the State
of Israel declared Jerusalem its capital (1949); and on the 24th,
the building of the Second Temple occurred (Haggai 2:18) and the
British captured of Jerusalem (8 December 1917).
* Tevet. Although it is mentioned in the Torah its meaning is
obscure (Esth. 2:16). The last two or three days of Hanukkah fall
at the beginning of Tevet. Notable Holidays: Asarah be-Tevet (10),
a day of fasting and mourning, marking the start of the siege of
Jerusalem by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (588 BCE); this
day is also the Memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust
whose day of death is unknown, set by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate
(1949). Notable historical events: on the 19th, Keren Kayemet
le-Israel (Jewish National Fund) was established, (1901 CE); on
the 20th, Maimonides died (1204 CE); and on the 23rd Portugal
expelled its Jewish population (1496).
* Shevat. The name appeared once in the Torah (Zech. 1:7). Notable
holidays: Tu b'Shevat (15), the New Year for Trees. Notable
historical events: on the 15th, the First Knesset convened (1949);
and on the 18th, the Knesset elected Chaim Weizmann as first
president of the State of Israel.
* Adar/Adar II. The name appears in the Torah in Ezra 6:15 and seven
times in Esther. In a leap year, the intercalcated month is called
Adar Sheni (Second Adar or Adar II) and the regular month Adar
Rishom (First Adar or Adar I). Events normally occuring in Adar
are celebrated in Adar II; however, the yahrzeit of someone who
died in an ordinary Adar is marked in Adar I (although, because
there is a difference of opinion, some will say Kaddish also in
Adar II). "When Adar arrives people should increase gladness" (TB.
Ta'an. 29a) because of the Purim deliverance that occured in that
month. In Adar the half shekel was collected from the public for
Temple and related purposes; the forbidden kilayim grafted crops
were uprooted; repairs were begun on roads and on water sources
damaged by rain, to make them fit for the Passover pilgrims to
Jerusalem. Notable holidays are the Fast of Esther (13); Purim
(14); and Shushan Purim (15). Notable historic events include on
the1st, the Shekel campaign begun in Temple period; and on the
7th, the supposed date of the birth and death of Moses, which is
marked as a yahzeit of all persons whose burial place is unknown,
and, in Israel, of the "Unknown Soldiers."
Subject: Question 5.9: How does Judaism measure the day?
In the Talmud (Eiruvin 56a), Shmuel (3rd cent CE) asserts the Julian
year to be a sufficient approximation for the true solar year for
legal purposes: 365 days, 6 hours. In Sefer haIbbur, Rav Ada (a
younger contemporary) asserts a closer approximation of 365 days, 997
chalaqim, 46 rega'im.
In general, tradition follows R' Ada, except in the Blessing on the
Sun, which is done once every 28 years. Every 28 years, the sun
returns to where it was at the moment of its creation on Wednesday.
This is only true if you presume Shmuel's approximation, which would
have each year be 52 weeks, 1.25 days. The calculations of R' Ada's
approximation would lead to the blessing being said too rarely. In any
case, the whole thing is symbolic, as there is reason to believe
Shmuel himself didn't take the "week of creation" literally.
The Jewish calendar, which uses the Metonic 19 year cycle of 12 and 13
month years, is adjusted to get a total of 19 of R' Ada's
approximation of solar years. For the month, the approximation used is
to the nearest heleq, not rega: 29 days, 12 hours 793 halaqim.
However, it is exact to that precision. [Which is quite an
accomplishment, as the month length varies (the path of the moon
around the earth is chaotic, what Newton called a "three body
problem). It would take roughly 2,400 years of averaging to get a
standard deviation that small. Jewish tradition attributes great age
to this number, dating it all the way back to G-d telling Moses in
Subject: Question 5.10: Are the Four Questions asked on Pesach in the Torah?
All four are found within the 5 books of Moses.
1. The wise son's question is from Deut 6.
2. The wicked son's quesiton is in Exodus 12.
3. The simple son's question comes from Exodus 13.
4. The answer we offer the unasked question of the one who doesn't
know to ask is provided in Exod 13 as well.
Much ink has been spent on why the answers given the wise and wicked
sons in the Torah are not the ones used in the Passover Haggadah. The
Torah answers the wise son, "We were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt', a
text used earlier in the Passover Haggadah. The Haggadah, here
continues that answer from the theoretical to the pragmatic, and
therefore has you telling the son all the laws of the evening. The
Torah's wicked son differs from the Haggadah. The wicked son asks,
"What is this work for you?" The Torah states that this son is of a
generation who grew "old in the land", whose parents go through the
routine, but really see it as work. The harsh answer of the Haggadah
is therefore not given the Torah's version of the question--its child
is not fully accountable for its attitude.
Note that in Pesachim 116a we find four questions more suited for when
the Temple is standing: one about matzah, maror, roasted lamb (the
qorban pesach) and abut dipping twice. Today, without the qorban, that
question became moot. However, reclining is out of place; it's both no
longer in style, and not the norm for a people still struggling to
return. Therefore asking about it was a logical replacement. And, the
Vilna Gaon writes, this preserves the parallel in number to the four
cups of wine and four foremothers. The Rambam (Hilchos Chameitz
uMatzah 8:2-3), on the other hand, writes that there were originally
five questions. The one about roasting was dropped, not replaced. In
the Yerushalmi's version of the mishnah and the one found printed with
the Rif's and Rosh's commentaries in the back of the Vilna edition of
the Talmud, there are only three questions: dipping, matzah and
roasted meat. R' Menachem Kasher (Haggadah Sheleimah) cites 9
manuscripts of the mishnah, of which 8 only had these three questions.
In all probability, this was because the maror was one of the items
dipped. It was not felt to warrant a second question once the one
about dipping was raised. While on the subject of Pesachim 116a, it's
interesting to note that the rest of the "Maggid" portion of the
haggadah appears to be a fulfilment of the mitzvah according to each
of three different opinions. Rav has us focussing on the spiritual
redemption ("Originally we were idolaters...") Shemu'el, on the
physical one ("We were slaves to Pharoah...") Rabban Gamli'el, on the
mitzvos of the night ("Anyone who did not discuss these three
Subject: Question 5.11: What are the different days of the Jewish week?
Judaism doesn't make much distinction between the days of the week,
except for Shabbat. In fact, the days of the week are called Yom
Rishon, Yom Sheini... (i.e., 1st day, 2nd day, ....), and then
Shabbat. The only philosophical oddity is that not only is day 7
called "Shabbat", but each day is "of the Shabbat". In other words,
"the first day" (Sunday) is liturgically called "yom rishon beshabbat"
when introducing the day's psalm.
Subject: Question 5.12: How are Yahrzeits observed in Leap Years?
The real question is how one observes Yahrzeits that occur in the
Jewish month of Adar: are they observed in Adar I or Adar II? Many
issues in halachah are subject to debate, and this is one of them. The
Sepharadic ruling (followed also by some Chassidic groups) is to
observe in Adar II. Once Purim is on Adar II (to make a "redemption
season" of Purim and Passover), the "real Adar" is the 2nd Adar.
The Ashkenazic ruling is based on the notion that one ought not pass
up an opportunity to do a mitzvah. Therefore, the earliest possible
definition of yahrzeit, Adar I, is used. There is a custom to say
kaddish on both days. However, in terms of being the chazan, the other
yahrzeit date gives no priority over someone whose parent actually
died in a leap year and has an exact yahrzeit.
Subject: Question 5.13: What happened to the observance on 14 Nisan as
Actually, the Torah only refers to the afternoon of the 14th as
Passover. This is the time during which the Passover offering was
brought. It doesn't even imply that the day was named "Passover", just
that it refers to that period as "during the Passover [offering]". The
offering was actually eaten that night, on the fifteenth, the begining
of the holiday the Torah calls Chag haMatzos (the holiday of matzahs).
Why the name change? We call the holiday "Passover" to commemorate
what G-d did for us. He passed over the Israelites' homes and saved
them from Egypt. However, in writing the Torah, G-d stresses what man
did and does. So in the text of the bible, the name is taken from the
commandment of the day.
Subject: Question 5.14: For Mother's Day, how should one bless their mothers?
First, note that both Mother's Day and Father's Day are American
holidays, not Jewish holidays. Although some congregations may
recognize them, they are not Jewish holidays, as demonstrated by their
being observed on a Sunday, a traditional Christian day for church
So, how to bless your mother. Listen to what she says; do what she
asks. Find a nice Jewish person to marry.
Seriously, although one may be able to develop a blessing for
anything, in traditional Judaism, blessing one's parents is not the
normal construction. In traditional Judaism, blessings are generally
bestowed by the have to the have not: kohein to masses, Abraham's
children to the rest of the world, parent to child, rebbe to
student/chasid. To bestow a blessing implies having G-d's "ear".
Everyone has G-d's attention, and "The blessing of commoners should
not be a light thing in your eyes." This adds much meaning to wishing
another "Mazal Tov!" or "Refu'ah sheleimah" (complete healing).
However, codified blessings tend to run in one direction. A creative
rabbi, of course, could craft something, but it wouldn't be a codified
construction (i.e., standard in Judaism).
By the way, what is a good day in Judaism for recognizing parents?
We've noted above that Mother's Day and Father's Day are not
(actually, they were created by the greeting card companies). Here's a
suggestion: Shavuot is a great time for children to honor their
parents, as the Torah portion for the week is a reading of the 10
commandments that includes the directive. It is also a great time for
remembering all the other 9 commandments, and that we should be
following them (as we do every week when we study Torah).
Subject: Question 6.1: What is Kosher? Doesn't a rabbi just bless the food?
Kosher ("fit") food must meet the complex requirements of Jewish law,
and the supervising rabbi verifies that such is the case for a given
food item, or item which will come in contact with food. There are
restrictions on which foods are permitted during different times of
the year, and a procedure for slaughtering permissible animals with
minimal pain to the animal.
The rabbi's role is to decide questions of Jewish law. In the area of
kashrus, there are hundreds of details that must be met, and thousands
of "oops, now what?" questions that must be answered. Animals, for
example, are killed in a very precise manner, by a "shochet", and they
must be checked internally for disease, have their blood removed by
salting, feathers removed in cold water, and so on. Kosher wine may
not come into gentile contact before pasteurization. Vegetables must
be examined for insects. Because meat and dairy have to be carefully
separated, precautions against milk-based additives have to taken. The
complications can be immense.
A rabbi will hire a mashgioch to do the actual supervision. The latter
is supposed to call in the rabbi when a novel situation comes up.
Note that the Reform movement does not mandate observance of the laws
of Kashrut. Instead, it advises its members to study the laws of
Kashrut and to follow those that the individual feels increases the
sanctity of their life and their relationship to G-d. As a result,
there are some Reform Jews who do keep kosher. Also, many Jews keep
some aspect of the kosher laws, such as not eating pork or shellfish.
Rabbis (and others) sometimes recommend avoiding certain food products
based on concerns other than kashruth, for example:
* Environmental (e.g. its manufacture harms the environment more
* Religious (e.g. a Jewish-owned bakery selling kosher food, but
open on the Sabbath)
* 'Tikun olam' [repairing the world] (e.g. the manufacturer complies
with the Arab boycott of Israel, or mistreats its employees)
Some rabbis choose not to supervise certain products based on
considerations of the above sort.
For those looking for the traditional point of view, there is a good,
short primer at http://www.ou.org/kosher/primer.html.
Subject: Question 6.2: How can I learn about Kashrut? Is there a "Kosher"
The Union of Orthodox Congregations maintains a FAQ at
http://www.ou.org/kosher/primer.html, which would be a good
starting point. For Pesach, another good source is the Official
Rabbinical Assembly Pesach Kashrut Guide at
other good sites include:
* Why keep kosher? From the National Jewish outreach program
* An Introduction to the Philosophy and Laws of Immersing Vessels
* The Official Masorti (Israeli Conservative) teshuva on Pesach and
the use of kitniyot
Another way to learn is to read some of the books in the reading
list (Part 2, "Traditional"), and subscribe to some of the
periodicals. In particular, we recommend the following books:
Dresner, Samuel H; Siegel, Seymour. The Jewish Dietary Laws.
Burning Bush Press, New York. 1959. United Synagogue Book
Service; 1980. Paperback. ISBN 0-838121-05-5.[Conservative
authorship. The book presents liberal positions on ingredients,
wine, cheese, gelatin, swordfish. Among Conservative rabbis,
the book reflects more lenient views.]
[Buy at Amazon:
Forst, Binyomin. The Laws Of Kashrus. Artscroll Mesorah.
Hardcover. [A comprehensive exposition of their underlying
concepts and application]
[Buy at Artscroll:
Greenberg, Blu. How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household
Paperback reprint edition (September 1985) Simon & Schuster
(Paper); 1985; ISBN 0-671602-70-5. Jason Aronson (Hardcover);
1989; ISBN 0-876688-82-2.
Paperback: [Buy at Amazon:
ish] ; Hardback: [Buy at Amazon:
Lipschutz, Yacov. Kashruth: A Comprehensive Background and
Reference Guide to the Principles of Kashruth (The Artscroll
Series). Mesorah Publications Ltd.; 1988. Hardcover. ISBN
[Buy at Amazon:
ish/] [Buy at Artscroll:
Lubavitch Women's Organization. Body and Soul: A Handbook for
Kosher Living, Lubavitch Women's Cookbook Pub, NY. 1989. Bloch
Pub Co; 1997.Paperback. ISBN 0-826602-39-8. [Short introduction
to kosher basics.]
[Buy at Amazon:
Lubavitch Women's Organization: Blau, Esther; Deitsch, Tzirrel;
Light, Cherna. Spice and Spirit: Complete Kosher Jewish
Cookbook. Lubavitch Women's Cookbook Pub, NY, 1990, 1997.
Hardcover. Reprint edition. ISBN 0-826602-38-X. [Contains
detailed information about the laws of kashrut and holidays
from the Lubavitch point of view and thus follows Lubavitch
customs regarding Kashrut; for non-Lubavitch, use in
conjunction with other Kashrut references. Lots of traditional
recipes that tend not to fail, if followed. Good section on
[Buy at Amazon:
Wagschal, S. The Practical Guide to Kashruth. Philipp Feldheim;
2000. Hardcover. ISBN 0-873065-61-1.
[Buy at Amazon:
Also, every Jewish household, if you're at all interested in Kashrus,
should subscribe to Kashrus Magazine, published by Yeshiva Birkas
Reuven. For information, contact Kashrus at P.O. Box 204, Brooklyn NY
11204. You can call (718) 336-8544 for Visa/Mastercard Orders. Email:
firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the Kashrus website at
There are also a large number of Kosher Shopping Opportunities on the
web, including Kosher Supermarket
(http://www.wholesaleportal.com/), Kosher Finder
(http://www.kosherfinder.com/), Kosher Foods Depot
(http://www.kosherfoodsdepot.com/), Kosher Cornucopia
(http://www.koshercornucopia.com/), Kosher Club
(http://www.kosherclub.com), and Kosher Fest
Subject: Question 6.3: There are a wide variety of kosher symbols. How do I
learn who's behind them?
Every year, Kashrus Magazine publishes an index to all the Kosher
symbols and the people behind them. You can reach Kashrus Magazine on
the net at (<http://www.kashrusmagazine.com/>).
Subject: Question 6.4: I'm going to be in (insert city here). How do I find
the kosher restaurants?
Shamash.org maintains a database of restaurants in various cities
that are kosher. This database may be found at
http://www.shamash.org/kosher/. The interface provides an easy to
use search service for the database. There is also a link to a service
that allows you to download the database to your Palm Pilot. Email
inquiries on the database may be sent to the Shamash Kosher Restaurant
Team at email@example.com.
Another possibility is KosherNIC Restaurant Index, at
http://www.koshernic.com. This is a searchable database of kosher
restaurants around the world. It provides reviews, ratings, maps and
driving directions. It is fully searchable by location, KEYWORD,
Hashgacha, cuisine, etc.
Some other ideas:
* Call the hotel. Most large hotels, especially the chains, have
provisions for providing Kosher food, given adequate notice. The
hotel can tell you what it can provide. It can also provide the
name of the Mashgiach (kashruth supervisor).
* If the conference hotel cannot provide the services you require,
then call another large chain hotel.
* All hotels have the names of nearby houses of worship--and
sometimes ones in other parts of town. A call to the hotel will
always elicit this information, and a call to the congregation may
get information not obtainable directly from the hotel. This might
include contacts for minyons that have no shul, but which are
within easier walking distance of the Hotel. This is also a
possible source of recommendations for hotels with Kosher catering
facilities, should the conference hotel not have any. It can also
be as source of information on the reliability of the Mashgiach,
if you require this information.
Subject: Question 6.5: Do I need to have a kosher kitchen and kosher home to
No, all you have to do is avoid non-kosher food. Preparing kosher food
in a non-kosher kitchen is possible (this arises when visiting or
living with relatives who don't keep kosher) but it is much more
difficult than preparing kosher food in a kosher kitchen.
The practice of keeping kosher in the home, but eating non-kosher food
outside the home is certainly better than eating non-kosher food all
the time, but the kosher laws deal with what to eat, not where to eat
Subject: Question 6.6: I have heard that Polish Orthodox Jews wait 6 hours
between eating milchig and fleishig and Dutch Orthodox Jews wait
about an hour. Why?
The waiting time is based on a discussion in the Talmud where tree
different times of waiting between meat and milk are taken up as being
valid. The base for the wait is the verse in the Torah saying that you
should not boil the kid in its mothers milk. The question is what is
really demanded. The one hour wait is based on the premise that all
that is needed is for the taste to disappear from the mouth. The six
hour is based on the time it was believed to take for meat to leave
the stomach. There was also a twenty four hour wait, based on the meat
being totally gone from the system, which has completely disappear as
Note that both agree that there must be a delay, it's just that the
different communities came to different conclusions about the length.
It's a matter of custom. The delays selected appears to be based on
the elapsed time between two meals in the respective societies. All
agreed that they must not be eaten at the same meal, and "bentching",
i.e. the recitation of birkat ha-mazon/Grace After Meals, was
considered to be the end of a meal.
German Jews wait for three hours, since a mid-afternoon snack (about 3
hours after lunch) was common practice among Jews and non-Jews in
Germany. No such habit existed in Poland or Russia, hence six hours.
