Frequently Asked Questions on Soc.Culture.Jewish
Part 5: Worship, Conversion, Intermarriage, and other Practice Questions
[Last Post: Tue Mar 2 11:07:29 US/Pacific 2004]
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Reform is Progressive or Liberal Judaism; Conservative is Masorti or
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conservative/Masorti movement elsewhere. Where appropriate, these
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restriction. See Part 1 for more details.
This portion of the FAQ contains answers to the following questions:
1. How does a rabbi differ from a priest?
2. Do you need a rabbi for a wedding?
3. Do you need a rabbi for a divorce?
4. How do Jews pray?
5. Is there a distinctly Jewish form of meditation?
6. Does Judaism have a strong tradition of religious art and
7. What is a synagogue?
8. What will I find in a synagogue?
9. How is a synagogue operated?
10. What functions does a synagogue serve?
11. What is the name of the Jewish God?
12. What is the reason for a "minyon" (a quorum of 10 men requried
for certain prayers)?
13. What is the "Shema"?
14. Where can I learn about the prayers before eating?
15. What is the structure of the morning service?
16. When should morning services start?
17. Why do people put their tallit over their heads when they
18. What is the importance of collective worship in Judaism?
19. What is the difference between Conservative Prayer and
20. What is the Timeline of Women in the Rabbinate?
21. Are extremely observant men permitted to pray at home?
22. What is the Qetzatzah Ceremony?
23. What time of day were the sacrifices offered?
Conversion, Intermarriage, and "Who is a Jew?"
1. Does Halacha (Jewish law) permit intermarriage?
2. I'm a Jew who married a gentile. Am I still Jewish?
3. I'm a Jew who accepted the tenets of another religion, but now
wants to practice Judaism again. Am I allowed? Am I still Jewish?
4. OK, then apart from halachic considerations, why do many Jews
of all types oppose intermarriage?
5. Is objection to intermarriage a form of bigotry?
6. But I still want to intermarry? Do you know of a Rabbi that
7. How does one convert?
8. What about adults who are not circumcised?
9. What does the word "Jew" mean?
10. Who is a Jew?
11. What is the origin of Matrilineal Descent?
12. I've heard that Jewish parents consider an intermarried child
as "dead". Is this true?
13. Why is the conversion process so complicated? The matriarchs
didn't have to convert.
Miscellaneous Practice Questions
1. Why do some Jewish women wear wigs or cover their hair with a
snood, beret, tichel, turban, kerchief or hat?
2. Why do many Jewish men wear head coverings (variously referred
to as "yarmulkas," "skullcaps," and "kipot")?
3. What is a Tallis? Tzit-tzit(those fringes)? Why do Jews wear
4. What are those black boxes and leather straps Jewish men wear?
5. Why do many Jewish men sport beards and/or long sideburns?
6. Why do some Orthodox Jews, especially Chassidim, wear a
distinctive style of clothing (i.e., fur hats, black coats,
7. What is Shaatnez?
8. Are there any special dress rules or customs for women?
9. What is a Kittel?
10. What is the large high ceremonial hat that the Rabbi wears in
the synagogue called?
11.2 Sex and Purity
1. What's this I've heard about a hole in a sheet?
2. Can a Jewish man only uncover his wife a hands-breadth?
3. What is a "mikveh"?
4. What are Jewish hygene practices?
1. Why do some people write "G-d" with a hyphen instead of an
2. Why do some Jews write "J-s-s" and "Xianity"?
3. Why are somethings written in Hebrew, and others in Aramaic?
11.4 Practices towards others
1. Does Judaism permit slavery?
2. What does "eye for an eye" mean?
3. Is it permitted for a Jew to sell Christian objects?
* This material has been moved to Section 8.
11.6 Death and Burial
1. Is it true that someone with tattoos cannot be buried in a
2. I've heard about a custom of putting stones on the grave. Do
you know where this custom originated?
3. Is "stone setting" at the cemetery within a year after death
is a Jewish tradition?
4. What are the Jewish mourning customs after the death of an
5. What are Jewish funeral customs?
6. Is getting cryogenically frozen against Judaism?
7. Are Jews buried facing West?
8. Can Jews be cremated?
9. What is the Jewish position on Suicide?
10. Can pregnant women attend a funeral?
11. If a Jewish person lives in an area where there is no
synagogue, no Jewish funeral home, and no Jewish cemetery, what
would the rules be in regard to burial?
12. Can Jews and Non-Jews be buried together?
13. Must the Chevra Kedisha be family members?
14. How have burial customs changed over time?
15. Why do Jews emphasize burial within 24 hours?
1. What are the levels of giving?
1. When did Jews stop making animal sacrifices?
2. What replaced animal sacrifices in Jewish practice?
3. How do sacrifices relate to compassion for animals?
4. Will sacrifices be restored if the Temple is rebuilt?
1. Why are Jews called Jews?
2. What does the Star of David represent and what is its
3. What is the signficance of "Chai" and the number 18?
4. What is a Mezuzah?
5. What is a Menorah?
6. What is the significance of the number 5?
7. What is the significance of the number 3?
8. What is the significance of the number 40?
9. What is the significance of the number 7?
10. Are there any Jewish housewarming rituals?
11. What is the significance of blue in Judaism? Are there other
12. What is the significance of the number 8?
Subject: Question 9.1: How does a rabbi differ from a priest?
A rabbi has no actual powers in the written Torah, although the Talmud
does provide the Rabbi with the authority to make interpretations of
Torah (which, in Orthodoxy, provides authority). Rabbis are, however,
ordained (a term used in the progressive communities) or given
semichah. This is a recognition of a certain level of training or
education as defined as appropriate for the community in which the
Rabbi has studied.
One of the traditional names for semichah is hatarat hora'ah, which
translates as a license to instruct. In the Orthodox community,
semichah is granted in two forms: Yoreh Yoreh (to instruct) and Yadin
Yadin (a higher level, meaning to judge). This was seen in earlier
times. For example there was the "Magid" or preacher (the role of
teaching Jewish law and judging being separated from moral
Because of the rabbi's training, the rabbi often takes on other roles.