And, you guessed it, a late-afternoon snack one hour before dinner is
not entirely uncommon in Holland. The valid ones today are the one and
the six hour periods. The three hours custom of the Germans is less
accepted; traditionally, if a boy who keeps three hours marries a girl
who keeps one hour, the custom is that he adopt the one hour wait of
his wife. However, if, the boy keeps a six hour wait, the wife should
change to waiting six hours.
One contributor notes that some Dutch Orthodox Jews actually quickly
bentched (said blessings) after the meat course on Friday night,
entertained his group for one hour, and then served a dairy dessert
after asking if anyone objected and being answered in the negative.
Subject: Question 6.7: Why do Sephardim and Ashkenazim have different customs
regarding permissible foods on Pesach (Passover)?
Both agree that Chometz products are forbidden. Ashkenazi authorities
additionally forbade kitniyos, a class of foods in some ways similar
to chometz, but not classified as "chometz." Kitniyos refers to grains
and grain like products such as rice, millet, beans, lentils, and
others. Even though these items cannot become chometz, Ashkenazim do
not eat them because they are easily confused with grains that can be
become chometz and may even be mixed together with them. Sephardic
Jews (Jews from primarily the Middle East and Northern Africa)
generally do not refrain from eating kitniyos. Possession of kitniyos
is permitted according to all customs.
The custom of avoiding kitnyos is mentioned for the first time in
France and Provence in the beginning of the thirteenth century by R.
Asher of Lunel; R. Samuel of Falaise, and R. Peretz of Corbeil - from
there it spread to various countries and the list of prohibited foods
continued to expand. Nevertheless, the reason for the custom was
unknown and as a result many sages invented at least eleven different
explanations for the custom. The most common explanation appears to be
that kitnyos grains may be ground and look like flour, and that the
swell in contact with water. Thus, to avoid confusion, Ashkenazi Jews
There is a long discussion of the origins of the customs and its
specifics at http://www.tzemachdovid.org/klh/taubes.html.
For Ashkenazi Conservative Jews, the Conservative Movement has issued
a tshuva stating that kitnyos may be eaten on Pesach. It can be found
at http://www.jtsa.edu/org/masorti/msg00085.html, and states that
the custom of kitnyos is in direct contradiction to an explicit
decision in the Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 114b), as well as the
opinion of all the sages of the Mishna and Talmud except one (R.
Yochanan ben Nuri, Pesachim 35a and parallels). The Tshuvah also
claims that it contradicts the theory and the practice of the Amoraim
both in Babylonia and in Israel (Pesachim 114b and other sources), the
Geonim (Sheiltot. Halakhot Pesukot,,Halaktiot Gedolot, etc.) and of
most of the early medieval authorities in all countries (altogether
more than 50 Rishonim!).
Subject: Question 6.8: I'm a vegetarian health-food proponent. Is kosher food
We don't know. Traditional Jews keep kosher because G-d demands it of
us. However, we wouldn't be at all surprised if something which G-d
demands would also be good for us.
Note that vegetarian food is not always kosher: there are problems
with cheese, vinegar, oils, grape jelly, insects, gentile cooking, and
lots more. (No, we don't mean vegetarians eat insects. But strict
kashrus requires careful inspection for insects.)
Side note for meat eaters: kosher meat is healthier. USDA standards
are disgustingly lenient regarding the animal's health. "Sixty
Minutes" once did an expose on this--many kosher butchers reported a
large increase in gentile customers. Cold-water plucking helps prevent
the spread of salmonella bacteria, and meat from diseased animals
cannot be considered kosher. Kosher slaughter is more humane than
non-kosher slaughter, as it kills the animal in a painless fashion.
Although kosher slaughter does not kill the animal instantly, the
animal passes out from the sudden drop in cranial blood pressure and
dies in a minute or so. There is no pain.
Some Jews boycott particular foods or manufacturers as a political or
human rights gesture. However, even if a rabbi declares a food
prohibited in his community, although it is equally as forbidden as
non-kosher food, this does not affect its kosher status. (For example,
utensils coming in contact with morally-forbidden products do not
Subject: Question 6.9: Is vegetarianism kosher?
In principle, vegetarianism is compatible with Judaism. In fact, there
are those who find reasons within Jewish thought supporting
vegetarianism. However, Judaism categorically rejects the radical
animal rights position that animals have the same rights as people. It
should also be kept in mind that, in traditional circles at least,
vegetarianism may be considered somewhat "strange".
From the traditional viewpoint, vegetarianism for anything other than
health reasons is not supported, for the following reasons:
* "Ethical Vegetarianism" is rejected because it is G-d who allows
us to eat animals. The laws of shechita (ritual slaughter) are
designed to provide a compassionate way to kill the animals for
* Eating animals actually elevates the animal. In traditional
thought, animals can only do so much. When a jew makes a blessing,
eats animal products, and then uses that energy to do mitzvos,
(s)he is elevating the animal to G-dliness in a way that the
animal could not do itself. This is considered to be a holy
endeavor, and is further detailed in the concepts of chassidus.
* The torah states that "eating meat and drinking wine give a man
pleasure." All festive and holiday meals have both components:
they bring us gladness and enhance our simcha. One approach to
addressing this is to save eating animal products for Shabbat and
holidays, and eat pareve during the week.
Non-traditional movements do hold with the notion of "Ethcial
Kashrut". Gates of Mitzvah, the Reform guide to Mitzvot, notes: "One
might opt to eat only kosher meat or even to adopt some form of
vegetarianism so as to avoid the necessity of taking a life. (This
would be in consonance with the principle of tsa-ar baalei
chayim--prevention of cruelty to animals.)"
According to most halachic authorities, when the Temple is rebuilt,
all Jewish men will be obligated to partake of the paschal lamb with
their families. Nothing short of a severe lamb allergy permits
abstaining from this sacrificial meal (of course, it is believed that
when the Temple is built, G-d will heal the sick, so the allergies
will go away). There are various positions on this issue, which have
been written about in Kashrus magazine and on the net. Consult your
local rabbi for details.
Note that, while Judaism defines animals as below humans and does not
give animals the same rights as people, it does take very strong
pro-animal stance. Animals must be treated with care and respect;
recall that the Torah says that a hungry animal must be fed before its
Subject: Question 6.10: What process is involved in Kosher Slaughter?
Slaughtering an animal is a complicated process. One must use an
extremely sharp knife, and in a single action must slice through both
the windpipe and the artery carrying blood to the head. This
immediately renders the animal unconscious -- it dies before having
the opportunity to feel any pain. The knife itself must be sharpened
to perfection -- to the point that one cannot feel any imperfections
in the blade. Otherwise the animal is rendered non-kosher. In
addition, a detailed examination of the animal must be performed
afterwards, to ensure that it was not sick or disabled. There is a
blessing said in advance, as there is before performing any
commandment, but this is not a prerequisite (and in addition, one
blessing said in the morning applies to all animals a professional
ritual slaughterer does that day). The word "professional" is very
appropriate--it takes months of training for someone who is already a
Rabbi to learn how to do this properly. The result, though, is the
kosher animals are healthy and died with minimum pain.
Subject: Question 6.11: I work in a prison, and I have an inmate that is
demanding Kosher Food? How do I know if his claim is justified?
Inmates who were Jewish before coming to prison can usually give
references from relatives, and if they were affiliated, from rabbis.
One could also inquire as to whether they kept kosher before going to
jail and how observant they were. Additionally, their observance level
should be apparent by other practices in prison (i.e., do they attempt
to observe the Shabbat?). In the UK, the official line (set by the
prisons) is that if the inmate ate Kosher food outside prison, he/she
has a right to it inside prison. There is at least one progressive
rabbi in the UK whose rule is: If a Jewish inmate requests Kosher
food, he will approve it.
There are, of course, prisoners who convert to traditional Judaism.
Most non-Jews who chose to convert need a Rabbi for guidance and, of
course, the conversion procedures (circumcision or drawing of blood if
already circumcised and immersion). Those who are Jewish and want to
become more observant, can take the steps slowly and under the
guidance of a rabbi, as well. If they are truly sincerely, they can
begin with a vegetarian diet, and demonstrate their sincerity thourhg
other Jewish practices. For example, do they keep the Sabbath, do they
pray (three times) daily, do they have and put on Tephillin, do they
engage in serious Jewish study, have they set about to make "Tshuvah"
repentance for those they harmed that might have caused them to be
incarcerated. Do they even know what Tephillin is?
However, the issue is complicated. There is a halachic ruling about a
person who claims to be Jewish. If he makes the claim outside of
Israel, you accept him at his word since there is no advantage to be
Jewish in the Diaspora. If he says he is Jewish in the land, you must
question him if you are suspicious since there are advantages to be a
Jew in Israel. The same should hold for a Jew in prison. Is there an
advantage to be an observant Jew in prison? Would he get special
privileges? If so, question him.
If the party in question is a convert, ask him for the rabbinic court
that presided at his conversion. What did he have to do for
conversion? If it is a legitimate rabbinic court, there would be
records. Ask what synagogue he was a member of before prison. You can
contact that synagogue and they should know him. Ask him who was his
rabbi? Ask if his family can verify his Jewishness and level of
observance. Ask him if his mother was Jewish? Jewish diet is important
but not the most important part of being a Jew.
There are also a number of rulings that affect Jewish practice in
Prison. In Ross v. Coughlin 669 F. Supp 1235 (S.D.N.Y. 1987), the key
points were (1) that a prisoner can wear a beard but should shave for
an ID photo; (2) yarmulke, tallith & tallith katan are allowed; and
(3) Kosher food is allowed. Young v. Lane 922 F. 2d 370 (7th Cir.
1991) also ruled that a prisoner may wear yarmulka Ward v. Walsh 1 F.
3rd 873 (9th Cir. 1992) was a case where Kosher food was requested,
but the request was remanded to District Court for more facts. Candles
were not allowed because of security. Transferring the prisoner on
Shabbat was permitted, because forcing prison not to transfer would be
too much of a burden. There was also no obligation to get a rabbi. In
Best v. Kelly 879 F. Supp 305 (W.D.N.Y. 1995), the prison chaplain
said the plaintiff was not Jewish, and the court held he could not
wear a yarmulke. In Thomas v. Lord 174 Misc.2d 461, 664 N.Y.S.2d 973
(N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1997), No. 1963-96. Dated: July 8, 1997, a prisoner's
request that court declare her a member of the Jewish faith and that
prison authorities accept her as such was denied; however, the
non-Jewish prisoner had a right to participate in all Jewish religious
observances to the extent allowed by the teachings of the religion and
subject to any legitimate or penologic restrictions that may be
appropriate. In People ex rel. Sarkis 175 Misc.2d 433, 668 N.Y.S.2d
435 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1997)a petition by an Orthodox Jew acquitted of
second degree murder on ground of insanity and committed to
psychiatric hospital to be furloughed during Jewish holidays was
denied, as were his proposed alternatives to the accommodations being
made by the hospital. In Umar v. Scott , 991 S.W.2d 512 (Tex. App.
1999), the prison policy of not allowing inmates to grow beards,
except for legitimate medical reasons, along with the policy of not
allowing closed custody inmates to attend congregational religious
services or religious classes together was ruled as not violating
Muslim prisoner's free exercise rights and equal protection rights
under the U.S. Constitution, the Texas Government Code, or the Texas
Subject: Question 6.12: What are the issues involving Filet Minion?
The problem with Filet Minion is Gid Hanasheh, the sciatic nerve. The
Torah prohibits eating of the sciatic nerve in both hind thighs of any
kosher land animal (domesticated or wild). The difficult process of
the removal of the nerve and the fat surrounding it. This is called
"nikur", and must be done with great care by a skilled expert. In most
countries, the difficult process of removing the prohibited fats and
nerves is avoided entirely by not eating (at all) the hind part of an
animal. This also makes it difficult to find Kosher filet mignon, rump
and sirloin steaks, leg of lamb, and London broil.
Subject: Question 6.13: Why don't Jews eat Pork?
The prohibition comes from Torah, in the book Leviticus, Chapter 11,
verses 2 through 8, in particular, verse 7:
1. And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them, 2
2. Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts
which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth.
3. Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the
cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.
4. Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, or
of them that divide the hoof: as the camel, because he cheweth the
cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.
5. And the coney, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the
hoof; he is unclean unto you.
6. And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the
hoof; he is unclean unto you.
7. And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet
he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.
8. Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not
touch; they are unclean to you.
Subject: Question 6.14: Would the laws of Kashrut prevent Mad Cow Disease?
Mad Cow disease is believed to result from the consumption of cattle
that have been fed food that unwittingly included tissue of diseased
beef. The laws of Kashrut do not forbid feeding cattle food containing
beef products (although Judaism would prohibit knowingly feeding the
cattle diseased food).
Subject: Question 6.15: Is Monkfish Kosher?
Monkfish is also called Angel Shark, and is not Kosher (family
Subject: Question 6.16: Why do Jews separate Milk and Meat?
Note: Much of this information is summarized or extracted from Steve
Weintraub's Kashrut Class on Meat and Milk,
The Torah commands us three times (Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26 and
Deuteronomy 14:21) not to cook a kid in its mother's milk. The Talmud
widens this to the complete separation of milk and meat, including
bird meat. Why do we do this?
* Rambam attributes it as a prevention of an idolatrous and
* Some attribute as a discouragement from a cruel practice.
There are many possible reasons, but we should not, in general, try to
find reason in Torah prohibitions. It is not for us to fathom G-d's
reasons in telling us to do something; it simply should suffice that
G-d asked us to do it. And, by doing it, we are reminded of G-d's
commandments and the fact that we are Jewish.
Everything in the Torah is considered to have meaning; thus, the
rabbis have determined that the triple repetition of the warning in
the Torah means three different types of prohibition:
1. You may not cook such a mixture
2. You may not eat such a mixture
3. You may not benefit (in any way) from such a mixture
This was interpreted very strictly. Meat products were not permitted
to come into contact with milk products in any way. Food, and the
utensils used to cook and serve food, were divided into three
* Milchig (or chalav): Food containing milk, or utensils used with
* Fleishig (or basar): Food containing meat, or utensils used with
* Pareve (or stam): Food that is not derived from milk or meat and
is not cooked with a milchig or fleishig utensil. This food can be
eaten with either milk or meat (although in certain circumstances
use of a milk or meat utensil will render the food milchig or
fleishig). Pareve foods include all vegetables, grains, fruits,
eggs and fish. Originally birds were considered pareve (when was
the last time you saw a chicken give milk?), but the Rabbis ruled
that bird meat should be considered fleishig to avoid confusion.
Milchig and fleishig food can not be eaten together. There is a
waiting period (depending on your tradition, as previously discussed
in the FAQ--see the answer to question 6.6) between eating meat and
milk. No waiting period is required after eating milchig food before
eating fleishig food, but one should rinse one's mouth. There is a
rule that one must wait an hour after hard cheese for just this reason
(a hard cheese being defined as a cheese that has sat for six months
Along with not eating, the two types of food can not come in contact
while cooking, nor can utensils used for such cooking come into
contact. This has typically led to the "two sets" one sees in Kosher
kitchens: Utensils and plates for meat, and utensils and plates for
milk. Add in Passover, and you'll see that a Kosher household has four
sets of dishes, at minimum. These are all stored separately, and
typically are marked so as to clearly differentiate them. Food cooked
in the wrong pot is not kosher.
Of course, there are some exceptions:
1. Glassware. Glass was considered non-absorbent by the Rabbis. As a
result glass can be used interchangeably between the two types of
food, as long as it is cleaned well. The custom among Askenazic
Jews is to soak the glass 72 hours before interchanging, the
Sephardic say soaking is unnecessary.
2. Sinks. First, stainless steel sinks are preferred, as they can be
rekashered (porcelin sinks are porous, and are difficult to make
kosher). If there is a double sink, one half can be used for milk
and one half for meat. If this is impractical, then you treat the
sink as treif (non-kosher). Utensils and food should then only
touch it if they are going into the dishwasher. Individual dish
racks (meat, milk) should be used in the sinks to avoid contact.
In treif sinks, you may not soak utensils or food; a separate
kosher basin must be used.
3. Ovens and ranges. It is not necessary to have separate ovens and
ranges for meat and milk. If the same oven is used for both, great
care should be taken to avoid spills and splatters. Both types of
food should not be cooked in the same oven at the same time.
Grills used for one can not be used for the other without
kashering. When cooking on top of a range food should be covered,
and great care needs to be taken to avoid splatters. It is best to
specify the meat and milk burners, covering the unused side with
foil. Many people avoid this problem by having separate ovens.
4. Dishwashers. A dishwasher can be used for both meat and milk
dishes, but not at the same time. Dishes should be well rinsed
before being put in the dishwasher. Between the two types of
loads, a rinse cycle should be used. It is also preferable to have
separate racks for meat and milk. Many people address this problem
by using the dishwasher for either milk or meat, and hand washing
5. Towels Towels that are freshly clean can be used either with meat
or milk. Once they are used for one or the other, they must be
washed before use with the other. It is best to have different
towels for each to avoid confusion.
For traditional Jews, the prohibition from benefiting from a mixture
is interpreted strictly, so buying a cheeseburger for a non-Jewish
friend is forbidden. Note that the mixing of milk and meat only
applies to meat made from kosher animals (so you can buy your friend a
ham and cheese sandwich), and the stricture is stronger for cooked
food than uncooked food. Milk and meat that accidentally mixed, but
not cooked, can be sold or given away. Milk and meat that is mixed and
cooked must be thrown out.
You'll find the separation of meat and milk to be followed in the
traditional movements, as well as the Conservative movements. In
Reform Judaism, these rules are only followed in those households that
find the observance of Kashrut a meaningful practice.
Subject: Question 6.17: Must Jews use wine?
Actually, grape juice can be used, even if it's just because you like
By the way, Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that Catholics are allowed to
use grape juice for the eucharist. To be more precise, R' Dr Aaron
Twersky is both a rabbi (from a long line of Chassidic Rebbeim, but I
mean "rabbi" in the sense of having a synagogue, not the head of a
community) and a psychologist who works in a substance abuse center.
One of his patients was a preist who was being cured of alcoholism.
This means he can't drink even a drop of wine again; a problem for a
priest who must take communion. His self-control just isn't reliable.
So what is he supposed to do during Mass? He voiced this concern to
Rabbi Twersky, who asked why he didn't just use grape juice. The
priest asked his cardinal, and eventually the problem made it all the
way to Rome. Can grape juice be used for communion? Well, the Vatican
heard that we consider the grape juice a kind of wine, but they wanted
to know more. So the question went back to the priest and Rabbi
Twersky. R' Twersky sent back a citation of a responsum of R' Moshe
Feinstein, allowing the use of grape juice for the seder. The Vatican
concluded that if grape juice is okay for the seder, then it was
usable for the Last Supper, and therefore when Jesus said at that meal
"this is my blood" he meant grape juice too.
Subject: Question 6.18: Are there parts of a kosher animal that cannot be
Certain parts are listed as being prohibited, such as the fat of and
by the tail, the fat on the kidneys, the sinew that surrounds the
sciatic nerve, and the blood that was in veins or arteries at the time
of death. [Note that blood found within tissues, and is clearly not
within a part of the circulatory system, is kosher.] Kidneys are
generally considered non-kosher, as there is no way to get all the
non-kosher blood out of them. Brain is kosher, as are sweet-breads
(thymus or pancreas).
The thigh is generally not eaten in the US, as it is not cost
effective to remove all the branches of the prohibited tendon. We sell
that part of the cow to the non-kosher market.
Subject: Question 6.19: I have a friend coming over that keeps Kosher. What
do I do?
Well, first you'll need to know that if they keep Kosher, they cannot
use any utensils or plates at your house, because those are
non-kosher. Secondly, you need to know that with respect to prepared
products, there are little marks that indicate the products Kashrut
status. You can get a listing of all the symbols from
http://www.kashrusmagazine.com/, but the best known and most widely
used on is a U in a circle.
Given this: You're not going to want to serve anything that requires
heating or other preparation, as that will require using your utensils
(an exception might be heating water in a paper cup in the microwave,
but ask first).
You can serve food in packages that they see you open, such as tea
bags (Red Rose, Tetleys, Lipton), cookies (Stella D'oro). You can also
serve fresh fruit, which comes in its own package.
Also, let them see you open the package of paper plates, etc.
Of course, the best answer is to talk to them first, and ask what is
acceptable to them. They'll appreciate your thoughtfullness.
Subject: Question 7.1: What is the Jewish Sabbath and why is it on Saturday?
The Sabbath/Shabbat/Shabbos/Shabbath is the seventh day of the week.
It begins around sunset Friday night and ends around nightfall
Saturday night. In some Western languages the word for "Saturday"
means "The Sabbath", such as "el Sa'bado" in Spanish.
The Sabbath commemorates G-d's refraining from continuing creation on
account of the world being "complete." We emulate this by refraining
from various categories of "creative work," such as starting a fire,
building items, and ploughing fields, and lots of smaller-scale
activities related to these. However, Sabbath meals are festive and
song-filled, Torah learning is encouraged, and married couples are
encouraged to reconsummate their union. The idea is to refrain from
weekday activity in order to devote the day to sacred matters.
The laws of Shabbat are extremely complicated, and the various
movements differ considerably concerning which activities are
permissible and which activities are encouraged. A popular thumbnail
sketch is The Sabbath by Dayan I. Grunfeld.
The Jewish Sabbath is on Saturday because of the passage in Torah
(Bereishis [Genesis] 2:1-3) that describes how G-d rested on the
seventh day and how we are commanded to similarly rest (see Sh'mot
[Exodus] 16:28-30, 23:12, 31:12-17, and others).
Subject: Question 7.2: Why do my Orthodox Jewish friends leave work early on
Fridays and before Jewish holidays?
First, all Sabbath-observant and holiday-observant Jews do this, not
The Jewish "day" begins at sunset and continues to the following
sunset. Thus Shabbos observance begins before sunset on Friday.
(generally 18 minutes, sometimes more depending upon local custom)
Since activities such as cooking, driving a car, etc. are forbidden on
Shabbat, one must arrive home and finish the preparations (including
showering, changing clothes) sufficiently early to light the candles
and go to shul before sunset. In the winter sunset comes early, so
Shabbat observers have to leave work early. They arrange with their
management to make up the time by working extra hours other days or by
coming in early on Friday to make up for leaving early.
Subject: Question 7.3: Why can't Jews use electrical appliances and motor
vehicles on Shabbat?
Jews that closely follow traditional practice don't do a whole
category of activities, known in Hebrew as Melacha, on Shabbat.
Melacha is usually badly translated as "work"; but it is better to use
the Hebrew word, because the English word carries connotations of hard
labor and other concepts that are inappropriate. Technically, there
are 39 supercategories of melacha. They are derived from the classes
of activities performed during the construction of the Mishkan
(Tabernacle) in the desert, following the exodus from Egypt.
One of the prohibited forms of melacha is lighting a fire. So Jews
that closely follow traditional practice do not light fires on the
Sabbath. (In fact it is traditional to light candles just before the
Sabbath comes in as the last act of melacha done before the Sabbath
descends). Now, when you drive a car, and you put your foot on the
ignition, you produce a spark of fire. Thus, such Jews also do not use
motor vehicles on the Sabbath, for it violates the prohibition against
lighting fire on Shabbat. Electricity is more complicated (there being
long arguments about whether it is fire, or whether it is only banned
for falling under one of the other heads), but without getting into
the detail, suffice to say that it is not used because it too falls
within the various prohibitions. However, there are some exceptions,
such as lights or VCRs preprogrammed on timers (note that the VCRs,
the screen should not go on, as this would entice one to watch the
However, different movements have different positions on the issue.
Reform Jews, and other Progressive ("progressive" is the term used for
Reform Judaism outside the United States) movements tend not be
concerned with Melacha at all.
The position of Conservative Judaism is more complicated, as it
attempts to reconcile modernity with traditional practice, working
within what it views as halachic process. Some in Conservative Judaism
hold that electricity is not a form of fire, nor does the use of
electricity inherently violate any other Shabbat prohibitions. Thus,
it is an acceptable opinion within the Conservative movement for
electric lights, telephones and other electrical appliances to be used
on Shabbat. Note that other prohibitions, such as the prohibition of
cooking, remain. Others in the movement follow the traditional
practices seen in Orthodoxy, and restrict the use of electricity in
addition to other prohibitions.
In the area of driving on Shabbat, the actual stance of the
Conservative movement is stated in "Travel on the Sabbath: A statement
unanimously adopted by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards"
which was affirmed unanimously on 2/17/60.
This statement indicates that "the Sabbath cannot function as the
great day of the Lord unless we consciously "make a fence around it".
The most important of the fences we must make to safeguard the Sabbath
as an oasis of peace and of holiness is the avoidance of travel."
However, Conservative Judaism exempts a specific type of travel from
the above limitation: travel to a synagogue for attendance at worship.
This exemption was granted based both on the needs of modern
conditions, were people live in widely scattered areas, as well as a
view that it was an emergency measure which the individual might make
when in his conscience he or she knows that no alternative exists,
stressing the values that would be lost by travel even in such
instance. Note that both opinions limit this exemption to the need of
reaching the synagogue for attendance at worship. Still prohibited is
travel for other ends, such as travel for social purposes, or travel
to the synagogue for purposes other than to worship (for example, in
order to attend a Bar Mitzvah ceremony or reception, for the
motivation here is not the service of G-d but the honor of man).
Subject: Question 7.4: Why are there 18 minutes from the time candle lighting
starts on Shabbat until the last time you can light?
In classic Halachic literature, Shabbat begins at sundown. The 18
minute custom arose for various reasons that include the following:
* There is a mitzvah to add to the shabbos by beginning it early and
ending it later.
* Time pieces are imprecise.
As a result of this, the custom developed to light candles some
specific amount of time before sundown. In the United States, the 18
minute custom was almost (but not quite) universally accepted because
the first printed calendars in the US were printed by Rav Henkin, and
marked candle lighting 18 minutes before sundown. Most calendars in
most cities in the US follow that format today.
Note: While one can/should bring Shabbat in early with the lighting of
candles, Shabbat begins at sundown even if candles have not been lit.
For traditional Jews, at that point candle lighting would be
Note that other cities may have different customs. In Jerusalem, the
custom seems to be to light candles 30 minutes before sundown. In
Chicago Illinois, the custom is 20 minutes.
Subject: Question 7.5: I've heard that Jews can't tear on Shabbat? Why? What
One of the things that traditional Jews are prohibited from doing on
Shabbat is "work"; more specifically, the hebrew word "melachah".
Most people hear that Jews cannot work on Shabbat, and think of the
English sense: physical labor, employment, jobs. Under this
definition, tearing, opening the refrigerator, cooking, etc. would be
permitted, but a Rabbi leading a service would not be permitted.
However, Jewish law prohibits the former and permits the latter. This
is because traditional Judaism does not prohibit "work" in the modern
sense; the Torah prohibits "melachah", often translated as "work".
Melachah generally refers to the kind of work that is creative, or
that exercises control or dominion over your environment. The best
example of melachah is the work of creating the universe, which G-d
ceased from on the seventh day (and is a reason we observe Shabbat).
Just as G-d rested from the work of creation, so we too rest on
shabbat from creation.
The word melachah is rarely used in the Torah outside of the context
of Shabbat and holy day restrictions. The only other repeated use of
the word is in the discussion of the building of the sanctuary and its
vessels in the wilderness (Exodus 31:35-38). Notably, the Shabbat
restrictions are reiterated during this discussion (Ex. 31:13), thus
we can infer that the work of creating the sanctuary had to be stopped
for Shabbat. From this, the rabbis concluded that the work prohibited
on Shabbat is the same as the work of creating the sanctuary. They
found 39 categories of forbidden acts, all of which are types of work
that were needed to build the sanctuary:
4. Binding sheaves
12. Shearing wool
13. Washing wool
14. Beating wool
15. Dyeing wool
18. Making two loops 19.
19. Weaving two threads
20. Separating two threads
23. Sewing two stitches
28. Salting meat
29. Curing hide
30. Scraping hide
31. Cutting hide up
32. Writing two letters
33. Erasing two letters
35. Tearing a building down
36. Extinguishing a fire
37. Kindling a fire
38. Hitting with a hammer
39. Taking an object from the private domain to the public, or
transporting an object in the public domain. (Mishnah Shabbat,
As a result, all of these tasks are prohibited on Shabbat.
Additionally prohibited is any task that operates by the same
principle or has the same purpose (for example, driving a car uses an
internal combusion engine, which creates fire). In addition, the
rabbis have prohibited coming into contact with any implement that
could be used for one of the above purposes (for example, you may not
touch a hammer or a pencil), travel, buying and selling, and other
weekday tasks that would interfere with the spirit of Shabbat.
Let's look at one of these as an example: The lighting of fire. We
don't do it, simply put, because G-d said so -- Exodus 31:13. "You
shall not kindle fire in any of your communities on the Shabbat day."
What can we learn from this? From the phrasing, it would seem that G-d
had to make a point of telling us that this law applies even when not
living in Israel. Why would we think it was only connected to living
in Israel? As noted above, there are actually 39 types of activities
prohibited on Shabbat. Lighting fires is only one of them; the others
are extrapolated from context. Why was it mentioned separately? The
way the laws of exegesis work, if all 39 were derived by the same
derashah, the same oddity in the text, then all 39 would be the same
prohibition. Someone who violates more than one would have committed
only one sin.
R' Akiva explains (Pesachim 5b) that by specifying one separately, it
shows that all 39 are distinct. They are related to the 39 activities
required to construct the Tabernacle. This connection is implied by
the juxtaposition of the two topics -- Shabbos work and building the
Tabernacle -- in the book of Exodus, as well as the fact that both
speak of "melachah" or "meleches avodah" [melachah of avodah, losing
yourself in construction]. This connection to construction follows
through to the laws.
For example, tearing is one of the 39. However, the Torah's
prohibition only includes tearing as part of repairing or to measure
out a portion. To do so just to destroy is not Torahitically
The philosophical connection is implied by the number 39, particularly
as the mishnah describes it as "40 missing 1". 40 is associated with
creation, as G-d created the world through 10 pronouncements, each of
which had 4 aspects. So, there are 40 acts of creation whose absence
is commemorated on Shabbos. Of the 40, one is ex nihilo which is
prohibited by the conservation laws of physics. So only 39 are
prohibited by the laws of Shabbat -- "40 missing one". One of those 39
is kindling. So, when we rest from kindling fires on Shabbat, we do so
in part because it corresponds to some aspect of creation, be it the
creation of light on day 1, of the sun and stars on day 4, or some
step whose connection is less obvious.
Subject: Question 7.6: How do people know when to light candles in the
The established candle lighting times are based on the more temporate
zones. For other zones, the Rabbis came up with a solution: use the
established time for lighting candle currently employed in the largest
city to your south (or north, if you are in the antartic... or your
hometown, if you are in space) where it is possible to set up proper
candle lighting charts.
Why is this? The idea of sanctifying Sabbath lights dates back to the
Karaite controversy of the Eighth Century CE. In the controversy, a
group of schismatics, led by Anan ben David, rejected the efficacy of
the Oral Tradition, sticking to a literal interpretation of Torah. For
example, when Torah said that one should not kindle fire in one's
habitation on Shabbat, the Karaites disallowed any flame at all, even
one kindled beefore the Sabbath. In response, the Rabbanites declared
that not only was it permissible to light candles before Sabbath and
let them burn, they even instituted rules and regulations -- and even
a blessing -- for their kindling in every Jewish home. And thus was
the lighting of Shabbat candles "born".
So what are we doing when we kindle these lights? We are separating a
period of time and consecrating it to spiritual purpose. Thus, while
some might focus on the exact time, others focus on the
Subject: Question 7.7: What is the significance of Challah?
Challah means dough and refers to bread made from dough that has
undergone separation. There is a mitzvah (religious law) that requires
the head of the dough to be separated and given to the priests as
tithe. Since the destruction of the Temple, this mitzvah has been
satisfied by separating a portion of the Challah (a piece about the
size of an olive) and burning the separated piece in the oven. The
preference is separate the dough before baking but it may be done
after. Burning the separated piece is a symbolic sacrifice. Only
breads made from wheat, barley, maize, spelt,and oats require
Challahs are normally eaten on the Sabbath (Shabbos). The five grains
mentioned above were beyond the economic means of many of our
ancestors, i.e., considered "rich man's food." Further, "egg" bread is
considered to be richer bread than plain white bread. To make us all
rich on Shabbos, we eat Challah. Challahs are always served in pairs
on Shabbos and Yom Tovs (Holidays). This is symbolic of the showbreads
of the Temple and the double portions of manna received in the desert
on Friday. None was received on Shabbos.
With respect to the braiding, there are several reasons. The three
braids are symbolic of the commands to observe Shabbat that appear in
the Ten Commandnments One braid represents the word "Zachor" -
"Remember." A second braid represents the word "Shamor" - "Guard." The
third braid is for "b'Dibbur Echad" - that these commands of
"Remember" and "Guard" were said by G-d simultaneously and as one
Another reason is that Shabbat signifies and reminds us of three
different concepts: The Creation of the World, the Exodus from Egypt
and the Messianic Era. This is also the reason for three distinct
separate Amidot - Silent Prayers - on Shabbat, as opposed to the
weekday Amidah which is of identical wording three times a day (the
theme of the fourth prayer of Shabbat - Mussaf ("additional") is said
for the additional Temple sacrifice for Shabbat, and also applies on
Festivals.) This idea also provides an understanding for the three
meals eaten on Shabbat.
For the most strictly observant, even the way the challah is cut is
symbolic: Although the knife is on the table, it is not used, as the
Bible recounts that the patriarch Abraham, tested by God, did not use
the knife on his son Isaac. Instead the bread is torn after the
blessing is said.
On Rosh Hashana, the braided form is not used; instead, a round
Challah, often with raisins for extra sweetness, is used. In its round
form, the challah represents the cycle of life and the wholeness of
the universe, and the seeds symbolize fertility and plenty.
In some Jewish communities, holiday challah is also shaped like
ladders and hands: the ladder to help us reach great heights and the
hand as a symbol of the desire to be inscribed in the book of life for
the coming year. (Some also believe it is an amulet against the evil
eye.) Among Jews originating from Tripoli, it is customary,
particularly on the New Year, to make challah with caraway seeds, a
symbol of fertility. Among Moroccans, challah is made with raisins,
nuts and anise in the dough and served with a hard-boiled egg placed
on top. These are all symbols of sweetness and fertility. Many Central
European Jews also add raisins to their challah dough and serve it
with a little bowl of honey in the center.
Subject: Question 7.8: Why do women wave their hands three times before
lighting Shabbat [or Holiday] candles?
This is just a custom. The halacha is that one should cover one's eyes
before lighting. Why? The blessing for a mitzvah is supposed to
preceed the mitzvah. However, you can't make the blessing on lighting
Shabbat candles before lighting , for once you make the blessing it's
Shabbat, and you are no longer allowed to light the candles. So, you
cover your eyes so that you start /using/ the light only after the
Waving your hands three times beforehand is a kabbalistically derived
custom. According to the Zohar, the human soul has five levels: three
are internal and comprise your individual self [the power to live
(nefesh); the mind/will (ru'ach), and the spirit (neshamah)]; two are
external and refer to things outside your self (chayah (from the word
"alive") and yechidah (singular)). This custom involves the internal
aspects of the soul. To accept Shabbos into one's entire self, one
needs to prepare body, mind, and soul--nefesh, ru'ach and neshamah.
With each wave of the hands, one should consciously take a deep breath
and try to feel the atmosphere of Shabbos touching another aspect of
Subject: Question 7.9: What is an Eruv?
The Torah prohibits carrying on Shabbat between a public domain and a
private domain or for more than 4 cubits in a public domain.. However,
the Torah permits carrying within an enclosed "private" area. Public
domains are typically non-residential areas including streets,
thoroughfares, plazas ("open areas"), highways, etc. Private domains
are residential areas, and originally referred to an individuals home
or apartments that were surrounded by a "wall" and can be deemed to be
"closed off" from the surrounding public domains. The rabbis of the
Talmud developed a means to render a larger area as a private domain
by surrounding it. Such an enclosure is called an "Eruv", more
specifically "Eruv Chatzayrot" or Sheetufe M'vo'ot. The Hebrew word
"eruv" means to mix or join together; an Eruv Chatzayrot (henceforth
just "Eruv") serves to integrate a number of private and public
properties into one larger private domain. Consequently, individuals
within an Eruv district are then permitted to move objects across the
pre-Eruv public domain-private domain boundary.