Rabbinical presence at religious services is desired insofar as
everyone likes the rabbi and the rabbi can rule on questions that come
up related to the service (e.g. does a particular smudge render a
Torah scroll unkosher?) If the rabbi has a nice voice, and no one else
has priority, the rabbi may even lead the services. The state gives
rabbis the permission to perform weddings and so on since the state
Priests are male descendants from Aaron, the brother of Moses. They
are usually called cohanim [cohen singular]. The cohanim perform
Birkat Cohanim (blessing the congregation using the Hebrew text found
in Bamidbar [Numbers] 6:23-25) on the following occasions:
...in Israel (except the Galil, per Minhag Tzefat)
Shabbat and Yom Tov
...in many non-Israeli Sephardic congregations
...otherwise (non-Israeli Ashkenazic congregations)
Cohanim are traditionally granted priority in numerous details. They
are also traditionally forbidden to attend funerals other than their
closest relatives and may not marry divorcees or converts. When the
Temple is standing, the cohanim run most of the Temple service.
The "Star Trek" Vulcan "live long and prosper" sign is roughly
one-half of the gesture the cohanim make when blessing the
congregation.1 You can see it engraved on many cohen tombstones:
\ / \ /
The Pharisee/Sadduccee conflict was a sectarian division in the period
of the Second Temple, although some view it as a rabbi/priest
conflict. When the Second Temple was destroyed, the priests lost most
of their power.
Oh wait, you meant maybe, like Catholic/Anglican priests? Heh.
On this note: Priests are often used as intermediaries between man and
G-d. Rabbis are nothing more than regular people who have learned much
Torah. Catholic priests can give absolution for sins, rabbis can't
(unless you're asking forgiveness for something you've done against
the rabbi personally).
On the other hand, in the traditions of the Chassids and in the
Sephardi communities, holy men sometimes have a role as intermediary
(though not obligatory, of course). The tales of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak
of Berdichev are filled with stories of his intercession On-High. This
was a dominant theme in Chasidic "maasehs."
1: The Vulcan's learned of this symbol from Leonard Nimoy, who is
Subject: Question 9.2: Do you need a rabbi for a wedding?
Technically, you don't need one; however, it's very important to have
a rabbi in order to make sure that the complicated marriage ceremony
is done properly. Valid witnesses are needed to make the marriage
official. The criteria constituting a valid witness differ among the
The purpose of a rabbi is like that of using a judge or a lawyer in
civil matters to ensure that the law is complied with. This differs
from the non-Jewish concept of a minister having some necessary
mystical connection with G-d that is required to make the ceremony
In Israel, the Rav is also needed for the secular legality of the
Subject: Question 9.3: Do you need a rabbi for a divorce?
The appropriate answer to this depends on the movement with which you
are involved, and whether or not you had a "Jewish" wedding. In this
context, a "Jewish Wedding" is a marriage that was recognized as being
under the laws of Moses and Israel. Intermarriages, regardless of the
amount of Judaism practiced in the household or who performed the
ceremony are not "Jewish" weddings because halacha (traditional Jewish
law) does not recognize marriages between Jews and non-Jews. There are
other types of marriages that are not recognized; consult your local
rabbi for information.
Conservative and Orthodox Judaism require (and Reform recommends) that
if you have a Jewish wedding, you should get a Jewish divorce, which
is called a "get". This is because Judaism regards marriage as a
special relationship between a man and a woman that begins with a holy
bond. Just as that relationship is created through a religious act of
marriage, it can only be abrogated through a Jewish act, the "get".
Note that a "get" is required even if you already have a civil divorce
(with one exception: Reform, but not the other movements, accepts the
civil divorce papers as equivalent to a "get"). According to Jewish
law, a marriage is not dissolved until a bill of divorce (get) is
exchanged between husband and wife. Most Non-Reform American Rabbis,
and all Rabbis in Israel, will not officiate at a wedding if either
party has been divorced without the benefit of a get.
Regardless of one's personal convictions or practices, or one's
movemental affiliation, obtaining a "get" is important. This simple
procedure does more than just assure the couple that they will be free
to remarry should they so desire. It also prevents a tragic problem: a
child born to a Jewish woman whose previous marriage did not terminate
with a "get" may be considered illegitimate. Any Jew, whether
observant or non-observant, needs to share in the concern for Jewish
unity and in providing their children with a clean slate for the
A Jewish divorce is similar to many present-day legal transactions. A
divorce contract (get) is drawn up under expert Rabbinical staff
(consult your local Rabbi to find an appropriate party to do this) and
signed by witnesses. The husband and wife are not subject to personal
questions. If they choose to, they need not be present together.
A Jewish divorce usually takes an hour or two, during which time the
get is prepared and executed. The parties are expected to provide
proof of identification, and will be asked some formal questions to
make it clear that the get is being executed on their behalf without
coercion. Costs may vary in different cases, but on the average, a get
Note that we should add here that many rabbis will not issue a get
until the civil divorce has been finalized in order to avoid problems.
Subject: Question 9.4: How do Jews pray?
In public and in private; in groups and alone. Jews pray loudly and in
silence; in Hebrew, English, and any other language you can name.
Sometimes Jews even pray without language. Jews pray from the depth of
their souls, at the tops of their lungs, and from the quiet of their
hearts. It is difficult to point to a specific "Jewish" way of
However, one's prayers must fulfill certain daily obligations, so a
standard order of prayers has been developed to accomplish this.
Still, even in a structured prayer service, there are many
opportunities for a silent, personal supplication to G-d.
The introduction to the Artscroll Siddur (Orthodox) provides a good
overview of the Jewish view of prayer, and the book To Pray as a
Jew discusses more of the particulars.
The next question is: So, why do we pray at all. Often, when we think
of 'prayer', we think of needs and requests. This is not necessarily
the Jewish concept of prayer.
In Judaism, prayer is an introspective process. It is process of
discovering what one is, what one should be, and how to achieve the
transformation. Prayer is described in Torah as a service of the
heart, not of the mouth (Talmud Bavli, Ta'anit 2a). By improving
ourselves with prayer, we become capable of absorbing G-d's blessing.
The Hebrew word for prayer is tefila, based on the words 'to judge' or
'to differentiate'. The exercise of judgements is called 'pilelah',
whose roots mean 'a clear separation'. Prayer is viewed as a means to
define what truly matters, to ignore the trivialities.
So why pray? Doesn't G-d know our requirements already? In Jewish
tradition, the purpose of tefila is not to tell G-d something, but
rather to raise the level of the person praying by improving their
perceptions of life so they can become worthy of blessing.