The laws of Shabbat distinguish four domains, which are defined both
by the manner in which each type is enclosed and the manner in which
it is used. The first is a makom petor, or exempt area. An exempt area
is one that is at least three hand-breadths higher than the ground and
whose area is less than four hand-breadths by four hand-breadths.
There are no limitation upon transferring an object to or from an
exempt area on Shabbat. The second type is a semipublic, or "neutral"
area, neither strictly public nor private, known as karmelit (e.g.,
fields and oceans). The third type of area is the private domain,
which in order to qualify must be very clearly set off and defined
(e.g. the interior of a house). The fourth type of area is the public
domain, an open area always used by the public. Included in this
category are highways, deserts, and forests. The Sabbath laws
regarding the permissibity of transferring objects from one domain to
another are explained in the Talmudic tractate Shabbat of the Order
Eruvs serve to create a larger private domain. In order to consider an
area a private domain, the area must cover at minimum an area of about
12 square feet and must be somehow demarcated from its surroundings,
either by a wall of some sort or by virtue of its topography (that is,
it is either all higher or all lower than its surroundings).
The problem was that it is impractical to build a continuous solid
wall around a community. However, the Rabbis noticed that doors are
permitted within walls, and that a doorway consists of two parts: the
vertical members and the lintel on top. In fact, a wall may have quite
a few doors, and still be considered to enclose an area. In the
limiting case, there are many doorway openings and having very little
of solid wall remaining.
This is what happens in an Eruv. The door post function is fulfilled
by telephone (utility) poles (serving as vertical members), with the
lintel being cables strung between the poles. However, for a door
post/lintel combination to be acceptable, the lintel must rest
directly above the top of the doorposts. Note that this is not the
typical approach in utility poles, where the cable is attached either
to the side or to a member held away from the pole. To address this,
there is often a thin rod attached onto the pole to serve as the door
post "surrogate" ("lechi"). Additionally, the line that serves as the
lintel needs to be the lowest of the lines on the pole. If it is not,
then it is necessary to string a new length of line between the
affected set of poles.
In areas where the poles and lines do not exist, new pole/line
combinations must be erected. These added poles must of course be high
enough so as not to impede traffic. Fences may be used as part of the
boundary without modification; however, if the ground is eroded
beneath the fence to any significant degree, the space must be filled
in. Lastly, all the areas to be enclosed must be "residential areas,"
or areas suitable for residential areas. It is not permitted to
include bodies of water [lakes, streams, and ponds, although
reservoirs currently in use as drinking water sources are permitted
without modification), and cemeteries. Such areas must be excluded
from the Eruv by closing them off (either by not including them in the
Eruv area, or by encircling them within the Eruv).
The Eruv is generally designed by encircling a community with a
continuous string or wire. There are numerous regulations concerning
the placement of this wire. Those who live in and use an Eruv have an
obligation to ensure the Eruv is intact before taking advantage of its
presence. Usually, there is a group that maintains the Eruv that
provide such information, and conducts weekly inspections.
Note: There are other types of Eruv than that described above.
Specifically, there is an Eruv Techumim, which may be used to define
the "home" location for Shabbat in order to alter the permitted travel
Note that Eruvim are typically found in traditional communities.
Eruvim are less of concern to Conservative Jews, and are not of
significance in Reform. However, the non-Orthodox groups generally do
not protest Eruv (although some secular Jews do), as it enhances
Shabbat for those that do observe the laws concerning carrying.
Subject: Question 7.10: If your home is burning, can you put out the fire on
Yes, you can. Putting out a fire on Shabbos is just one example of a
more general rule. With rare exception, saving a life takes precedence
over any prohibition. Among the exceptions: murder, idolatry, certain
sexual sins, and war in certain cases. In other words, if given the
choice between murdering another or getting killed, one must choose to
In addition, one is permitted, but not obligated, to risk one's life
to perform any other observance that was banned by Antisemites for the
purpose of suppressing Judaism. The textual origin for the general
rule is at Deut 4:5: "and you shall guard well your lives." In context
it means something totally different, but that's where the derash
begins. Since allowing a fire to spread to the rest of the house is a
major threat to both the people in the house as well as people in
neighboring houses, one is OBLIGATED to put the fire out on Shabbat.
Subject: Question 7.11: What Medical Procedures May Be Performed on Shabbat?
There is an over-riding principle in Judaism (every movement) that any
Jewish law can be broken when it comes to saving a human life. The
only exceptions are for idolotry, adultery, or murder. These are the
only situation in which is Jew must choose death to avoid violating
So, when looking at medical procedures, one must first ask whether the
procedure must be done immediately (or at least during Shabbat) in
order to save a life.
Let's look at one example: Rehabilitation treatment. In some
situations, this treatment consists of music and dance and arts and
crafts. These are not likely to be "life-saving", although some could
be. On the other hand, if the treatment is physical and medical
rehabilitation (for example, cardiac rehab after surgery, exercises
for burn victims to keep their muscles from constricting, etc.) that
is probably a different story.
Note that this isn't just a Reform view. Even in the traditioanl view,
the definition of life saving is broader than one might assume. It
includes preventing someone from being alive but immobile, or deaf (in
the case of hearing aids), blind, or if it threatens sanity. Life
means productive life. Also if the procedure would measurably lengthen
life expectancy, one can be lenient.
The basic answer is to
1. Talk to the physician to see if the treatment is absolutely
necessary to save a life. If so, do it. No questions.
2. Talk to the individual to see if s/he considers the activity work
and if it is if his/her's movement prohibits it on Shabbat.
Although this FAQ is geared towards the traditional viewpoint, the
patient may be of one of the non-traditional movements.
3. If time permits, consult with the individual's rabbi. If the issue
is of concern to the patient, their rabbi will be glad to talk to
Note that some say that an observant Jewish doctor cannot attend to a
Christian on Shabbat, based on the claim that Christians are
idolaters. This is untrue, for three reasons:
1. Tosafos rule that Christians are not idolaters. Noachides who
believe that God has partners are not considered idolaters, they
are viewed as merely mislead. They opine that the trinity assigns
to partners to the Father who they identify with our God. This is
the ruling followed in the jewelery industry, allowing Jews to
sell crosses and crucifixes for wear by people who are presumably
2. Even if not, there is a concept of saving non-Jewish lives so as
to reduce animosity. An idolater saved on Shabbos makes it more
likely someone of his community would save a Jew. For that
hypothetical Jew, he may violate Shabbos.
3. There is a concept of "derech shalom"--ways of peace, part of the
obligation of imitatio dei. It too requires saving people of all
stripes. Note that unlike reason number 2, this makes saving a
non-Jew an ideal no less than that of saving a Jew.
Subject: Question 7.12: What happens on Shabbat?
As a reminder, Shabbat runs from sundown on Friday night to sundown on
Saturday night. However, Shabbat preparations begin well before
sundown, as one must be ready for the arrival of the "Shabbat Queen"
(traditionally, Shabbat is treated as an arriving queen).
By mid-afternoon on Friday, traditional begin to prepare. The house is
cleaned. The family prepares itself for the arrival of a special
guest. One wears the best clothes that one has (some families have the
tradition of reserving the first wearing of new clothes for shabbat).
The best dishes and tableware are set. A festive meal is prepared (the
running joke is that it is always Chicken :-)). Additionally, one must
prepare for all those things that one cannot do on Shabbat. For
example, lights and appliances must be set (or timers set); the
refrigerator light bulb must be removed or unscrewed; and preparations
for Shabbat meals must be made.
As the sun is starting to go down, Shabbat candles are lit and a
blessing is recited no later than eighteen minutes before sunset. Why
"before sunset"? Because after sunset, one cannot kindle a flame. The
candle lighting is traditionally performed by the woman of the house;
it marks the beginning of Shabbat. There are two candlesrepresenting
the two commandments: zachor (remember) and shamor (observe). The
family then attends a brief evening service. [In Reform congregations,
the candle lighting is often done as the first activity in the
In traditional households, the family comes home for a festive,
leisurely dinner after services. In Reform households, dinner is often
held before services. Before the dinner, the head of the house recites
Kiddush, a prayer over wine sanctifying Shabbat. The usual prayer for
eating bread is recited over two loaves of challah, a sweet, egg bread
shaped in a braid. The family then eats dinner.
In the Reform movement, there is not always a festive dinner. To
ensure the blessings are said, Reform congregations often have an
"oneg" after the service; at the start of the Oneg, the blessings over
the wine and bread are said by the rabbi.
During Shabbat, in traditional households, meals are generally stewed
or slow cooked items. This is because of the prohibitions against
lighting flames and cooking during Shabbat. Stews and slow-cooked
items are OK, because food that are mostly cooked before Shabbat and
then reheated or kept warm is permitted. Hence, a traditional Shabbat
food is Cholet, a form of stew. After dinner, the birkat ha-mazon
(grace after meals) is recited. By the time all of this is completed,
it may be 9PM or later. The family has an hour or two to talk or study
Torah, and then go to sleep.
On Saturday, morning Shabbat services begin around 9AM and continue
until about noon. After services, its time for another kiddush and
meal. During the afternoon, the family studies Torah for a while, and
takes some family time together. Often, people walk to the park to
enjoy the fresh air. It is traditional to have a third meal before
Shabbat is over as a light meal in the late afternoon.
Shabbat ends at nightfall, when three stars are visible. Shabbat ends
with a ritual called Havdalah (separation, division). Blessings are
recited over wine, spices and candles. The spices remind us of the
sweetness of Shabbat. The candle is then extinguished with the wine. A
blessing is recited regarding the division between the sacred and the
secular, between Shabbat and the working days, etc. We then pray for
Elijah, who will announce the arrival of the Messiah, to arrive (often
with the song Eliyahu Hanavi). We then wish each other a good week, a
week of gladness and joy.
Note: This was adapted from a description of a typical shabbat at
http://www.aujs.com.au/shabbat.htm. A description of the Orthodox
service may be found at
Subject: Question 7.13: Do Conservative Jews play musical instruments on
Most Conservative rabbis hold that playing a musical instrument on
Shabbat is a violation of a rabbinic law, and thus prohibit it. Some
Conservative rabbis hold that it may well not be a violation of
halakha (Jewish law), and so theoretically could be permitted.
However, in practice, the majority of these rabbis do not permit this
use. A minority of Conservative synagogues do allow the use of an
organ on Shabbat, and they have an official teshuvah (responsa) from
the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS)
to back them up. This teshuvah does not reccomend the use of an organ
- in fact, it discourages it. But it notes that strictly speaking,
this practice does seem to have some legitimacy.
The website of the Conservative synagogue (below) explains why it
allows the use of an organ during Shabbat services. It summarizes the
halakhic arguments in this issue.
Subject: Question 7.14: Why is there a prohibition on travel on Shabbat?
The Sabbath prohibitions involve 39 categories of "work". Well,
actually, what is prohibited is "melachah", as opposed to "avodah",
which would imply labor. These categories relate to acts required to
build the Tabernacle that was used in the desert and the early days of
the First Commonwealth, before Solomon's Temple. The Talmud deduces
this rule because the mention of Sabbath rest interrupts the telling
of the building of the Tabernacle that takes up much of the last part
Philosophically speaking, the Tabernacle and Temples were microcosms,
the universe in miniature. Therefore, resting from the acts involved
in building the Tabernacle is a way to commemorate G-d's "resting" (if
one can truly speak of One Who is beyond Time resting) from creating
the universe. Hence, melachah is defined more by an acts creative or
world-changing content than by the effort involved.
This prohibition on travel is found in Exodus 16:29: "A person shall
not leave his place on the seventh day". "His place" is taken to be
the town/city where he began the Sabbath. This shows that one form of
change is not being in the town where you began the Sabbath. A town
(actually, township) is defined as a group of homes that are within 70
amos (roughly 105 feet) of each other. Add to that enough to produce a
rectangle aligned with the compass points; in other words, fill in the
corners to make a rectangle with sides on the N-S and E-W lines. Last,
the town includes a 2,000 ammah (3,000 ft or so) area around the
rectangle. If one wishes to travel from one town to another, and if
the two towns are less than 4,000 amos apart, you can establish a
formal central point for yourself between the two towns by putting
some food down in a spot between them. This is called an "eiruv
techumim" (a mixing of surrounding distances). In a sense, you
established the significant part of the prohibited change on Friday,
allowing you to be within any city that is within 2,000 amos of the
food rather than within that distance from your starting point.
Subject: Question 7.15: Can an observant Jew use a camera on Shabbat?
A camera may not be used on Shabbat or holidays. Creating the
photographic image would raise problems with two of the 39 categories
of melechah prohibited on Shabbat: coloring/dying, and
writing/drawing. Additionally, most cameras use electronics, which
heat up filaments and a flashbulb (cooking or kindling), motors spark
internally (kindling), closing a circuit is completing it (a "final
hammer blow", as the concept is called in the Talmud). Lastly, posing
for the picture intentionally raises the issues of coloring or
drawing. So, if the picture is for your benefit you can't
intentionally walk into the field in front of the lens.
Anything a Jew can't do for himself, he can't ask a non-Jew to do for
him; however, he can enjoy it if a non-Jew did it for him without his
asking. There are exceptions, such as for communal need (such as the
synagogue janitor), or to prevent massive loss. How does this apply to
taking a picture? Consider a security camera. One doesn't gain by
having your own picture taken in such a case, and such pictures serve
to prevent massive loss. After all, the camera doesn't protect you
from yourself. Thus, walking by an apartment building's security
camera is permissable (in nearly all contemporary Orthoodox opinions).
Subject: Question 8.1: What role do women play in Judaism?
The basic answer is that everything that G-d created serves a unique
and vital role in fulfilling G-d's goals for this world/universe. In
particular, humanity (man and woman, gentile and jew) is both the
pinnacle and purpose for the creation in the first place. The details
of how/if women's roles differ from men's in achieving these goals in
the various Jewish movements is discussed in the remainder of this
section. In general, women are exempt from positive (i.e., "do this")
time-bound mitzvot (Mitzvot Aseh she'ha'zeman Gerama); i.e., if a
mitzvah is a "do" that is only at a particular time of the day (such
as putting on tefillin, wearing tzitzit, etc.), women are exempt from
these. Other mitzvahs still apply.
However, to summarize the position, being a Jewish Woman is the
greatest gift G-d has given us. Jewish worship is based on the
homefront. The family. As one of the goals of our lives as Jews is to
learn how to love G-d, we have been given marriage to guide us in what
is love. Love is not the self-love of "I love cake" or as can be seen
in Western cinema where men say "I love you and therefore you owe me"
to women. Love is the carrying out of the potential of giving. G-d's
love for us is manifested in all that G-d gives us. We just have to
open our eyes and pay attention to what is going on -- not an easy
task at all. It is the job of the woman to guide herself, her mate and
her family, to teach them selfless love and bring them closer to G-d.
In the traditional view, to do so, she was given 3 basic laws to keep:
The Jewish future is invested in our children and how we raise them.
Without children -- there is no future. The first step in caring for a
Jewish child's soul starts before the child is born. This is done via
the rules of Taharat HaMishpacha -- family purity. Pure (mistakenly
called Holiness) and impure in Judaism reflect the situation or lack
of life. When a person dies -- his body is Tameh -- impure. When a
woman menstruates she has moved from a state of being able to bring
forth life, to "death" -- the blood and vessels that had been prepared
for carrying life are now shed by the body. To return to a state of
purity a woman immerses in a Mikvah -- a ritual bath of water. Water
symbolizes both life and Torah, and so the water used for the
immersion is rain-water, water that is life-giving. When a woman keeps
these laws (which are many, but not at all complicated) she assures
the purity of the soul of her children (for additional benefits, like
keeping the marriage interesting, see books on the subject).
The second law is the one of Lighting Candles on Shabbat. Light also
symbolizes Torah, and in this case the light symbolizes the gift of
Peace. As the woman lights candles for Shabbat she is symbolically
bringing peace into her home, into the neighborhood and into the
world. Why? Because as we spread light, we usually drive out darkness
and with it hatred and bigotism and all the other things that like to
hide in the dark. So the woman is in charge of bringing light into the
home, thus bringing peace and love there -- and into the world.
The third law is the one of Chalah. This is a tithe given to the
priest from bread-dough that weighs at least 1,600 grams. As we don't
have registered Priests nowadays who can eat the tithe in holiness --
this is burnt repectfully. Chalah symbolizes the economic prosperity
of the home, but also the spiritual prosperity. It has been
traditional for centuries for women to bake Challot on Friday so that
besides having fresh bread for Shabbat, they can also give this tithe,
praying for the prosperity of their family.
Whether we understand why or not, it is our tradition that G-d gave us
these laws with all the details as we perform them today. As G-d
bothered with the details--so we keep them, even if we can't always
make sense of them.
Subject: Question 8.2: What is the Conservative view of the role of women in
The past 30 years have seen a revolution in how Conservative Judaism
views women. Conservative Judaism believes in the equality of men and
women, and, where necessary, has produced responsa and innovative
rituals to address religious needs in this area. The Committee on
Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) has approved a number of responsa that
deal with the role of women in Jewish law. In all of the areas listed
below, responsa exist that halakhically justify women's active
participation in synagogue life:
* Publicly reading the Torah (ba'al kriah)
* Being part of the minyan
* Being called to the Torah (aliyah)
* Serving as cantor (shalich tzibbur)
* Serving as rabbi and halakhic decisor (posek)
* Wearing a tallit and tefillin
Note that a congregational rabbi may or may not decide to adopt
particular rulings for the congregation. So some Conservative
congregations will be more or less egalitarian than others.
However, there are other areas where differences remain between men
and women, including:
* Matrilineal descent. The child of a Jewish mother is born Jewish;
the child of a Jewish father is born Jewish if and only if the
mother is Jewish.
* Serving as Witnesses. Women do not usually serve as legal
witnesses in those cases where Jewish law requires two witnesses.
One opinion of the CJLS affirms that women may serve as witnesses.
However, most Conservative rabbis currently affirm this only as a
theoretical option, because of concern for Jewish unity. A change
could result in many Orthodox Jews refusing to recognize the
legitimacy of many marriages and divorces. A current Conservative
solution is in the area of weddings: A new minhag is to use
Ketubot (wedding document) with spaces for four witnesses to sign;
two men, and two women.