Note that Jewish law requires the worshiper to be aware that it is G-d
being addressed, to "know before Whom you are standing" (Talmud Bavli,
Berakhot, 28b). Thus, Jewish prayer is more than reading from a prayer
book. Prayer requires the sense of standing in the presence of G-d and
the intent to fulfill at least one of G-d's commandments. This intent
is called kavanah.
Talmud teaches that the minimal level of kavanah required is that "one
who prays must direct one's heart towards heaven" (Berakhot, 31a). The
next higher level of kavanah is to know and understand fully the
meanings of the prayers. The level following that is to free one's
mind of all extraneous and interfering thoughts. At the highest level,
kavanah means to think about the deeper meaning of what one is saying
and praying with extraordinary devotion. Should circumstances make it
necessary for a person to choose between saying more prayers without
kavanah or saying fewer prayers with kavanah, the fewer are preferred.
(Shulkhan Arukh, Orah Hayim 1:4)
Subject: Question 9.5: Is there a distinctly Jewish form of meditation?
Yes. Meditation has long been a part of Judaism. Today, there is a
revival that is discovering the richness of the Jewish meditative
tradition. Part of this comes from regularity of practice (think of
this like the repeating of a "mantra" in other cultures, although
there is much more). Meditation and reconnecting yourself to G-d
occurs through daily and regular Jewish observances such as daily
prayer, kashrut (keeping kosher), Shabbat and holydays. The silent
"shemoneh esrei" prayer is also a form of meditation.
There is much information on Jewish Meditation available on the web:
* Kavannah. The Kavannah site (www.kavannah.org or
http://www.crosswinds.net/~kavannah/) provides a collection of
resources for Jewish Meditation.
* Jewish Mystical Traditions. Zos Imos has a page on Jewish
Mystical Traditions at
* Chocomat Halev. This organization has an online bibliography
specifically about Jewish Meditation at
Readers might also consult Section 4.10 of this FAQ, which
contains a discussion of [KQ]abbalah. You might also look at some
of the books in the "mysticism" portion of the reading list.
Subject: Question 9.6: Does Judaism have a strong tradition of religious art
Emphatically, yes! Cantorial music goes back a long way, and there
have been Jewish artists since Abraham's time. You should investigate
many of the exhibits at the local Jewish Community Centers,
synagogues, and rabbinical schools (such as the Skirball Museum at
Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles). Often, Jewish art focuses on
ceremonial objects, such as spice boxes, menorot, mezzuzot, wimples,
kippahs, breastplates for the Torah, Torah covers, etc, as opposed to
portraits or statues.
Judaism does have a strong tradition of religious music, it's just
that there haven't been that many Jewish composers with great popular
success outside of the small Jewish circles (as opposed to classical
composers of the 17th-19th centuries who wrote liturgical music that
was a great success in its own right, without the liturgy underneath
There is also an emerging tradition of modern Jewish music, including
such artists as Debbie Friedman, Rabbi Joe Black, and others. Some of
this music is more appropriate to the liberal streams. Those
interested in modern Jewish music should investigate some of the
online Jewish music stores, such as Sounds Write
(http://www.soundswrite.com/) or JewishMusic.com
Some other links of interest include:
* American Conference of Cantors - Reform (Progressive) Judaism:
* The Cantors Assembly - Conservative (Masorti) Judaism:
* Cantorial Council of America - Orthodox Judaism:
* Chazzanut Online: http://www.joods.nl/~chazzanut/. A
comprehensive site on Jewish liturgical music, with a large
collection of cantorial sheet music, midi files, annotated links
and background information.
Subject: Question 9.7: What is a synagogue?
A synagogue is a Jewish place of assembly for worship, education, and
communal affairs. One tradition dates synagogues back to the
Babylonian exile of the 6th cent. BCE, when the returnees may have
brought back with them the basic structure that was to be developed by
the 1st cent. CE into a well-defined institution around which Jewish
religious, intellectual, and communal life was to be centered. Other
scholars believe the synagogue arose after the Hasmonean revolt
(167-164 BCE) as a Pharisaic alternative to the Temple cult. In any
case, the destruction of the Temple (70 CE) and the Diaspora over the
following centuries increased the synagogue's importance.
Services in the synagogue were conducted in a simpler manner than in
the historic Temple. Services were conducted by a chazzan (reader), as
opposed to a formally appointed priest. Some congregations today
continue to use a chazzan, but in most, services are led by a rabbi.
The place of Jewish worship has many names. The Hebrew term is beit
k'nesset (literally, House of Assembly). Many people use the word
"shul," which is a Yiddish word derived from a German word meaning
"school" (which demonstrates the synagogue's role as a place of
study). "Synagogue" is a Greek translation of Beit K'nesset and also
means "place of assembly" (related to "synod"). Progressive Jews often
use the word "temple," because they consider every one of their
meeting places to be equivalent to, or a replacement for, the Temple
(this usage offends some traditional Jews, because they believe there
was only one Temple). Lastly, some Jews just use the term
Note that the word "Temple" is often used to refer to the place in
Jerusalem that was the center of Jewish religion from the time of
Solomon to its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE. According to
tradition, this is the one and only place where sacrifices and certain
other religious rituals were performed. It was partially destroyed at
the time of the Babylonian Exile and rebuilt ("the Second Temple").
The "Wailing Wall" is the western retaining wall of that Temple, and
is as close to the site of the original Sanctuary as Jews can go
today. Traditional Jews believe that The Temple will be rebuilt when
the Moshiach (Messiah) comes.
Also, note that a synagogue serves many purposes. It is a house of
prayer, of course, because people go there to pray in group prayer. It
is a house of assembly, because people assemble there for social
events, such as dinners, fundraisers, and other non-religious
activities. It is a house of study because life-long learning is a
part of Judaism: we teach our children there, and we teach ourselves
there through adult education.
Subject: Question 9.8: What will I find in a synagogue?