* First and Second Aliyot. One position of the CJLS is that
daughters of Kohanim and Leviym can be accorded the same aliyot
that are normally accorded to Kohanim and Leviyim, whether they
are single or married. Their status regarding being called to the
Torah should not be determined by the lineage of their husbands,
but by their own paternal lineage. [Rabbi Joel Roth "The status of
daughters of Kohanim and Leviyim for aliyot" 11/15/89] Another
position the CJLS is that women do not receive such aliyot. The
Va'ad Halakha of the Masorti movement has also ruled that women do
not receive such aliyot. [Rabbi Robert Harris, 5748].
* Pidyon Haben. There is precedent, though not with unanimity, in
the halakhah for a Bat Kohen to serve equally with other Kohanim
with respect to Pidyon ha-Ben. There is strong opinion in the
Talmud supported by later authorities that she may receive some of
the priestly dues designated for Kohanim. Even when married to a
non-Kohen, she does not become a zarah like her husband, but
retains certain kehuna privileges. Women may thus perform Pidyon
ha-Ben. [Rabbi Aaron Blumenthal, 1977]. Rabbi Joel Roth notes that
Rishonim (rabbis from the 10th to 16th centuries) are divided on
this issue, and cautions that this issue requires more detailed
* Pidyon Habat. Conservative Judaism prohibits performing Pidyon
Ha-Bat on a newborn daughter. Pidyon Ha-Bat is a newly proposed
ceremony that would mark the redemption of a newborn daughter; the
CJLS has stated that this particular ceremony should not be
performed. Other means, such as a Simchat Bat, should instead be
used to mark the special status of a new born daughter. [CJLS
teshuvah by Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik, 1993]
* Nesiat Kapayim [The Priestly Blessing]. The CJLS has approved two
positions on whether women may participate in Nesiat Kapayim. The
Va'ad Halakha of the Masorti movement has approved one position.
1. A Bat Kohen may participate in Nesiat Kapayim because: (a)
The word "banav" in Numbers 66:23 does not mean sons only,
but rather children. (b) The role of the Kohen is either to
serve as the medium for G-d's blessing to israel, or to pray
for Israel to be blessed--either purpose is appropriate for a
Bat Kohen who possesses lineal sanctity. (c) Nesiat Kapayim
is not de'oreita. (d) There has been a steady development of
this ritual since Temple times, and there is no reason for
the development to stop. (e) A Bat Kohen is permitted to
receive other special honors accorded to Kohanim, including
Birkat Hamazon and Pidyon Haben. [Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz,
2. A Bat Kohen is not permitted to participate in Nesiat Kapayim
because as a continuation of a Temple ritual, the Priestly
Benediction should be performed by those who were
authentically eligible to do so in the Temple. Women of
Priestly descent may benefit from the perquisities of
Kehunah, but they are excluded by the Torah from peforming
the rituals of the Kohanim in the Temple. Therefore, this
should only be peformed by male Kohanim. [Rabbis Stanley
Bramnick and Judah Kagen, 1994]. The Va'ad halakha of the
Masorti movement, in a teshuvah by Rabbi Reuven Hammer, 5748,
also states this position.
If you want more information on the Conservative positions, you should
be aware that there is a set of teshuvot on all of these areas
developed by The Rabbinical Assembly. These teshuvot have all been
published in the following sources, all available from the United
Synagogue Book Service. However, every Conservative synagogue library
should have each of the following books in stock; if they do not,
please bring it to the attention both of your librarian and rabbi so
that they can rectify the omission.
* "Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the
Conservative Movement 1980-1985"
* "Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the
Conservative Movement 1986-1990"
* "Responsa 1991-2000" (recently published)
* "Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the
Conservative Movement 1927-1970" [Three volume set]
* Robert Gordis "The Dynamics of Judaism: A Study in Jewish Law"
Indiana University Press, 1990 [See especially chapters 10 and 11]
* Simon Greenberg, editor "The Ordination of Women as Rabbis:
Studies and Responsa" JTS, 1988
If you are looking for statistical information on women in
Conservative Judaism, LEARN @ JTS (http://learn.jtsa.edu/), the
free educational outreach website from the Jewish Theological
Seminary, has a section on statistics. The information on this website
has been excerpted from "Conservative Synagogues and Their Members:
Highlights of the North American Survey", Edited by Jack Wertheimer,
which is available from JTS Press. Another source of information on
this topic is "Conservative Jewry in the United States: A
Sociodemographic Profile" by Sidney Goldstein and Alice Goldstein. JTS
Press books are available at this website:
Subject: Question 8.3: What is the Reform view of the role of women in
Reform believes in the equality of men and women, and, where
necessary, has introduced alternative mitzvot and rituals to address
religious needs in this fashion. Reform allows women to be both rabbis
and cantors, counts them as part of the minyon (quorum for public
prayer), allows women to initiate a divorce, and provides a
berit-equivalent ceremony for girls (no medical procedure is done,
Subject: Question 8.4: What is the Orthodox view of the role of women in
The role of women in Orthodox Jewish life, like the role of men, is a
complex and dynamic product of the myriad components of life. In
Orthodox Jewish thought, religious observance encompasses a broad
spectrum of areas including but not limited to observance of the
Sabbath and dietary laws, contemplation, social interaction, personal
development, business practice and charity. The role of the Jewish
woman involves all of these areas as well as many others.
These general components of the role of the Jewish woman are constant
throughout history. However, the particular manifestations of these
components differ from era to era and person to person. Jewish law
does not regulate every detail of life, but provides a basic structure
within which each person may express their own personality.
Throughout the centuries, the occupations of wife and mother have been
primary vehicles of religious expression and duty for Jewish women.
Indeed, throughout history, the vast majority of women of all cultures
and religions have focused their energies on these roles. While debate
rages throughout contemporary society as to the origin and benefit of
these roles for women, it is widely recognized throughout the Orthodox
Jewish world that the roles of wife and mother afford tremendous
opportunity for spiritual expression and growth. Home-life in Orthodox
Judaism is a rich world of familial love, nurturing of others, prayer,
intellect, and communal festivity. One could argue that it is a far
more interesting and spiritually satisfying world than the corporate
work-environment. Nevertheless, contrary to popular belief, women are
not forbidden to hold jobs. Again, Torah law does not micro-manage
people's lives. Torah philosophy does emphasize that occupations for
material acquisition be secondary to higher religious activities such
as family-life, prayer, and charity, but this principle applies to men
as well as to women.
According to many classical Torah authorities, women are not required
to get married. A woman could find a place in Orthodox Judaism without
involvement in the roles of wife and mother. Nevertheless, the vast
majority of Orthodox Jewish women in our times find these roles
central to their divine service. The exact degree of centrality and
manner of expression will differ from woman to woman. But it is
recognized in Torah thought in general that dedication to others is a
virtue. Family-life is an ideal setting for such dedication since the
personal lives of family members overlap in myriad ways.
Thus, the role of the Jewish woman is not easily defined, as it will
assume different forms as each woman develops herself in accordance
with the general parameters of Jewish law and philosophy.
Many, when looking at this issue, have trouble reconciling it with
egalitarian positions where women are viewed as having equal rights.
When exploring the Orthodox view, there is an important distinction to
be made: rights vs. obligations. Traditional Judaism looks at actions
in terms of duties and obligations, not the modern socio-political
notions of rights. Thus, in Traditional Judaism, men and women have
different duties and obligations; the question of rights never arises.
You can find more on this subject in the book Male and Female He
Created Them from Targum/Feldheim.
Subject: Question 8.5: Is it true that Orthodox men bless G-d every morning
for not making them a woman? What do you mean, this isn't terrible?
First, note that in some Orthodox prayer rites, the blessings are
phrased differently. For example, in the Italian Rite (nusach Italki):
* "...shelo asani goy" (who did not create me a non-Jew) becomes
"...she-asani Yisrael" (who made me a Jew)
* "...shelo asani eved" (who did not make me a slave) becomes
"...she-asani ben-chorin" (who made me a freeman)
* "...shelo asani isha" (who did not make me a woman) becomes
"...she-asani gaver" (who made me a man/gentleman)
However, in many common rites, Orthodox men do bless G-d for not
making them a women. However, there is a reason for doing this, and
the reason is consistant with the Orthodox attitude towards life. It
might not fit with today's egalitarian notions, but Orthodoxy does not
claim to be egalitarian.
First, recall (as was mentioned in Section 8.4) that Orthodox Jews
think in terms of obligations and duties. In the Orthodox context,
being obligated to do more duties (mitzvot) is "a good thing", for it
provides one the opportunity to better fulfill G-d's desires.
With that in mind, consider the blessings said every morning by
Orthodox Jewish men. Among these blessings are three that go "Blessed
art You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who has not made me a
...", where "..." is "gentile" (non-Jew),"slave","woman", in that
Go back to the original reference in the Talmud (Berachos 60b). The
sequence of three "who has not made me a" blessings was originally
proposed by one rabbi as gentile/idiot/woman. The other rabbis could
not comprehend this. It made no sense. And then it was noticed that if
"idiot" was replaced with "slave", the three blessings fit into a neat
logical pattern, with the blessings carrying a progression of greater
yoke of commandments (obligations, duties). It is for the chance to do
more mitzvos than gentiles/slaves/women that Orthodox men bless G-d
Is this upsetting? Orthodox Jews have a very hard time comprehending
why anyone would react. After all, men are men, women are women, and
if the men happen to be glad that they are not women, what of it?
Is this derogatory? What makes you think any mention of differences
between men and women is secret code for "men good, women bad"? It
just isn't so, and 2000 years of language/culture/social change have
given never-intended meanings to innumerable phrases. The above
misreading of the blessing is one such. Note that if derogatory intent
were meant, nothing would have prevented it from being expressed. And
no one would have changed "idiot".
Basically, these blessings can be viewed as thanking G-d for
obligating the observance of so many mitzvot.
Does Orthodox Judaism think men are superior because they have more
obligations? Rabbi Aharon Soloveichik, one of Orthodox Judaism's
foremost halachic authorities, addresses this question in his book
Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind. His key points are:
1. Whatever is superior was created later. In the human species, the
female gender was created later, showing that women have innate
spiritual advantages as compared with men. The question then
becomes: what is the nature of those advantages?
2. The gifts that G-d gave to humanity are two: "One blessing is the
gift of conquest, of power and of grasping (in Hebrew: "kibbush").
The other is the gift of cultivation, of work and dedication and
of reaching unto things and people through love, consideration,
and guidance ("chazakah"). We can attain great heights through
kibbush, but we can't succeed in establishing a Paradise on earth
unless we couple it with chazakah.
The gift of kibbush was bestowed upon men, and to be exercised by
the males of the eleven tribes excluding Levi. The mandate of the
woman is that of chazakah.
3. He goes on to describe why women are exempted from obligatory
mitzvos created by a time element, from Torah study, and the
meaning of the morning blessing.
G-d imposed more mitzvos upon men to limit their natural
predisposition towards excessive and abusive kibbush. If not
tempered, this abundance of male energy can be destructive.
Women don't need such restrictions. As per the brachah (blessing)
that they recite: "She'asani kirtzono -- Who has made me according
to His will." Women's innate qualities as the last created
creature (Rabbi Soloveichik words this as "the crown of
Creation"), are already aimed at the fulfillment of G-d's ultimate
desire for mankind. What is that desire? In the time of the
Messiah, there will be no pursuit of kibbush, rather everyone will
pursue the gift of chazakah. So women's Divine endowment and her
mandate to be true to that endowment is consonant with humanity's
spiritual and moral goals in the Messianic Era.
Subject: Question 8.6: I've heard polygamy is permissible among Sephardic and
Yemenite Jews. Doesn't Judaism mandate monogamy?
In biblical times, polygamy was permitted. The Bible, in tolerating
polygamy, gives evidence that the practice had long been an accepted
social institution when these laws were written down. In the
patriarchal age polygamy is regarded as an unquestioned custom. While
the Bible gives a reason for the action of Abraham in taking Hagar for
an additional wife and, in the case of Jacob, for having Rachel as a
wife besides Leah, it only proves that polygamy as well as
concubinage, with which it was always associated, was among the mores
of the ancient Hebrew people (Gen. 16:1-4; 29:23-28). The same
attitude is revealed in the episode of Abimelech and Sarah (Gen. 20:1-
Polygamy was such a well established part of the social system that
Mosaic law is not even critical of it. We find only certain
regulations with respect to it; as, for example, if a man takes a
second wife the economic position of the first wife and of the
children she bore must be secure; and, in the case of inheritance, no
child of a subsequent marriage is to be preferred over a child from
the first wife. Other regulations were that the high priest could have
only one wife and that a king in Israel should not have too many wives
(Lev. 21:13; Deut. 17:17; Ex. 21:10). The last injunction, however,
was of no effect. David had seven wives before he began to reign in
Jerusalem, and an extraordinary number of wives and concubines has
been attributed to Solomon (II Sam 3:2- 5, 14; 5:13). In connection
with David, the prophet Nathan did not denounce the king for adding
Uriah's wife to those he already had but for the means he employed to
secure her (II Sam. 12:7-15).
However, if polygamy was not forbidden it was not directly sanctioned.
It was a heritage from the past and it was left undisturbed. As the
civilization of the people reached a higher form and, especially under
the teaching of the prophets, their moral and religious consciousness
developed, the polygamous system gradually declined. This is
noticeable in Israel after the return from the Exile. We know that it
survived into the Second Commonwealth, as evidenced in Christian
writings (for why else would Jesus refer to the practice).
According to the Talmud the right to a plurality of wives is conceded,
but the number of legitimate wives, as in the Koran, is limited to
four. The taking of additional wives is held as sufficient ground for
divorce for a woman who had previously been the sole wife. Where a
polygamous union exists, provision must be made for adequate
maintenance of each wife as well as a separate domicile. Throughout
the Talmudic age not one rabbi is known to have had more than one
wife. Monogamy was held to be the only ideal legal union; plurality of
wives was a concession to time and condition. At a later period
Maimonides in his Mishneh Torah maintains, contrary to his personal
opinion, that polygamous unions from a strictly legal point of view
About the year 1000, Rabbi Gershom ben Judah issued an edict (Herem
de-Rabbenu Gershom) which was considered authoritative among Ashkenazi
Jews. This edict substantially prohibited plural marriage. One
exception was allowed: A man could marry more than one wife if he
obtained the special permission of 100 rabbis in 3 countries.
Originally, Gershom's ban was limited in time to the year 1260,
however it has continued to be accepted by Jews of Europe and the
Western World to this day. Rabbi Gershom's edict was followed less in
sephardic countries: cases of polygamy were found in Spain as late as
the 14th cent. That such cases were not rare may be inferred from the
fact that in the Spanish communities the Ketubah, the document marking
the betrothal, exacted that the man was not to take a second wife. The
Islamic influence on the Jews in Spain was more or less pronounced
until the expulsion at the end of the 15th cent.
Nowadays, technically, polygamy is permitted among non-Ashkenazi
(non-Northern European tradition) Jews and Ashkenazi Jews who obtain
special permission of 100 rabbis (as in the case of (G-d forbid) a
wife who becomes incapacitated). However, this is largely an academic
* Most Jews live in countries that ban polygamy by civil law.
* Most Jews still follow Rabenu Gershom's edict that banned
Yeminite Jews are a distinct case, being neither Ashkenazi or
Sephardi. The Yemenite Jews were isolated from all Jewish people from
the time of their exile in the middle of the first Temple period until
recently. Yeminite Jews do not follow Rabbi Gersonm's edict, and
believe that in some cases, the Torah even requires polygamy. An
example cited is the case of "yebum", in which a man's brother dies
and he must marry his wife, even if he is married already. As a
result, some Yemenite Jews still take plural wives.
Note: The Sephardic community in Israel has its own ban on performing
polygamous marriages in Israel. In Israel, some Yemenites who came
with more than one wife, still have them (including the last wave of
Subject: Question 8.7: What does clean/unclean refer to?
The issue of "clean" and "unclean" usually refers to a discussion of
the Jewish Laws relating to sexual relations. These laws are known
collectively as toharat ha'mishpacha, family purity. These rules
inform us that a women enters the state of "tameh" when she is
"niddah" (menstruating). During this time the couple must refrain from
all physical contact, especially sexual relations. After the cessation
of her menstrual flow, the women counts seven days before immersing
herself in a mikva, at which time sexual relations between man and
wife can then continue.
This brings us to the subject of "tahor" and "tameh". Translating them
as "clean" and "unclean" (or "pure" and "impure") is erroneous. These
terms actually have nothing to do with physical cleanliness. Rather,
they describe a state of ritual applicability in regards to fulfilling
certain mitzvot, such as those associated with the Temple in
Jerusalem, the cultic function of Kohanim (priests), or sexual
relations within in a Jewish marriage. Thus, Tahor and Taharah
actually mean "ritually pure" and Tamae and Tumah mean "ritually
Conservative Judaism teaches that the laws of Tohorot HaMishpacha are
binding. The movement's official stance is defined in detail in Rabbi
Issac Klein's "A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice". There is one
notable difference between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism in this
area: Some Conservative Jews note that the extra waiting period of
seven days is not a Torah or Talmud requirement. It was initially
discussed as a custom of the pious, and it was only later that this
stringency was made mandatory. While the Conservative movement has not
yet issued an official ruling in this regard, some American
Conservative halakhic experts have individually written teshuvot
(responsa) that these extra days are a chumra (stringency) and thus
not mandatory. Instead, they say that a couple must abstain while a
woman is niddah, but only have to wait one extra day before immersion
in a mikveh - not an entire week. These rabbis include Joel Roth,
Michael Gold, Susan Grossman and Talmud Professor Dr. David C.
Kraemer. Some good sources on Conservative practice in this area are:
1. "This is My Beloved, This is My Friend: A Rabbinic Letter on
Intimate Relations". Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff. The Commission on
Human Sexuality of the Rabbinical Assembly, 1996. Available from
the USCJ Book Service.
2. "Does God Belong in the Bedroom". Rabbi Michael Gold, JPS, 1992.
Although this book is not an official publication of the
Conservative movement, its author is a member of the Conservative
movement's "Commission on Human Sexuality of the Rabbinical
Assembly", and represents a mainstream Conservative view.