Prayer services are normally performed in a "sanctuary" (although some
congregations use a general meeting room, which is configured as a
sanctuary). Synagogues are generally arranged so that the front of the
sanctuary is facing Jerusalem, which is the direction Jews face when
reciting certain prayers (probably because the original Temple was in
The most important feature of the sanctuary is the Ark, which is an
acrostic of the words "Aron Kodesh," ("holy cabinet"). The Ark holds
the Torah scrolls, and is generally placed in the front of the room,
on the side towards Jerusalem. These Scrolls contain the first five
books of the Bible. The Ark is in place of the Ark that had at one
time been in the most Holy place of the Temple (which was in the
Eastern part). In the Bible we are told that the tablets of the Ten
Commandments had been placed in this Ark, hence we place the Torah
Scroll in an ark on the Eastern side of the shul.
The Ark has doors as well as an inner curtain called a "parokhet",
which is in imitation of the curtain in the Sanctuary in The Temple.,
and is named for it. During certain prayers, the doors and/or curtain
of the Ark may be opened or closed. Opening or closing the doors or
curtain is performed by a member of the congregation, and is
considered an honor. One stands when the doors of the Ark are open.
In front of and slightly above the Ark, you will find the ner tamid,
the Eternal Lamp. This lamp symbolizes the commandment to keep a light
burning in the Tabernacle outside of the curtain surrounding the Ark
of the Covenant. (Ex. 27:20-21).
Many synagoguges have a menorah (candelabrum), symbolizing the menorah
in the Temple. The menorah in the synagogue will generally have six or
eight branches instead of the Temple menorah's seven, because exact
duplication of the Temple's ritual items is improper. Note the
distinction between a menorah, which has seven branches, and a
chanukiah, which is used on Chanukkah and has nine branches.
In the center of the room or in the front, is a pedestal or lectern
called the bimah. The bimah holds the Torah scrolls when they are
read, as well as serving as a podium for leading services. There is an
additional, lower lectern in some synagogues called an amud. The
tables/seats surrounding the bimah are facing towards Jerusalem. This
is based on Jewish law, but also appears in the Bible. (1 Kings 8
where King Solomon instructed to pray towards the place of the Holy
In traditional synagogues, you will also find a separate section where
the women sit. This may be on an upper floor balcony, or in the back
of the room, or on the side of the room, separated from the men's
section by a wall or curtain called a mechitzah. Traditionally, men
are not permitted to pray in the presence of women, because they are
supposed to have their minds on their prayers. The source for this is
ancient. In the holy temple that was in Jerusalem, they seperated men
from women during prayer and services to reduce frivolity.
People going to a synagogue dress in a manner as to show respect for
G-d, that is nicely, formally, and modestly. Men should wear a kippah
if that is the custom of that congregation; such congregatins often
make them available by the door. Men also often wear Tallit; these are
often also available by the door (these should not be worn by
non-Jews). In progressive congregations, women also wear kippahs and
tallit. In some synagogues, married women also wear a head covering,
such as a piece of lace. If you are in an traditional synagogue, be
careful to sit in the right section: men and women are seated
Subject: Question 9.9: How is a synagogue operated?
Synagogues are operated in a manner similar to most non-profit
organizations. They are generally run by a board of directors composed
of lay people, which manages and maintains the synagogue and its
activities, and hires religious staff for the community. There is
typically a congregation president, and other common positions include
secretary and treasurer. There are positions that deal with religious
practices, social action, membership, and other functions provided by
Typcially, the religious staff is not a member of the board (although
they could be); they are typically employees of the congregation. In
many congregations, they earn a salary. The religious staff typically
includes a rabbi and an cantor. The latter position is sometimes
called a music director. The educational leadership is often part of
the relgious staff.
It is worth noting that a synagogue can exist without a rabbi:
religious services can be, and often are, conducted by lay people in
whole or in part. It is not unusual for a synagogue to be without a
rabbi, at least temporarily. However, the rabbi is a valuable member
of the community, providing leadership, guidance and education.
Synagogues do not pass around collection plates during services.
Traditionally, this is because Jews are not permitted to carry money
on Holy days and Shabbat. Instead, synagogues are financed through
membership dues paid annually, through voluntary donations, through
community fundraisers, and through the purchase of reserved seats for
services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the holidays when the
synagogue is most crowded). There are two primary approaches to
synagogue dues. Some congregations set a fixed fee based on membership
categories. Other congregations base dues on a small percentage (often
2%) of one's income. There are two important factors to note about
synagogue dues: (1) they are often less, overall, than the donations
done in some churches that have a policy of tithing 10%; (2) they are
often negotiable through the membership committee if one is unable to
pay, and such negotiation are kept private. People are not turned away
because of ability to pray.
It is important to note, however, that you do not have to be a member
of a synagogue in order to worship there. If you plan to worship at a
synagogue regularly and you have the financial means, you should
certainly pay your dues to cover your fair share of the synagogue's
costs, but no synagogue checks membership cards at the door (except
possibly on the High Holidays mentioned above, if there aren't enough
seats for everyone).
Synagogues are, for the most part, independent community
organizations. Individual synagogues do not answer to any central
authority. The various movements of Judaism do have organizations for
their synagogues, but these organizations have no real power over each
synagogue (the synagogue can always go independent).
Subject: Question 9.10: What functions does a synagogue serve?
Synagogues typically serve in three different capacities:
1. Beit tefilah, a house of prayer. Synagogues serve as a place where
Jews come together for community prayer services. Jews can satisfy
the obligations of daily prayer by praying anywhere; however,
there are certain prayers that can only be said in the presence of
a minyan (a quorum of 10 adult men), and tradition teaches that
there is more merit to praying with a group than there is in
praying alone. The sanctity of the synagogue for this purpose is
second only to The Temple. In fact, in rabbinical literature, the
synagogue is sometimes referred to as the "little Temple."
2. Beit midrash, a house of study. Jewish education does not end at
the age of bar mitzvah; the study of Judaism and sacred texts is a
life-long task. Synagogues offer education to both children and
adults and often have a well-stocked library.
3. Beit knesset, a house of assembly. Synagogues often have a social
hall for religious and non-religious activities. The synagogue
provides a place where matters of importance to the community can
be discussed, and social action concerns can be aired. Synagogues
often provide social welfare functions, collecting and dispensing
money and other items for the aid of the poor and needy within the
Subject: Question 9.11: What is the name of the Jewish God?
In Judaism God has several names. The most important name of God is
the Tetragrammaton, YHVH. Because Jews considered it sinful to
pronounce, the correct pronunciation of this name was forgotten -- the
original Hebrew texts only included consonants. Some conjecture that
it was pronounced "Yahweh". The Hebrew letters are named
Jews also call God Adonai, or "my Lord." Since pronouncing YHVH is
considered sinful, Jews would use Adonai instead in prayers. When the
Masoretes added vowel pointings to the text of the Tanach in the first
century CE they gave the word YHVH the vowels of Adonai, to remind the
reader to say Adonai instead. Many Christian bible translators
misinterpreted this to mean that God's name was Jehovah, which is the
result of combining Adonai's vowels with YHVH's consonants, written
using Latin orthography in which "J" is prnounced as the English "Y."
All denominations of Judaism teach that the four letter name of God,
YHVH, is forbidden to be uttered except by the High Priest, in the
Temple. Since the Temple in Jerusalem is no longer extant, this name
is never pronounced in religious rituals by Jews. Orthodox Jews never
pronounce it for any reason. Some non-Orthodox Jews are willing to
pronounce it, but for educational purposes only, and never in causal
conversation or in prayer. Instead of pronouncing YHVH during prayer,
Jews say "Adonai".
Jews often build "fences" around the basic laws, so that there is no
chance that the main law will ever be broken. As such, it is common
Jewish practice among to restrict the use of the word "Adonai" to
prayer only. In conversation many Jewish people will call God
"HaShem", which is Hebrew for "the Name". Many Jews also write "G-d"
instead of "God". While these substitutions are by no means required
by Judaism (only the Hebrew name, not the English, is holy), they do
it to remind themselves of the holiness attached to God's name.
English translations of the Bible generally render YHVH as "LORD" (in
small capitals), and Adonai as "Lord" (in normal case). Scholars
disagree as to the meaning of the name Yahweh - many believe it means
something like "I am the One Who Is," or "I am that I am, and I cause
Other Jewish names of God include:
* Adonai Emet (Truth)
* Tzur Yisrael (The Rock of Israel)
* Elohei Avraham, Yitzchak v'Ya'acov (God of Abraham, God of Isaac,
God of Jacob)
* Ehiyeh sh'Ehiyeh (I Am That I Am)
* Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, our King)
* Ro'eh Yisrael (Shepherd of Israel)
* Ha-Kadosh, Baruch Hu (The Holy One, Praised be He)
* Melech ha-M'lachim (The King of Kings)
* Makom (literally, the Place; means "The Omnipresent")
* Magen Avraham (Shield of Abraham)
There is more information in answer 12.24
Subject: Question 9.12: What is the reason for a "minyon" (a quorum of 10 men
requried for certain prayers)?
Note that the requirements for a minyan are not biblical in origin.
The reasons are rabbinic. The following are some sources:
* M Megillah 4:3 and BT. Meg. 23b list the required occasions for a
minyan: the sheva berakhot at a wedding; the chazarat ha-shatz of
the Amidah; the reading of Torah from the scroll and of Haftarah;
the kedusha (derived from Lev. 22:32, ve-nikdashti betokh benei
yisra'el, matching the word tokh with Num. 16:21, mitokh ha-edah,
where the context makes it clear that sanctification requires a
* The number 10 is derived from Num. 14:27, where the ten spies
opposing the invasion were called an edah ra'ah. There were also
other derivations, one of them being the "ten righteous people"
that were lacking in Sodom.
* Soferim 10:7 adds Kaddish and barekhu to the rubrics requiring a
minyan, though here, the plain text would suggest that the minyan
could be seven (or even six) worshippers, after the number of
words in Judges 5:2. But later interpretation favored the reading
of this prescription as signifying that the numbers six or seven
refer to persons who, within a regular minyan of ten men, have not
heard the Kaddish or barekhu. If we read the Soferim passage
plainly it appears that the author(s), writing in Palestine, meant
to deal with situations when it was difficult to gather a minyan.
* The Talmud (YT Meg. 4:4 and Ber. 7:3 ) provides that if a minyan
was present to start with, but some people had left afterwards,
the service could conclude as if they were still present, provided
that the majority remain (so Rambam, Yad, Tefillah 8:8, Sh. A. O.
H, 55:4; and the Hafetz Chayim, Mishnah Berurah, # 24).
Note: If one cannot scrape up 10 minyan-qualified individuals
(traditional Judaism only accepts adult men; Reform also accepts adult
women), one can count the Torah as part of the Minyan. One can also
count a minor holding a chumash, as long as the group looks like it
could be 10 until you bother counting them. This is based on Tractate
Berachos 47b. The source is that Abraham first begged G-d to save
Sodom, Gemorra and 3 smaller towns if they had 50 people. He then fell
back to 45. Apparantly, therefore, if you can't get 10 per city, you
can rely on 9. But this is only if you can not possibly scrape up 10.
Subject: Question 9.13: What is the "Shema"?
The "shema" is perhaps the "supreme" statement of Jewish belief.
Traditional Jews recite it four times a day and was to be the last
statement on a Jew's lips as they slip from life. The four times are:
* During the morning service (shacharit)
* During the afternoon service (mincha)
* During the evening service (ma'ariv)
* When sleeps come upon one
Children are often taught it at bedtime. The last letter "dalet" is
the numerical number "four"; in Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism), this is a
daily reference to the divine in the mystical "four corners of the
earth", similar to the tzitzit on the four corners of the garment.
Reform Jews have refered to it as the "affirmation of Jewish faith."
The main part of the Shema reminds us to hear and remember that G-d is
one. It commands us to write the shema on the doors of our house and
on our gates (mezuzah), to speak the shema when we get up and when we
go to bed. It commands us to wear garments that remind us of G-d with
Note the differences between the first and second paragraphs of Shema.
The first paragraph of Shema is written to the individual, and
therefore is in the singular. There is little guarantee in this world
that the righteous would prosper or the wicked fail. Therefore, the
first paragraph enjoins us to "love Hashem your G-d with ... all that
you have". Be it more, or be it less. The second paragraph is written
in the plural because it addresses the nation as a group. The fate of
the Jewish people does depend on whether or not we are found
deserving. Although this only holds in a group sense -- the group
suffers, not necessarily the least worthy of the nation. When the
nation is undeserving, there would be a famine in Israel. Eventually,
we deserved exile altogether. Therefore, when speaking to the nation
as a unit, the contingent basis of our posessions is noted.
Subject: Question 9.14: Where can I learn about the prayers before eating?