3. United Synagogue Review, Fall 2001, "Coming of Age: The Growth of
the Conservative Mikveh Movement"
4. Dipping Into Tradition: The Mikveh Makes a Comeback, JTS Magazine,
Volume 10, No.3 http://www.jtsa.edu/news/jtsmag/10.3/dip.shtml
5. Must a women go to the Mikveh after her period? A short responsa
by Conservative Rabbi Daniel Kohn.
In recent years, there has been some increase in interest among
younger Reform and Reconstructionist Jews in the area of toharat
ha'mishpacha, family purity. While until recently the Reform movement
had been fairly hostile to both the rituals of and philosophy behind
toharat ha'mishpacha, the last couple of decades have seen a slow but
steady turn towards traditional practices, often with new
interpretations. Some of the younger American Reform rabbis are in
fact moving for the Reform movement to officially reclaim this
practice in an official manner.
Subject: Question 8.8: What is "Niddah"?
The Torah teaches us, "Do not draw close to a woman when she is a
niddah; relations are forbidden [at that time]." (Leviticus 17:18).
From this, the laws relating to ritual purity and niddah are derived.
First, note that the extent to which these laws are followed depend on
the movement. These laws are followed in the more traditional
movements, and are often reinterpreted in the progressive movements
such as Reform as a mechanism of rediscovering female spirituality.
So, what is "niddah". Simply put, a woman becomes a niddah when blood
comes from her womb. She might see the flow, or she might see a stain
on her clothing. The blood must come from her womb. If she cuts her
finger, she does not become a niddah. If she finds blood on her
underclothing, and she does not know if it is from a cut or from her
womb, she needs to check with her Rabbi.
Being niddah should not be looked at as a time of negativity. The
traditional perspective is that this is when a woman's body is
renewing itself, getting ready to produce fresh ova so that she will
be able to fulfill the commandment of having children.
A woman is a niddah until she undergoes "taharah." The taharah process
involves a minimum of twelve days, most often thirteen. These are
divided into two sets of time, the first five days, and seven days of
taharah, after which she must immerse properly in a mikvah (ritual
A woman who does not go through the taharah process cannot become
tahor (the opposite state from niddah). It does not matter if she not
seen blood in ten years. No matter how long ago she last had her
period, if she has not immersed properly in the mikvah, she is still a
First, however, to the other aspect of being niddah. Recall the Torah
verse above. It says "Do not draw close." Traditionally, this is tied
in with marital relations, and the view is that any act that could
lead a person to marital relations is forbidden. A husband and wife
are very accustomed to being physically intimate with each other, and
therefore they must take great care during the time the woman is
While a woman is a niddah, she and her husband must relate completely
on a non-physical level. Traditionally, they do not hug or kiss each
other (or do more).
How is the niddah period, and the various time periods determined? The
first five days begin when a woman first sees her flow. She counts
from the beginning of the flow, and continues until the flow stops. If
it takes less than five days for her flow to stop, she still has to
wait until five days are over. Even if she saw blood for only one day,
she must wait five days until she can begin the seven-day taharah
process. The five days need not be complete five days. The first day
might start in the middle of the day, if she first saw her flow in the
afternoon. But whenever they began, they end on the night after the
If she sees blood for more than five days, the "five" days end when
she has definitely stopped seeing. Once she has stopped seeing blood,
she can begin the count of the Seven White Days. "stopped seeing
blood" means that she has stopped seeing either a flow of blood or
stains on her clothing
completely. These days begin when the woman, before sunset, takes a
shower or bath, and cleans herself thoroughly, everywhere. She then
waits a few minutes, and inserts a cloth and checks herself. If it
comes out clean, then the next day is the first day of the Seven White
Days. During this period, the woman must check herself twice a day:
when she gets up, and just before sunset. Checking is done with a
white, absolutely clean piece of cloth. Often, such cloths are
available at the local mikvah. The woman first checks the cloth very
carefully to make sure it is clean of any marks. She then places her
finger in the center of the cloth, and allows the cloth to wrap around
her fingers, and the pushes the cloth so that every surface inside her
is touched by the cloth. She removes the cloth, and checks it very
carefully. If it comes out free of any mark, no problem. If the cloth
has a mark, she looks at the color. A red or black mark means there is
still discharge of blood. White or pale yellow is not a problem.
Colors like brown, dark yellow, gold, and pink, are very problematic.
Traditional women would then bring the cloth to a competent local
Orthodox Rabbi who looks at the cloth and is able to determine whether
it is Niddah blood or not. Orthodox rabbis have special training that
allows them to make this determination.
Traditionally, during these days, the woman should wear white
underwear and uses white bed linens. Of course, any staining during
this period must be considered, as above.
When the Seven White Days are over, that night, the woman goes to the
mikvah. This is the same day of the week the Seven White Days began.
To prepare for the mikvah, after checking, the woman takes a bath,
followed by a shower, and other careful preparations. She cleans and
cuts all her nails, both finger and toe, as well as making sure there
is no food between her teeth. She cleans her ears, and every body
cavity. She removes all makeup, and combs her hair completely. Many
women take the bath at home, and do the follow-up shower at the
When going to the mikvah, she may not have anything between her and
the water at any part of her body. Therefore she must remove all
jewelry, makeup, etc. There is usually a woman attendant at the mikvah
to help the woman check that she is ready for the mikvah. During the
immersion, the woman makes sure that she is completely immersed
(including all hair). There are appropriate blessings said.
The woman then returns home, and informs her husband that she is now
in the tahora state. Marital relations are then permitted (in fact,
tradition dictates they occur that night). Biologically speaking, the
best night to conceive is usually mikvah night.
Note: The Torah also forbids relations on the day that a woman expects
her period, called her "veset". She knows when to expect her period by
keeping a careful record. Usually, a period of 30 or 31 days since the
first sighting of blood is used.
A vital factor of the Laws of Family Relations "tznius", or proper
attitude. Jews do not make jokes about private bedroom matters. A
woman's personal matters are nobody's business but hers, her husband's
when he needs to know, her doctor's, and her Rabbi's when and if the
rabbi needs to know. Women do not discuss these matters with others.
Some specific aspects of this are discussed at
Why does Judaism have niddah? These laws are Laws of Holiness, and
serve to elevate the physical to the highest spiritual level. It takes
a phyiscal aspect and adds holiness to it, allowing us to use the
physical for spiritual gain. As society has rediscovered the
importance of spirituality, these laws are being rediscovered, and are
even being adopted, to varying extents, by the progressive movements
In Judaism, marital relations are a gift from G-d. They are neither
shunned nor avoided. However, they are not debased either. Rather,
Judaism provides a way to use sex to elevate us. By following Torah
laws, we develop the self-control and discipline that can lead us to
holiness. During the time that a man and woman are forbidden to have
relations they are forced to relate to each other in non-physical
ways. They must see each other in other terms, and develop their
relationship with each other on a spiritual and emotional footing. Is
this the reason G-d gave us this law. We cannot know. However,
understanding this effect often provides additional understanding for
following the law.
Subject: Question 8.9: I've heard that Orthodox men can't touch women. Is
First, let's look at the obligations that the Torah places on men:
* They are not to have sex with their wife while she is
menstruating, and for a specific period after the menstruation
ceases and the birth of a child. During the menstruation period
and similarly related prohibited periods, the wife is said to be
* They are not to commit sexual transgressions, that is, have sex
out of marriage or commit adultery.
The Shulchan Aruch in Even haEzer Chapter 21 talks about the
requirement of men being far from women lest men feel tempted to sin.
This even goes as far as to forbid gazing (not to be confused with
"looking at") women. This prohibition is also part of the idea of men
not touching women. There are those who hold that for men to touch
women (other than their wife at a permitted time) in any romantic way
("derech chibba") is a Toraitic prohibition, as all women must be
presumed to be in nidda (even when a woman is not having her period,
she is still in nida if she has not been to the mikvah.).Given all of
this, the Talmud specifies a number of restrictions to prevent men
1. A man and his woman are not allowed to touch, if they are neither
related nor married. This is because of the fear that touching
might lead to sexual transgressions. As an extension of this,
Orthodox men aren't supposed to sit next to women to which they
are neither related nor married.
2. A husband and wife may not touch if the woman is menstruating, or
for a specified period after menstruation/childbirth (the length
of the period varies depending on the sex of the child). This is
because they are forbidden to have sex during this time, and the
thought is that if the husband and wife touch in any way, they may
be too strongly tempted.
Hence, during "niddah" (the time of the women's menstrual flow),
additional restrictions are in place. These extra stringencies
apply because the couple is already intimate; presumably, it
doesn't take much to lead to "the act". These stringencies
+ They cannot touch (even indirectly using an intermediate
+ They cannot handle an object at the same time.
+ They cannot sit together on an object that moves (a swing
+ They cannot eat from the same plate.
+ They cannot serve food to each other.
+ They must sleep in separate beds.
+ They may not engage in flirtatious behavior.
+ Although spouses must continue to dress attractively, they
cannot dress provacatively.
+ They should cover parts of the body that are normally
uncovered only in front of their spouse.
+ They should not wear perfume, cologne, etc.
The only exception to these restrictions is pikuach nefesh (to
save a life). More information can be found in Secret of Jewish
As a result of this, many couples that observe these laws sleep on
twin beds (pushed together during non-Niddah periods and during
the day, so as not to make the status public). Sometimes, "fences"
are used, such as one partner putting down something so the other
can pick it up.
3. Men and women shouldn't be mixed during prayer. This is because
the presence of the opposite sex is thought to be distracting
during prayer. Additionally, a person ought to pray from an
orientation of aloneness, as opposed to completeness.
Subject: Question 8.10: Are there any rituals for purification after
childbirth for women?
A woman who gives birth has the status of a Niddah (a menstruant) who
is both ritually impure and off-limits as far as intimate activity to
her husband. The act of giving birth induces a special nidus state
unrelated to the uterine bleeding that normally separates husband and
wife. This special nidus extends for seven days after the birth of a
son and fourteen days after the birth of a daughter. Since it is most
unusual for a woman to stain for less than two weeks after childbirth,
this special nidus has little practical application, except in some
cases of cesarean delivery. The ritual after the end of the period is
the same as in normal Niddah status: immersion in a mikveh.
During the time of the Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple) there was an
obligation to bring a korban (offering) forty days after the birth of
a boy or eighty days after the birth of a girl. As to why the
purification for the birth of a female is longer, the belief is that
this is because since a female herself is capable of producing life,
she is capable of imparting more ritual purity as well as impurity.
Subject: Question 8.11: What is the Jewish position on contraception and
Jewish Law has traditionally opposed birth control or abortion when
practiced for purely selfish reasons. The first mitzvah we find in the
Torah is to have children, to "be fertile and increase". Judaism
believes that a home without children is a home without blessing.
However, Judaism also believes that as long as a couple is planning to
have children, the concept of planned parenthood or spacing of births
does not constitute a religious problem in Judaism. Judaism is more
concerned with the birth control method used; in particular, some
methods are not permitted because of the injunction against "the
destruction of seed." For example, contemporary Orthodox rabbinical
authority has expressed no objection to the use of the "pill". Still,
the use of condoms is forbidden, as are some uterine devices. [Note
that, for traditional Jews, the use of condoms with respect to the
AIDS crisis is not an issue, for sex is permitted only within a
It is also true though, that traditionally Judaism has encouraged
having many children. Some of this is based on the argument that,
after the Holocaust, Jews should not avoid having children. The
minimum number of children one must have to fulfill the Mitzvah "to be
fertile and increase" is a matter of rabbinic dispute. Some rabbis say
that one must have at least two children, and some say at least one of
With respect to the liberal movements, such as Reform Judiasm: Again,
birth control or abortion is opposed when practiced for purely selfish
reasons. Birth control are accepted under certain conditions such as
where pregnancy represents a health hazard to the mother or child, or
when previous children have been born defective. Liberal judaism
extends this concept to include extreme poverty, inadequate living
conditions and threats to the welfare of existing children in the
family. The Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform) goes so far
as to declare that birth control is a necessity under certain family
conditions. Most Reform and some Conservative rabbis subscribe to the
program of planned parenthood. Liberal judaism has no problem with the
use of condoms.
A closely related issue is that of therapeutic abortion, prescribe by
a physician to save the life or health of a pregnant woman. In Jewish
law such an action is considered entirely justified. The life of the
mother, Jews believe, is more important than that of a child not yet
born, both to her husband and to any other children she might have.
In Judaism, if a woman is pregnant, and she finds out that there is a
possibility that either she or the baby is will die if the pregnancy
continues, then the woman must have an abortion. Of course, rarely is
the risk so cut-and-dry. In practice, one has to assess the odds of
each course of action. If one can, a doctor and a Rabbi should be
consulted. In case of doubt, such as an emergency where one can't
spend time looking for one's Rabbi, the mother's life takes
Abortion before 40 days gestation is prohibited, but is not considered
murder. There are numerous issues that override the prohibition. For
example, the sanity (not just the happiness, but actual competency) of
a rape victim. This too has to be evaluated by a Rabbi and a doctor
(and a psychologist) to see exactly how much is at risk.
The most important consideration in both questions is: what is the
best for the entire family? The sanctity of marriage is not in
reproduction. It is in the bond that exist between husband, wife and
the children they want and love.
Subject: Question 8.12: Weddings: How does Judaism view Marriage?
In Judaism, marriage is considered a natural and desirable state.
Judaism stresses the importance of the marriage and the long-term
marriage relationship. Marriage is the first step in creating a Jewish
Subject: Question 8.13: Weddings: How do Jews find Mates?
Tradition provides the thought that good matches are beshert
(destined, or designed in heaven). The Talmud says that forty days
prior to the birth of a child, a heavenly voice proclaims who that
child will marry. You will often see Jewish singles ads where one
indicates they are looking for their beshert.
Traditionally, parents often relied on the services of a shadchan
(matchmaker) to bring their child a proper spouse. This is typically
only done today in very traditional communities, although many use the
modern equivalent (dating services). Today, Jews find their mates in
the same way as any one else: introductions from trusted friends and
relatives, at social gatherings, and though their life experiences.
There is a large Jewish singles community out there.
Subject: Question 8.14: Weddings: What is a Jewish Marriage?
A Jewish Marriage is one that has Kiddushin. This means that the
husband and wife are sanctified to each other, and have an exclusive
relationship. The Sanctification is under the Laws of Moses; thus,
Kiddushin is only present (traditionally) if both parties are Jewish
(and thus, only a marriage between two Jews would require a Jewish
The Kiddushin relationship has legal ramifications. The marriage
ceremony is one of acquisition. It is based on the rules for transfer
of property in biblical times. In marriage, the woman accepts a ring
(or something of value) from the man, accepting the terms of the
marriage. A marriage contract (ketubah) is read publically. Witnesses
are required for both the signing of the ketubah and the ceremony.
Note: According to the Mishnah, a Jewish marriage is a legal contract
and may be contracted in any of three ways: (1) with money (as when a
man hands a woman an object of value for the purpose of contracted
marriage, and in the presence of two witnesses, and she accepts); (2)
through a written contract; (3) or by sexual intercourse, a method
strongly discouraged by the Sages.
Note the distinction between the Jewish marriage and the secular
marriage. In the United States (and many other countries), when a
rabbi officiates at a wedding, it is de facto a legal wedding by the
law of the United States, as well; therefore, a rabbi cannot officiate
for you without a civil license. This is the secular (civil) marriage.
However, Kiddushin is a ceremony that takes place between two Jews.
Most rabbis will not officiate at a wedding between a Jew and a
non-Jew because it is outside the realm of Jewish traditional
Subject: Question 8.15: Weddings: What happens before a Jewish wedding?
The following are some common customs before a Jewish Wedding:
Engagement in Jewish law is more than just the intention to
marry; it carries considerable legal and social significance.
The official Jewish engagement takes place at the groom's
table, with the signing of "Tena'im," which creates the Jewish
legal status of "engaged." The honor of reading the contract
(in Aramaic) is often given to a prominent rabbi or close
friend. Then, the mothers of the bride and groom break a china
plate, signifying the completion of the engagement agreement.
Te'naim is a mutual agreement between the bride and groom's
parents. It concerns the date and financial arrangements of the
marriage. The Te'naim dates back to the third century C.E.; it
serves to discourage disorganized arrangements as well as
misunderstandings that can lead to hurt feelings and strained
relationships. Often, the signing is accompanied by an
engagement party for the couple and their parents. Te'naim is
primarily an Orthodox custom.
There is the notions of Eirusin, Qiddushin, and Nissuin.
Eirusin refers to giving the ring (meaning the bride-to-be
can't marry anyone else, but they are not yet husband and wife
in any fiscal or sexual sense). Qiddushin is the acceptance of
the ring. Nissuin refers to sharing a home: chuppah, yichud, or
consumating the marriage (the tannaim dispute which is
necessary). This time is not really betrothal, but is more than
getting engaged, and yet not quite fully married. There is no
western equivalent, really. The maximum period of time allowed
is a year. This was a rabbinic enactment toward the end of the
2nd Temple era (around the time of Jesus), so as to prevent men
from performing eirusin and then never committing to marriage
(nissuin). In fact, if you waited more than a year, the court
required you to support your bride anyway, to prevents
stringing her along. The problem with having a long engagement
is that hormones get impatient. So, by the 12th century the
norm was to perform eirusin in the morning, have a full day of
wedding celebrations, and have nissuin right before sunset.
Today they are even closer together. The ring is given under
the chuppah (bridal canopy). Technically, Eirusin is the giving
of the ring, Qiddushin occurs as when she accepts the ring, and
nissuin an instant later as they are already under the chuppah.
Some opine that nissiun requires being alone together, so we
dance with the couple from the chuppah to a yichud room (lit:
being alone room). According to this opinion, nissuin is 15 min
or so after qiddushin.
Selecting the Date and Place
Before the wedding, the couple selects a rabbi and meets with
the rabbi to set a date and place. The rabbi instructs and
counsels the couple as they prepare for the day.