Artscroll's siddur (see the reading list) is a good place to start,
as is the Metzudah (linear) siddur. There are also a number of English
books on prayer by traditional sources. Again, the reading list is a
good place to start.
Another good resource is NCSY's guide to blessings, which is just a
list of blessings made before or after around a thousand different
foods, along with a small guide to the laws of blessings. It's a tiny
booklet, staple-bound like a bencher. It is available at
Subject: Question 9.15: What is the structure of the morning service?
Morning services are composed of 7 parts:
1. The morning blessings. In this part we thank G-d for another day.
Originally each blessing was said as you did that particular thing
for the first time that day--gird your belt, tie your shoes, learn
Torah, etc.. However today they are folded onto the begining of
2. The order of sacrifices. The prophets tell us that someone who
sincerely studies the laws of sacrifices gets as close as possible
to offering one. So, we read the Mishnayos about the various
offerings in order to gain some measure of atonement.
3. Pesukei diZimrah (lit: verses of songs of praise). Some chapters
of Psalms, bracketed by an opening and closing blessing. The main
point of this part is to be a "warm-up", to get into the proper
frame of mind, before the next three parts. If you get to services
too late to say Pesukei diZimrah and still say the main prayers
with the congregation, you should skip them. Or perhaps skip all
but "Ashrei"--depending upon the time available. Most decisors
opine that you should still say the ones you skipped some time
during the day. The Vilna Gaon ruled that you should not. The
debate is whether the section exists only as warm-up, or primarily
as warm-up but also serves other purposes. As to whether someone
who has a short attention span is best served using up all of
one's attention on Pesukei diZimrah so that the later prayers
become mindless is a question for that person's Rabbi. It's
probably also related to where you stand on that debate.
Those of us of the Sesame Street sound-bite generation should be
working toward slowly building up that preparation time. Still,
there are days where such a person should just say the opening
blessing, Ashrei, the closing blessing, and then study Torah at
their seat while waiting for the congregation to get up to Shema.
The next three parts are three actual and distinct mitzvos.
4. The Shema, with two blessings before and two after.
5. The Amidah, the actual formal prayer.
6. Tachanun, a framework in which one is supposed to insert informal
prayers. In other words, the Amidah serves to remind man what he
ought to consider important, and therefore what his relationship
with G-d ought to look like. Tachanun has some of that, but it's
more actually relating to G-d, turning to your Parent with what's
on your mind. [Not that the masses actually remember that this is
what Tachanun is for. In practice, it is far too often yet another
formalized text with nothing personal interjected.]
7. The closing. Most famously, this includes Aleinu.
The afternoon service, coming in the middle of the workday, has only
Ashrei as an intro, leading to the Amidah, Tachanun and Aleinu. People
simply don't have the time for a longer service.
The evening service is obligatory only because universal customs ought
not be broken. It's not an obligation of the same magnitude of the
other two, and therefore they started it with the Shema, with no
Subject: Question 9.16: When should morning services start?
The night ends at "Alot haShachar", the "rising of the morning". It
has two halachic definitions: Most rule it is 72 minutes before dawn,
some use the solar equivalent--16.1o (degrees) below the horizon. The
latter would come dawn+72 min if the sun were up for exactly 12 hours
that day. In the summer it would be longer, in the winter, later.
Others use 90 solar minutes.
The earliest you can say the morning blessings is Alot. The earliest
one can wear tzitzit is at "Misheyaqir", when "one can recognize"
which of the tzitzit strings are uncolored, and which are blue. (When
the proper blue dye used for tzitzit was / will be available.)
Misheyaqir also has two definitions: 11 degrees below the horizon or
50 standard minutes. The first is the norm.
Since you are supposed to wear tzitzit and tefillin for Shema, Shema
must be said after Misheyaqir as well. The Amidah must be said at or
after Haneitz haChamah, the sparkling of the sun, i.e., sunrise. This
is when the leading edge of the sun is at the horizon.
If you're checking your newspaper, you should find out if they're
publishing the time the leading edge of the center of the sun crosses
the horizon. If you say Shema well before Haneitz, you will have to
say it again as a lead-in to the Amidah. However, this may mean that
you can say it with tallit and tefillin at Haneitz, and then say it
again with the Amidah without equipment.
There are a number of packages out there that show you these times for
various locales. At the Aishdash site
(http://www.aishdas.org/kaluach), there is a front end to Kaluach's
accurate within a couple of minutes for locations well below the
Subject: Question 9.17: Why do people put their tallit over their heads when
Normally, they don't cover their heads for the entire service.
Typically, it is done just from Borechu through Shema, the Amidah, and
the Chazan's repetition of the Amidah. These are the times at which
talking is to be minimized. Even answering "amen" depends on where
you're up to, and what blessing or Kaddish one is answering. Covering
your head is a straightforward way to minimize distraction.
There is a second reason. The talmudic discussion of covering one's
head when praying is a little vague. Some take it to mean that this is
in /addition/ to the yarmulka. So, for many this is another reason to
cover one's head during the most critical parts of prayer.
Subject: Question 9.18: What is the importance of collective worship in
Collective worship is critical in Judaism. There are actually two
notions behind gathering to pray:
1. One is praying as an individual, where the others provide an
environment more condusive to that prayer. This factor was even
more critical before the printing press, when many people also
relied on the cantor to provide the words.
2. The second is praying as a community. Not merely as a group of
individuals within a community, but the community's prayer to God.
After all, the covenant at Sinai (or, for non-Jews, the covenant
God made with Noah as he left the ark) was with the community as a
collective unit. There is a sanctity to the community that exceeds
the sum of its parts.
In both issues, the communal prayer is superlative over praying alone.
Of course, other factors come into play. Someone broken-heartedly
praying outside their child's hospital room, speaking to God from the
core of their being is still the superior prayer over one who might
feel confined from fully expressing themselves in public.
Subject: Question 9.19: What is the difference between Conservative Prayer
and Orthodox Prayer?
The following are some of the changes made by Conservative Judaism in
* Birkhot HaShakhar - Morning Blessings
Three of the early morning berakhot were modified to praise God
for having created each individual in God's image, a free person
and a Jew, rather than the conventional version which express
gratitude for not having been created a woman, a slave or a
non-Jew. Details on this modification can be found in "Siddur Sim
Shalom - A Halakhic Analysis", Conservative Judaism, Vol.41(1),
Conventionally Birkhot HaShakhar contains a number of passages
describing sacrifices and offerings in ancient times which can
only be recalled, not carried out. Most of these passages are
deleted from the Silverman Siddur, and even more from Siddur Sim
Shalom. The sacrificial ritual in ancient times was construed as
means by which a Jew gained atonement for sin. After the
destruction of the Temple and the consequential end of sacrifices
there, the Jewish people were deprived of this means. To replace
the readings on sacrifices, modern Conservative prayerbooks cite
the talmudic teaching that deeds of loving-kindness now atone for
sin; they draw upon rabbinic tradition to emphasize teachings
about atonement and necessary behavior.
Texts that have been added to this part of the service include
Leviticus 19:2, 14-18, Avot de Rabbi Nathan, 11a and Tractate
* Al HaNissim and the State of Israel
An innovation in Conservative prayer books is a liturgical
response to the creation of the modern State of Israel. It was
felt that this should be made in a manner that is integral to the
fabric of the service; Such a liturgical model already existed: Al
HaNissim, which is added to the service on Purim on Chanukah. Thus
a new, third Al HaNissim was composed, adapting the language and
style of the standard Hebrew text to produce a text that is used
on Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day. A Torah and Haftarah
reading for this day is also indicated. In the Al Hanissim
prayers, Siddur Sim Shalom follows the text of Rav Amram Gaon,
emending the text which expressed gratitude for miracles "in other
times, at this season" to now read "in other times, and in our
day". This adds a basic theological dimension that miracles are
not confined to a remote and unavailable past.
* Sacrifices in the Amidah
"Siddur Sim Shalom" presents multiple alternatives for the Shabbat
Musaf, but the Orthodox version that explicitly prays for the
resumption of animal sacrifice in a rebuilt Temple is not one of
them. Instead, Siddur Sim Shalom adopts an innovation from "The
Shabbat and Festival Prayerbook" in the Musaf Amidah; it changes
the phrase na'ase ve'nakriv (we will present and sacrifice) to asu
ve'hikrivu (they presented and sacrificed). The petition to accept
the "fire offerings of Israel" is removed from the Amidah.
There are similar modifications in the Rosh Hodesh Amidah. "Siddur
Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals" does not present multiple
services; it presents one musaf for Shabbat, for festivals, and
for Rosh Hodesh. Within each service, the reader is offered a
traditional text, as well as an alternative text which eliminates
mention of sacrifices. The traditional Y'hi Ratzon meditation
("May it be your will, Adonai our God, and God of our Ancestors,
that the Temple be restored in our day...") following the Musaf
Amidah is restored. This is also restored in Va'Ani Tefilati.
* Other changes in Musaf
Following a modification found in the siddur of Rav Saadiah Gaon,
the Hebrew word ba-olam (in the world) is added to the daily
prayer for peace at the end of the Amidah, making explicit the
traditional Jewish concern for universal peace. A prayer for the
welfare of the community, recited following the Torah service on
Shabbat, was modified to include a phrase commending those who are
devoted to helping rebuild the Land of Israel.
* Tahanun - supplications following the weekday morning Amidah
The earliest sources about saying Tahanun is from the Tosefta in
Berakhot; The Geonim viewed this section as optional, the contents
were flexible as well. In his Siddur Maimonides also makes it
clear that there are various customs and he is merely citing his
own custom. Originally this point in the service was considered
appropriate for the personal supplications of each individual, and
it still is. Over the years, however, certain stylized passages
were printed as the fixed text; these contain references to the
physical desolation of Jerusalem and statements of extreme
self-abasement. To reflect present reality, such statements have
been deleted, other passages have adapted or abridged, and brief
portions of supplications by Rav Amram and Rav Saadiah Gaon have
been added. These are closer to us in spirit than many passages of
later origin which were canonized by the printing press. One's own
prayers are appropriate, and traditional.
* Egalitarian Hebrew formulations
The language of liturgical formulas in Siddur Sim Shalom reflects
the reality that in many congregations both men and women
participate in the service. Some prayers include references to
both the patriarchs and the matriarchs. Passages designed for use
on Simchat Torah include texts appropriate for formally
designating women as well as men as honorees on that occasion. The
prayer on behalf of the congregation (recited after the Torah
reading on Shabbat) has been emended to reflect the fact that
women as well as men are members of the congregation. The Mi
Sheberakh prayers contain forms for both male and female readers.
The meditations prior to putting on the tallit and tefillin
provide masculine and feminine forms.
* Nahum, on Tisha B'Av
Tisha B'Av commemorates the days on which both the First and
Second Temples were destroyed. The conventional text (Nahum)
speaks of Jerusalem as "a desolate and vacant city", laid waste
and deserted. These lines no longer bear any relation to reality.
As such the new text recalls the tragedy of ancient times, over
which we mourn, and recalls the desolation of Jerusalem in the
past. It also speaks of a "Jerusalem rebuilt from destruction and
restored from desolation". It asks that all who mourn Jerusalem of
old rejoice with her now, and it prays for the peace of that city.
* Shoah (Holocaust) Remembrance
"Siddur Sim Shalom" (original version) adds many passages for Yom
HaShoah that can be added to any weekday service, as well as a
formal reading. Several pages of readings are included in the
supplementary section for addition to any of the services held on
that day, and are followed by a formal reading arranged for
responsive use. The section concludes with a Mourner's Kaddish
similar in structure to the one on Yom Kipur.
* Mysticism and Hasidism
A surprising mystical and Hasidic influence appears in Siddur Sim
Shalom, as is illustrated by the numerous additions to the prayer
book which originated in these movements. The blessing for the new
moon (kiddush levanah) appears at the end of the Sabbath liturgy.
Another mystical element is the Raza DeShabbat, the "Vision of
Shabbat", which precedes the Sabbath evening service. Taken from
the Zohar, this passage depicts the enthronement of the Shekhinah.
Several of the alternative meditations which follow the amidot
stress joy, and request freedom from atzvit (sorrow) in classic
Hasidic fashion. In fact, a number of these passages are based on
the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. Some benedictions for
mitzvot are preceded by kavanot (meditations) which were
introduced into the liturgy by the Kabbalists.