Jewish marriages do not take place on Shabbat, festivals or the
High Holy Days. This is because "one does not mix one occasion
of rejoicing with another." This keeps the celebration of the
holyday separate from the celebration of the wedding (such
separation is important: consider the dilemma of Christian
children who are born on Chistmas: Whose birthday is being
celebrated?) However, weddings may be held on Chanukah and
Purim. Wedding are not traditionally held on days of public
mourning as the mood of such days would diminish the joy of the
wedding. This includes Tisha B'Av, the fast of Gedaliah, the
tenth of Tevet, the fast of Esther, the seventeenth of
Tammuz,the period between Pesach and Shavuot, and the three
weeks from the seventeenth of Tammuz until Tisha B'Av. The one
exception Lag B'Omer, the thirty-third day in the Counting of
the Omer, which is a popular wedding date in Israel. This is an
especially popular time to get married in Israel. Tuesday is
considered a good day to have a wedding, because in the account
of Creation (Genesis, chapter 1), we read ki tov ("it is good")
twice on the third day.
On the Shabbat morning before the wedding, it is common for the
hatan (groom) (sometimes the couple is called) to be called up
to read the Torah in the synagogue. This serves to announced
the forthcoming marriage to the community and permit everyone
to wish the couple mazel tov. In Ashkenazic communities, this
was the equivalent of the "If anyone has any objections to this
marriage..."; that is, it permitted anyone with information
concerning impediments to the validity of the marriage to voice
them. After the groom recites the final blessings, Sephardic
communities throw candy and raisins to wish the groom a sweet
life. Those who try to avoid Yiddish call this the "Shabbat
Chatan", Sabbath of the Groom. Note that usually there is a
simultaneous "Shabbat Kallah", where the brides' friends make a
party for her.
The couple will not have seen each other for the week before
their wedding day. On the wedding day itself, they fast and
recite special prayers; the day is a personal Yom Kippur (Day
of Atonement) for them. Thus, they are fasting as an atonement
for sins. The fast also emphasizes the serious nature of the
commitment. The custom is that they fast from dawn until the
chupah ceremony is completed. If the marriage takes place on a
day of public celebration (Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah, Tu B'Shevat,
or Purim) then the fast is suspended. The fast permits the
couple to begin their married life free from the taint of sin,
a fresh slate, as it were.
Traditionally, the bride visits the mikveh before to the
wedding. This is done to mark the change of status.
Keeping with the Yom Kippur theme, the bride and groom
traditionally wear white at the wedding as a symbol of purity.
The bride is often seated on a bridal chair, and is greeted by
friends and family members. In an adjacent room, the groom
meets with his friends, who may sing and share the celebration.
He may attempt a brief lecture on some issue in Jewish law; if
so, custom dictates that he be interrupted by his friends'
Subject: Question 8.16: Weddings: What happens during a Jewish wedding?
The following are some common customs during a Jewish Wedding:
The ketubah, or marriage contract, may be printed, or it may be
written in beautiful calligraphy and illuminated. Much of the
Aramaic text is over 2,000 years old, and the present form was
fixed in the eighth or ninth century. The ketubah formalizes
the groom's commitment to protect and care for the bride. The
ketubah has two signatures from close friends or respected
teachers as formal witnesses to his commitment.
After the ketubah is prepared, the groom is asked if he is
prepared to fulfill his obligations as stated in the ketubah.
The traditional method of indicating agreement is for the group
to take hold of a handkerchief or some other object given him
by the rabbi. This is performed in the presence of witnesses.
Badeken: Veiling the Bride
After the signing of the ketubah, the fathers of the bride and
groom escort the groom to the bride, where guests dance and
sing. There, the groom will lift the veil over the bride's
face. This is to verify that it is indeed the woman he intends
to marry. The groom then replaces her veil, reciting the
blessing "Our sister, may you be the mother of thousands of ten
thousands" (Genesis 24:60), words first uttered by Rebecca's
mother and brother to her as she left her home to marry Isaac.
The purpose for this ceremony is often explained by referring
to the story of Jacob, whose father-in-law substituted Leah for
Rachel when he married.
As for the replacing of the veil: The roots of this custom date
back at least 600 years, and is based on talmudic sources.
Perhaps the ceremony signifies modesty, or the groom's
responsibility--defined in the ketubah--for clothing the bride.
The couple will be blessed by their fathers, as they have been
many times before. At this point, the groom and his friends
exit singing and dancing, to prepare for the ceremony.
Chuppah: The Marriage Ceremony
The ceremony itself is a combination of symbolism, traditions,
and religiously binding acts.
The central physical symbol is the Chuppah, the marriage
canopy. It is a canopy supported by four poles; it originally
referred to a chamber reserved for the bride on her wedding
day. The custom of using a chuppah originated with the rabbis
in the Middle Ages, to separate the wedding ceremony (which was
held outdoors) from any surrounding marketplace.
The chuppah represents the home that they will create together,
and the Divine Presence under which they will be married. One
nice custom is to have honored friends hold the chuppah poles.
In some families, the custom is to make a family chuppah, and
to pass it down from generation to generation (as opposed to a
Escorting the Bride and Groom:
The bride and groom are escorted to the chuppah by their
parents, who carry candles to light the way. Traditionally, the
fathers of the bride and groom escorted the groom, and the
mothers of the bride and groom escorted the bride. Today, the
groom's parents escorting the groom and the bride's parents
escorting the bride. The groom arrives at the chupah first. The
bride is escorted to the chupah by shoshvinim (escorts). The
groom dons a kittel, a white robe worn on the High Holidays.
Neither the bride nor groom wear jewelry under the Chuppah; the
ring he gives her under the chuppah should be of unparalleled
importance to her.
Traditionally, the ring presented from the groom to the bride
must be worth at least a perutah (about a dime), and must be
owned free and clear by the groom. It must be a band of metal,
with no holes going through it (this eliminates any
misunderstandings about the value of the ring). There are
traditionally no stones, for if a stone were set in the ring,
the wife might overestimate its worth, and this might
invalidate her acceptance of it. Note that a different ring may
be worn after the ceremony.
When the bride reaches the chupah, tradition is that she
circles around the groom either three or seven times. This
symbolically making him the center of her life (note that some
say that it symbolizes her protective care of her husband). The
mothers of the bride and groom follow, showing that the family
will be an integral part of that life. The custom comes from
the verse in Jer. 31:22: "A woman shall court (go around) a
man". Note: Many are bothered by the unevenness of this custom
and have either made it egalitarian (each circles the other) or
eliminated it altogether.
There are nine blessings recited under the chuppah.
The first two blessings -- one over the wine and the second
solemnifying the betrothal (Birchat Erusin) -- represent the
first part of the ceremony.
Next, two witnesses are called; they examine the wedding band
to be sure that it meets standards of Jewish law (that it of
one piece and without embedded stones). The groom then places
the ring on the bride's index finger and formally declares her
to be his wife. They are, at that point, fully married
according to Jewish law.
The ketubah will be read (usually by a prominent rabbi or
scholar). The groom will then give it to the bride; the ketubah
is, strictly speaking, the bride's.
The seven blessings that are then recited are among the most
sentimental and beautiful of the Jewish liturgy, and are
unparalleled expressions of joy. In a tradition at least 800
years old, the groom breaks a glass, symbolically remembering
the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, destroyed by the
Romans in the year 70. The ceremony is over. With singing and
dancing, the couple are escorted from the room.
There are some other interesting wedding customs, as described in The
* There is a custom that the bride give the groom a tallit on the
day of the wedding. This is because the tallit represents the
number 32, which is the number of fringes on the shawl. The number
32 is the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word for heart.
* In Europe, a jester was hired for a large wedding. His job was to
be an actor, singer, poet, etc. and master of ceremonies.
* We are all familiar with the concept of the Jewish matchmater as
illustrated on the stage in Fiddler on the Roof. Yes, some
communities still use matchmakers and arranged marriages.
* In some communities, the bride and groom are wrapped together by a
single tallit (in fact, this was done for the FAQ maintainer; the
same tallit was later used to wrap the maintainer's daughter when
she was named).
* It is common to set the wedding date for a Tuesday, because on the
third day of creation, the Torah repeats twice: "and G-d saw how
good it was".
Subject: Question 8.17: Weddings: What happens after a Jewish wedding?
The following are some common customs after a Jewish Wedding:
The couple will, for the first time, be alone together as
husband and wife. They will break their fast and prepare for
the rest of the wedding celebration. Yichud is important; some
rabbinic sources suggest that the marriage is not complete
until the bride and groom have had the opportunity to be alone
together. Originally, it was an opportunity for the couple to
consummate the marriage. Typically, Yichud occurs in a room set
aside for the couple for at least ten or fifteen minutes. In
this room, the couple is provided with some food for them to
break their fast.
The First Dance:
The couple will enter the banquet room, to be greeted with
joyous dancing and singing. At traditional weddings, the men
and women dance separately (see 8.8). If you don't know the
words (Hebrew, Aramaic, or a combination) to the songs, don't
be concerned; just sing along. While some of the dances have
formal "steps," you will be able to participate in most of them
even if you've never tried before; spirit and enthusiasm will
usually get you through. Entertaining the bride and groom and
increasing their joy is an integral part of the celebration,
and all the guests are expected to join.
Se'udat Mitzvah: The Dinner:
A reception follows Yichud. This permits everyone to entertain
the new couple and make them happy. The new couple is treated
as another first couple (Adam and Eve); thus, the community is
celebrating not only this wedding, but the first wedding of the
first couple. The first meal as a couple is called Se'udat
Mitzvah (a meal in fulfillment of a commandment). This is
typically celebrated together with family and friends The
dinner--with intervening episodes of dancing--is sanctified
from beginning to end. The blessings at the end of the meal
have special additions in honor of the bride and groom. The
seven blessings first recited under the chuppah are repeated at
the end of the dinner.
The Bridal Week:
The bridal celebrations continue for the entire week following
the wedding. Only at the end of the week will life begin to
settle down to a more conventional routine. In some
communities, the couple is invited to a different home each
night at which the Sheva Berachot are recited and their wedding
is celebrated. Even so, the bride and groom retain the status
of queen and king for the entire first year of marriage.
Subject: Question 8.18: Weddings: What should I wear to a Jewish wedding?
Suggestions for Dress:
Traditional dress for men is a suit and tie; kippot (skull caps) are
usually available for those who do not have them. Traditionally, women
wear a dress with sleeves and a high neckline.
The traditional greeting--"Mazal Tov" (Good Luck)--is extended to all
guests, both relatives and friends.
Subject: Question 8.19: Weddings: Why is the glass broken at Jewish weddings?
Even at the most joyous occasion in the couple's life, we are
commanded by our sages to remember that our joy will never be complete
until our temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem. Breaking a glass has become
the traditional way to express this idea. Many grooms also place a
small amount of ashes upon their head at the ceremony to express the
same idea. Before breaking the glass, at some weddings a short sad
song about the destruction of the temple is sung. The rabbis of the
Talmud refer to this tradition as zecher l'chorban.
Over time, this tradition has been updated to symbolize the
Inquisitions, the pogroms, the Holocaust, and in our own time, the
dangers faced by our brethren in Israel, and throughout the
Middle-East. Some believe that the lesson is exclusively a Jewish
lesson, but a human one: that no couple, no matter how much in love,
has the right to separate themselves from humanity, but rather that
each of us, as an individual, and as a family, is obligated, if only
in some small way, to help bring the world a bit closer to what we
call y'mei ha-mashiach, that messianic era, in which no peoples, and
no persons, regardless of faith, regardless of origin, regardless of
ethnicity, will ever again feel the heel of oppression.
For some, there are other reasons. For example, the breaking of
something lovely and fragile is sad. The measure of a good marriage is
not only the ability to celebrate joy together, but also the ability
to overcome the moments of sadness, of pain, of anxiety, of
loneliness, of emptiness, of frustration, that enter every human
relationship, by virtue our finite and therefore imperfect condition.
Breaking the glass reminds us to celebrate the joys, as well as to
overcome the moments of sadness.
Subject: Question 8.20: Weddings: What is a Ketubah?
The ketubah is a marrage contract between the husband and wife. It may
be printed; more often, it is hand written in beautiful calligraphy
and illuminated by a sofer, or scribe. Much of the traditional Aramaic
text is over 2,000 years old, and the present form was fixed in the
eighth or ninth century. The ketubah formalizes the groom's commitment
to protect and care for the bride. The ketubah has two signatures from
close friends or respected teachers as formal witnesses to his
Traditionally, a ketubah is a legal lien on the husband's property
which he gives his wife-to-be in the case of his death or their
divorce, to ensure her maintenance and well-being. There are some
options that a woman can negotiate. In traditional Judaism, the
ketubah is signed by the man, read under the chupah, and given
immediately to the woman. The ketubah belongs to the woman.
In the liberal movements, the text of the Ketubah has been modified to
be more egalitarian, and provide equal protection for both husband and
wife. Some Ketubahs also include language to address the issue of
husbands that refuse to provide a get, or bill of divorce, when
requested by the wife.
There is another way to view the Ketubah: think of it as the first
Subject: Question 08-21 : Weddings: What are the "Seven Blessings"?
The seven blessings are as follows:
1. You abound in Blessings, (G-d), who creates the fruit of the vine.
2. You abound in Blessings, (G-d), you created all things for Your
3. You abound in Blessings, (G-d), you created humanity.
4. You abound in Blessings, (G-d), You made humankind in Your image,
after Your likeness, and You prepared from us a perpetual
relationship. You abound in Blessings, (G-d), you created
5. May she who was barren. rejoice when her children are united in
her midst in joy. You abound in Blessings, (G-d), who makes Zion
rejoice with her children.
6. You make these beloved companions greatly rejoice even as You
rejoiced in Your creation in the Garden of Eden as of old. You
abound in Blessings, (G-d), Who makes the bridegroom and bride to
7. You abound in Blessings, (G-d), who created joy and gladness,
bridegroom and bride, mirth and exultation, pleasure and delight,
love, fellowship, peace and friendship. Soon may there be heard in
the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of
joy and gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the
bride, the jubilant voice of bridegrooms from their canopies and
of youths from their feasts of songs. You abound in Blessings,
(G-d), You make the bridegroom rejoice with the bride.
Why seven blessing? Because of the notion of a week of creation, seven
is associated with forming something new. The end of creation is
introduced with the words "Vayechulu hashamayim veha'aretz, vechol
tzeva'am... And they were completed -- the heavens, the earth, and all
that live in them..." The word "vayechulu" (they were completed)
shares a root with "kallah", bride. The wedding is the completion of
the creation of the individuals entering the marriage. Note that these
blessings are said for a week, at the wedding and at each meal for the
first week the couple is married at which there is a minyan (quorum of
10) attending and new people present to celebrate the wedding.
Saying seven blessings for a week brings up the 7x7 motif. This is a
common motif in Judaism. Some examples: The seven blessings for seven
days of sheva berachot. The seven weeks of counting omer between
Passover (the physical redemption of Israel) and Shavout (the
revelation at Sinai). The seven sabbatical cycles -- each seven years
-- leading up to the jubilee.
Subject: Question 8.23 : What does Judaism say about premarital sex?
The Torah typically frowns on premarital sex. Some extreme statements
have even been made, for example, Reish Lakish has stated that even
one who sins with his eyues may become an adulterer (Lev. Rabba 23);
however, this never became accepted. However, this attitude led to
many of the traditional separations between man and women, such as men
not walking behind women, men and women being separated on festive
occasions and in public parts, and even separate days for visiting
However, this question is not focusing on the traditional separation,
but the attitude towards premarital sex. The literature makes it clear
that virginity for the female was prized. Intercourse with an
unmarried girl generally fell under the concept of Zenut, which was
prohibited. If an act of intercourse was intended as an mode of lawful
bethrothal, it was considered to be a lawful betrothal (Mishna Kid.
1.1). Although the act was prohibited, children born of such liaisons
were free of any blemish, and there was no question of their legality
(Kid. 4.1,2; Yev. 100b). Nachmanides was lenient about such illicit
unions, and was willing to overlook them (Isaac b. Sheshet, quoting
Nahmanides, 6, 398; also 425 and 395).
What about sexual relationships between those who were engaged and
might live together for some time. This has been prohibited by
tradition (Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 55.1). In early times, such
intercourse was reported as unobjectionable in Judea, but not in the
Galilee (Ket. 7b, Ket. 12a). As for the children, some felt they
should be declared Mamzerim (Yev. 69b; Kid. 75a), but this view was
Note that the discouraging of sexual relations outside of marriage is
a property of all Jewish movements. The Reform Responsa on the subject
On the question of informal heterosexual relations outside marriage
between two consenting single adult individuals, we can then come
to the following conclusions. Such relationships were prohibited
and discouraged by authorities throughout the ages. Little was done
when such relationships took place between two engaged persons,
except in puritanical periods. Other sexual relationships between
single adults were prohibited, and every effort was made to enforce
such prohibitions. These prohibitions were equally strong upon the
man and the woman. In times of lower moral standards, authorities
were occasionally permissive or simply looked the other way.
Generally, the effort to enforce high moral standards succeeded,
and the responsa call attention to the failures. In our own period
of loose standards, it would be appropriate to do everything within
our power to encourage higher standards for both men and women. We
should do whatever we can to discourage casual sexual relations.
Subject: Question 8.23 : What are some good wedding greetings?
Siman Tov U'Mazel Tov
Kol Sasson v'Kol Simcha, Kol Chatan v'Kol Kallah [the voice of joy and
the voice of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the
Asher Bara Sasson v'Simcha, Chatan v'Kallah, Gila Rina Ditza v'Chedva,
Ahavah v'Achva, v'Shalom v'Re'ut. [who Created Joy and Gladness, Groom
and Bride, (4 more expressions of gladness), love and bonding, and
peace and partnership.]
Subject: Question 8.24: Can a wife refuse to have marital relations with her
Halachically, a woman is not obligated to keep her husband sexually
satisfied. Men do have such an obligation toward their wives, but not
the reverse. Theoretically speaking, this is an incredible
perspective, totally unlike the cultures that Jews lived amongst at
the time. So, in biblical times, what did men do in such a situation?
Well, until a millenium ago or so, when Rabbeinu Gershom enacted some
new legislation, only men and abused wives had the power to initiate a
divorce. This meant that there was no way for a woman to get out of an
unhappy but not abusive marriage. The courts would get involved in
various issues to guarantee her happiness, including sex. Note also
that a women refusing marital relations can be deemed "rebellious" and
be fined from the money due to her upon divorce, to such an extent
that the man will eventually be able to divorce her without any
divorce settlement at all. This balances a man's obligation, to some
extent. Also note that, in such a case, a real-world beis din would
typically try to get them to go to counseling.
Thus, it was assumed that if a man felt that he would be happier
without her than with her, he would divorce her. Sex is a significant
part of that--but not the only part. Further, it was a given that if
the marriage was otherwise happy, the actual divorce wouldn't be
necessary--knowing that her husband was miserable enough to consider
it would be enough to motivate a loving wife.
What should you do today if you are in such a situation. Here's some
1. Be careful never to imply to your wife that you thinks she's off
kilter or a chemistry set. Not having her feelings taken seriously
is a definite turn-off.
2. See if there is a reason why she's not interested. Is she
overtired or overworked? Do you ever do anything romantic when sex
is not at issue? [For example, try surprising her with flowers on
a day that happens to be during her time of the month, and you can
therefore resist the temptation to "cash in" on it.]
3. Perhaps she prefers being the pursuer than the persued. Since it's
not working anyway, you can experiment to see what would happen if
you drop the subject for a while.
4. Try comprimise. Solving problems by comprimise is a key ingrediant
in a successful marriage on the intellectual level as well.
Totally unrelated to the sexual problem, an inability to see each
others side would be itself a problem.
5. Consider obervance of the halachos of taharas hamishpachah (lit:
purity of the family; i.e., the laws about sex). This would
guarantee her that for around 12 days a month the marriage will be
centered on the head and heart, not the gonads. Deciding to try
these halachos may be a good framework with which to begin. It is
interesting to note that seven of these twelve days were not part
of G-d's original legislation, or even a rabbinic enactment.
Rather, they are something women of the early second Temple period
took on themselves, and only subsequently became enshrined into
custom and law. Perhaps they speak to a need inherent in female
6. See a counselor by yourself. Often, we lack the tools to change
what we must. Ask someone for help is like stocking your toolbox.
Subject: Question 8.25: What should a man do if his wife leaves him for
In theory, if a wife has an affair the husband is obligated to get
divorced. Again...in theory. In practice, we do not require the court
to believe the evidence. However, in such a situation, lamentably,
there is often no marriage to try to save. The wife left. The man
ought to give her a get, a divorce writ. These can really only be
handled by a beis din, a religious court.
Note: Since a decree by Rabbeinu Gershom in the 10th century, a man
not only must give the writ, the wife must willingly accept it. If she
does not, the marriage is not terminated. In which case, things can
get pretty difficult. There are ways to deal with this situation, but
again, it really requires a beis din.
Subject: Question 8.26: Can a Jewish woman who has not been to a mikvah get
married in an Orthodox wedding?
No. Going to the Mikvah is mandatory. A woman must go to the mikvah
after menstruating and before intimacy (or entering the Temple, eating
from an offering, or from tithes, in eras where those are an option).
Subject: Question 8.27: Is it possible for a Cohanim to marry a divorced
There are two aspects to the question: permissible and possible.
Such a marriage is not permissable, even if the woman has an Orthodox
"get". In extenuating case-by-case basis, it might be possible to
prove the previous marriage never occured (for example, if the
witnesses were not valid). Thus, one would have to consult a rabbi to
be sure, but in most cases, the answer is that they may not get
married. The circumstances of the divorce don't matter either.
R' Nachman of Breslov suggests that the reason is that divorce is an
act of separation. A student of Aaron, the first kohein, is described
as one who "loves peace, pursues peace, loves people, and brings the
close to Torah." Bringing the anger that divorce produces into his
home would make this quite difficult. The source of the prohibition is
Another reason is that a kohein may not marry someone with a
premarital sexual history. In practice, a rabbi may be able to bring
up enough legitimate doubt about one's kohein status to allow the
marriage to occur. Conservative Rabbis routinely dismiss any family's
belief that they're kohanim when this kind of need arises. Orthodoxy
would demand leg work and evidence, and therefore can only do this
when there are grounds.
Is it possible? Yes. Such a wedding, while prohibited, does produce a
halachically recognized marriage. The couple are obligated to divorce.
However, they must divorce; it's not grounds for anulling the marriage
as never having occurred. The children of such a marriage would be
"chalalim", and have the status of a non-kohein.
In a related vein, one might ask whether Kohainim may divorce. The
answer is yes, however, the process is made more complicated. In
normal cases of divorce, if you regret the decision before marrying
someone else, you can remarry. (You can't remarry your ex if you were
married in the middle. Otherwise there'd be a huge loophole allowing
wife-swapping via quicky divorce.) However, a kohein could never
remarry his ex-wife, so we want to make sure no mistake is being made.
Subject: Question 8.28: I've heard Jews can't get married on certain days.
What are they?
Jewish marriages do not take place on Shabbat, festivals or the High
Holy Days, because "one does not mix one occasion of rejoicing with
another." Weddings may be held on Chanukah and Purim, however, because
they are not defined as a "simchah." Similarly, wedding are not
traditionally held on days of public mourning either, for the
overriding mood of such days would diminish the joy of the wedding.
This includes Tisha B'Av, the fast of Gedaliah, the tenth of Tevet,
the fast of Esther, the seventeenth of Tammuz,the period between
Pesach and Shavuot, and the three weeks from the seventeenth of Tammuz
until Tisha B'Av. The one exception is the thirty- third day in the
Counting of the Omer (the period from Pesach through Shavuot), during
which time weddings are permitted.
This period also applies to the throwing of parties, such as
engagement parties. However, there is an additional exception. If the
"party" is really just a large Shabbat dinner, it is permitted,
because public displays of morning do not take place on Shabbat. Note
that, according to traditional thought, music should not be played
during this period.
Subject: Question 8.29: What is the role of the parents or the rabbi at a
Jewish tradition has no role for the parents. In the west, we tend to
have them walk their children down the aisle, but even having an aisle
is a western culture thing, not a Jewish one. And the rabbi doesn't
marry them. Marriage requires the couple and witnesses. The rabbi is
there as "mesadeir qiddushin" (arranger of the marriage), he's there
to insure that everyone does everything correctly.
Note that one can also honor a second rabbi with reading the kesuvah,
and six other rabbis to read the blessings. The cantor chants/sings
the traditional greetings and often a song about Jerusalem before the
groom breaks the glass. The couple also often honors three sets of
winesses, having one group witness the tana'im (the contract
specifying which family will pay for what of the wedding), one for the
kesuvah, and one pair guarding the door to the yichud room.
Subject: Question 8.30: How long after a spouse dies can the surviving
partner remarry? Must they marry their spouse's younger brother?
There is a law in the Torah that a childless widow who wants to marry
her brother-in-law ought to marry him (a "leverite" marriage, or in
Hebrew "yibum"). The child would then be named after the first
husband. If either she or the brother refuses, they perform a ceremony
called chalitzah, which involves his taking off his shoe and her
spitting in it and saying "This is what is done to someone who won't
carry on his brother's name." The definition of shoe for this law is
quite rigorous, and the court generally has a ceremonial shoe set
aside that fits this definition.
However, no one does yibum anymore. The feeling is that modern man is
too likely to be interested in this as quasi-incest and not enough for
loftier motives for this to be the proper choice. In the western
communities, chalitzah has been the preferred choice since the 10th
century. In Sepharadic communities, and those from Moslem countries,
it has been the choice for a little over a century or so.
Subject: Question 8.31: What relationships are prohibited?
There are a number of prohibited relationships in Judaism. The Torah
sets forth a list, and any community cannot, by custom, violate a
Torah prohibition. For example, a man cannot marry certain close blood
relatives, the ex-wives of certain close blood relatives, a woman who
has not been validly divorced from her previous husband, the daughter
or granddaughter of his ex-wife, or the sister of his ex-wife during
the ex-wife's lifetime. These are all enumerated in Leviticus 18.
These include that one cannot:
* Have sexual relations with one's mother (Leviticus 18:7).
* Have sexual relations with one's father (Leviticus 18:7).
* Have sexual relations with one's father's wife (Leviticus 18:8).
* Have sexual relations with one's sister (Leviticus 18:9).
* Have sexual relations with one's father's wife's daughter.
* Have sexual relations with one's son's daughter (Leviticus 18:10).
* Have sexual relations with one's daughter's daughter (Leviticus
* Have sexual relations with one's daughter (this is not explicitly
in the Torah but is inferred from other explicit commands that
would include it).
* Have sexual relations with one's fathers sister (Leviticus 18:12).
* Have sexual relations with one's mother's sister (Leviticus
* Have sexual relations with one's father's brothers wife (Leviticus
* Have sexual relations with one's father's brother (Leviticus
* Have sexual relations with one's son's wife (Leviticus 18:15).
* Have sexual relations with one's brother's wife (Leviticus 18:16).
* Have sexual relations with one's wife's daughter (Leviticus
* Have sexual relations with the daughter of one's wife's son
* Have sexual relations with the daughter of one's wife's daughter
* Have sexual relations with one's wife's sister (Leviticus 18:18).
Subject: Question 8.32: What is the restriction on woman to sing in public
and infront of men?
The prohibition is phrased in the Talmud as "voice, in a woman, is
something erotic". In Aramaic, "qol be'ishah ervah" (from which comes
the common name for the prohibition, "kol ishah") With the leading
"be-" (in) omitted, it means "a woman's voice".
The fundamental prohibition is on men--that they are not to listen to
women sing. There is a law, though, against causing others to sin. It
comes from the verse "Do not place a stumbling block before the
blind." Therefore, implied in a man's prohibition against listening is
a woman's against singing in a situation where men would be listening.
However, in practice, there are leniencies. For example, it does not
apply to immediate family members. Most rule it does not apply to
recorded or remotely transmitted voices. Many rule it does not apply
to sung prayer. Some rule it does not apply to group singing, only
when a woman sings alone. Different communities have different
Subject: Question 8.33: What can be done if the wife refuses to sign the get
Originally, halachah allowed for a get to be given without the wife's
consent. Around a millenium ago the Ashkenazi community accepted a
legislation by Rabbeinu Gershom that invalidates such gittin. Sefaradi
acceptance of this law was more recent, but at this point it's
If the refusal is due to insanity, or in certain other situations, the
husband can leave the get in the hands of a court and recieve a "heter
mei'ah rabbanim"--a permission from 100 rabbis to marry a second wife,
despite our community's ban on polygamy. Otherwise, one needs to go to
the beit din and see what other pressures can be applied. Many states
in the US (including NY and NJ) have a "get law". Under such a law,
the state mandates that a judge take into account that one spouse is
using religion to create a barrier to the other spouse's remarriage.
The details of such a law vary from state to state. When speaking to
the beit din, ask if they could put you in touch with a knowledgable
Subject: How do I obtain copies of the FAQ?
There are a number of different ways to obtain copies of the FAQ:
* WWW. If you are reading this on Usenet, and would like to see an
online, hyperlinked version, go visit http://www.scjfaq.org/.
This is the "web" version of the FAQ; the version posted to Usenet
is generated from the web version. Note that the www.scjfaq.org
version is a copy of the actual master version; if you want to
access the master, visit http://master.scjfaq.org/.
* Email. Scjfaq.org also provides an autoretriever that allows one
to obtain a copy of the FAQ by return Email. To use the
autoretriever, you send a retrieval request to
firstname.lastname@example.org with the request in the body of the
message. A more reliable way to retrieve these files is through
the FAQ autoretriever
(http://www.mljewish.org/bin/autoresp.cgi). For the FAQ, the
request has the form:
send faq partname
For the reading list, the request has the form:
send rl partname
"Partname" is replaced by the name of the part, as shown in the
general index. The following is a short summary of the mapping to
partnames for the FAQ:
+ 01-FAQ-intro: Section 1: Network and Newsgroup
+ 02-Who-We-Are: Section 2: Who We Are
+ 03-Torah-Halacha: Sections 3, 4: Torah; Halachic
+ 04-Observance: Sections 5, 6, 7, 8:
Jewish Holidays; Jewish Dietary Law and Kashrut; Sabbath and
Holiday Observance; Woman and Marriage
+ 05-Worship: Sections 9, 10, 11: Jewish
Worship; Conversion, Intermarriage, and "Who is a Jew?";
Miscellaneous Practice Questions
+ 06-Jewish-Thought: Section 12: Jewish Thought
+ 07-Jews-As-Nation: Section 13: Jews as a Nation
+ 08-Israel: Section 14: Jews and Israel
+ 09-Antisemitism: Sections 15, 16, 17: Churban
Europa (The Holocaust); Antisemitism and Rumors about Jews;
+ 10-Reform: Section 18: Reform/Progressive Judaism
+ 11-Miscellaneous: Sections 19, 20: Miscellaneous;
References and Getting Connected
+ 12-Kids: Section 21: Jewish Childrearing Related
+ mail-order: Mail Order Judaica
The following is a short summary of the mapping of partnames for
the Reading Lists:
+ general: Introduction and General. Includes book sources,
starting points for beginners, starting points for non-Jewish
readers, General Judaism, General Jewish Thought, General
Jewish History, Contemporary Judaism, Noachide Laws, Torah
and Torah Commentary, Talmud and Talmudic Commentary,
Mishnah, Midrash, Halachic Codes, Becoming An Observant Jew,
Women and Judaism, and Science and Judaism.
+ traditional: Traditional Liturgy, Practice, Lifestyle,
Holidays. Includes Traditional Liturgy; Traditional
Philosophy and Ethics; Prayer; Traditional Practice; The
Household; Life, Death, and In-Between; and The Cycle Of
+ mysticism: Kabbalah, Mysticism, and Messianism. Includes
Academic and Religious treatments of Kabbalah, Sprituality,
and the Jewish notion of the Messiah.
+ reform: Reform/Progressive Judaism
+ conservative: Conservative Judaism
+ reconstructionist: Reconstructionist Judaism
+ humanistic: Humanistic Judaism (Society for Humanistic
+ chasidism: Chassidism. Includes general information on
historical chassidism, as well as specific information on
Lubavitch (Chabad), Satmar, Breslaw (Breslov), and other
+ zionism: Zionism. Includes Zionism and The Development Of
Israel, The Founders, Zionistic Movements, and Judaism in
+ antisemitism: Antisemitism. Includes sections on
Antisemitism, What Led to The Holocaust, Medieval Oppression,
Antisemitism Today (Including Dealing with Hate Groups),
Judaism and Christianity, and Judaism, Freemasonry and other
+ intermarriage: Intermarriage. Includes sections on "So
You're Considering Intermarriage?", The Traditional
Viewpoint, Conversion, and Coping With Life As An
+ childrens: Books for Jewish Children. Includes sections
on Birth and Naming, Raising a Child, Family Guidebooks,
Upsheren, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Confirmation, Holiday Books for
Children, Liturgy for Children, Bible and Torah for Children,
Jewish History for Children, Jewish Theology for Children,
Israel, Learning Hebrew, and Jewish Stories.
Alternatively, you may send a message to
email@example.com with the following line in the body
of the message:
Where (portionname) is replaced by the appropriate subdirectory
and filenames; for example, to get the first part of the reading
list, one would say:
* Anonymous FTP: All portions of the FAQ and of the reading lists
are archived on rtfm.mit.edu and are available for anonymous
FTP from the pub/usenet/news.answers/judaism/FAQ directory (URL
Similarly, the parts of the reading lists are stored in the
pub/usenet/news.answers/judaism/reading-lists directory (URL:
ts). Note that the archived versions of the FAQ and reading lists
are the posted versions; that is, they are each one large ASCII
Subject: Who Wrote the FAQ?
The original version of the Frequently Asked Questions was developed
by a committee consisting of Mike Allen, Jerry Altzman, Rabbi Charles
Arian, Jacob Baltuch (Past Chair), Joseph Berry, Warren Burstein,
Stewart Clamen, Daniel Faigin, Avi Feldblum, Rabbi Yaakov Feldman,
Itzhak "Jeff" Finger, Gedaliah Friedenberg, Yechezkal Gutfreund, Art
Kamlet, Joe Kansun, CAPT Kaye David, Alan Lustiger, Hillel Markowitz,
Len Moskowitz, Colin Naturman, Aliza Panitz, Eliot Shimoff, Mark
Steinberger, Steven Weintraub, Matthew Wiener, and headed by Robert
Levene. The organization and structuring of the lists for posting
purposes was done by Daniel Faigin, who is currently maintaining
the lists. Other contributors include Aaron Biterman, A. Engler
Anderson, Ken Arromdee, Seymour Axelrod, Jonathan Baker, Josh Backon,
Micha Berger, Steven M. Bergson, Eli Birnbaum, Shoshana L. Boublil,
Kevin Brook, J. Burton, Harvey Cohen, Todd J.Dicker, Michael Dinowitz,
Rabbi Jim Egolf, Sean Engelson, Mike Fessler, Menachem Glickman,
Amitai Halevi, Walter Hellman, Per Hollander, Miriam Jerris, Robert D.
Kaiser, Yosef Kazen, Rabbi Jay Lapidus, Mier Lehrer, Heather Luntz,
David Maddison, Arnaldo Mandel, Ilana Manspeizer, Seth Ness, Chris
Newport, Daniel Nomy, Jennifer Paquette, Andrew Poe, Alan Pfeffer,
Jason Pyeron, Adam Reed, Seth Rosenthall, JudithSeid@aol.com, David
Sheen, Rabbi John Sherwood, Michael Sidlofsky, Michael Slifkin, Frank
Smith, Michael Snider, Rabbi Arnold Steibel, Andy Tannenbaum,
firstname.lastname@example.org, Meredith Warshaw, Bill Wadlinger, Arel Weisberg,
Dorothy Werner, and Art Werschulz, and the
soc.culture.jewish.parenting board. Some material has been derived
from other sources on the Internet, such as
http://www.jewishwebsite.com/, http://www.jewfaq.org/, and
http://www.menorah.org/. Comments and corrections are welcome;
please address them to email@example.com.
A special thank you... Special thanks for her patience and
understanding go to my wife, Karen, who put up with me hiding at the
computer for the two months it took to complete the July/August 2000
remodel of the entire soc.culture.jewish FAQ and Reading Lists. If you
think the effort was worth it, drop her a note c/o
Please mail additions or corrections to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions should be sent to email@example.com.
Last Modified: $lastmod
End of SCJ FAQ Part 4 (Observance and Women) Digest
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Last Update August 08 2012 @ 06:19 AM