* Adding Matriarchs to the Amidah
Two positions have been accepted by the Conservative movement on
this issue. One position states that, for a variety of reasons, it
is wrong to add the names of the Matriarchs to the Amidah. A
second position advances a halakhic argument that shows that such
changes are permissible. In all cases where the law committee has
validated more than one possible position, a congregation must
follow the ruling of its rabbi, who as mara d'atra [local halakhic
authority] has the sole responsibility and authority in making
such a p'sak [decision].
Note: When presenting the Matriarchs in the opening passage of the
Amidah, Conservative/Masorti siddurim do not add the word
"Imoteynu" (our Matriarchs), as the word "Avoteynu" is held to be
correctly understood as "our Ancestors", and not as "our
To better understand Conservative teshuvot and siddurim one should be
familiar with the findings of modern liturgical scholarship; this has
demonstrated not only the flexible nature of the liturgy in general,
including the Amidah. Suggested references:
* "Liturgy" entry in the "Encyclopaedia Judaica" Ismar Elbogen and
Raymond P. Scheindlin.
* "Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History", JPS, 1993.
* Louis Finklestein's article on the Amidah in the "Jewish Quarterly
Review" (new series) volume 16, (1925-1926), p.1-43
* Joseph Heinemann "'Iyyunei Tefilla" Magnes, Jerusalem, 1981
* Seth Kadish "Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer" Jason
Aronson Inc., 1997
* Jakob J. Petuchowski "Contributions to the Scientific Study of
Jewish Liturgy" Ktav, NY, 1970
* "Who knows four? The Imahot in Rabbinic Judaism" Alvin Kaunfer.
Judaism Vol 44. Winter 1995, p. 94-103
Subject: Question 9.20: What is the Timeline of Women in the Rabbinate?
The web site
http://www.loyno.edu/~wessing/docs/KeyDatesJudaism.html provides a
timeline of Women's Leadership of Judaism in the US. There's a whole
chronology of women's ordination, in all religions, at
key dates, drawn from these sites as well as other sites, are:
* 1846. Reform Judaism in Gemany states that women are equal to men
in Judaism in terms of "religious privileges and duties." The
result is that in Reform Judaism, women are counted in the minyan
or quorum needed for public worship service, the daily prayer in
which a man thanks God for not having made him a woman is dropped,
girls and women are taught Torah and Talmud, and women and men sit
together in the congregation.
* 1875. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise founds Hebrew Union College (Reform)
in Cincinnati, and encourages women to attend. However, they
cannot be ordained as rabbis.
* 1886. The Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative) is founded to
* 1893. Two Jewish women, Josephine Lazarus and Henrietta Szold,
address the World's Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in
conjunction with the Columbian Exposition. The Congress of Jewish
Women, organized by Hannah G. Solomon, is held in conjunction with
the Parliament. The Congress of Jewish Women continues after the
Parliament as the National Council of Jewish Women (Reform), the
first national Jewish women's organization, with Hannah G. Solomon
* 1911. Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, is
founded by Henrietta Szold (Conservative), who had earlier
attended Jewish Theological Seminary, to bring improved health
care to Palestine.
* 1921. The issue of ordaining a woman rabbi is first raised by
Martha Neumark, a student at the Hebrew Union College (Reform) and
daughter of a HUC professor. The HUC faculty and the Central
Conference of American Rabbis conclude that there is no reason not
to ordain women, but the HUC Board of Governors maintains the
policy of ordaining only men as rabbis.
* 1922. The first bat mitzvah in America takes place for Judith
Kaplan, daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, who subsequently
becomes the inspirer of Reconstructionism.
* 1935. Regina Jonas was ordained by the liberal Rabbi Max Dienemann
in Offenbach GERMANY, who was the head of the Liberal Rabbis'
Association. Being ordained was one thing, but finding a pulpit
was another. Regina Jonas found work as a chaplain in various
Jewish social institutions. Because of Nazi persecution many
rabbis emigrated and so many small communities were without
rabbinical support. This made it possible for her to be a rabbi
and to preach in a synagogue, but not for a long period. She was
soon ordered - like all Jews - into forced labor in a factory.
Despite this, she continued her rabbinical work, i.e. she
continued to teach and to preach. For more information, see
* 1938. Tehilla Lichtenstein is the first woman (non-ordained) to
serve her congregation as rabbi after death of her husband, Rabbi
Morris Lichtenstein. Tehilla Lichtenstein serves as Leader of the
Society for Jewish Science from 1938 until her death in 1973.
* 1951-54. Paula Ackerman (non-ordained) in Meridian, Mississippi,
serves as rabbi to a congregation after the death of her husband,
Rabbi William Ackerman.
* 1968. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College is founded in
Philadelphia based on the ideals of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, a
strong advocate of the equality of all persons.
* 1972. Sally Priesand is the first woman rabbi ordained in the
United States by a Jewish theological seminary, Reform Judaism's
Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio.
* 1973. The first Jewish feminist conference convenes in New York
* 1974. Sandy Eisenberg Sasso is the first woman ordained by the
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
* 1979. The Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative) Faculty
Senate tables the issue of admitting women for the rabbinical
training as "provoking unprecedented divisions . . . . The bitter
divergence of opinion threatens to inflict irreparable damage."
* 1983. The Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative) Faculty
Senate votes to admit women for rabbinical training.
* 1984. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College faculty vote to
admit gay and lesbian students.
Conservative Judaism's Jewish Theological Seminary admits 18 women
into its rabbinical program.
* 1985. Amy Eilberg is ordained the first Conservative woman rabbi.
* 1987. There are 101 Reform women rabbis, constituting 7% of 1,450
* 1988. The Jewish Women's Studies Project is begun by students and
faculty at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College to promote
Women's Studies at that institution
* 1990. Survey by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform)
shows that 57 out of 153 Reform women rabbis work full-time in
congregations that belong to the Union of American Hebrew
Congregations; 16 are Assistant Rabbis, 10 are Associate Rabbis,
and 31 are solo Rabbis. There are only 37 Reform women rabbis with
the requisite experience making them eligible to become senior
rabbi of a congregation of more than 900 members . Three years
earlier, there were only 7 women rabbis who were so eligible. As
of 1990, no woman rabbi has become senior rabbi of such a large
congregation. Only 3 women rabbis head congregations of 300-600
members, while 90 women rabbis have the qualifications to do so.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform) votes to admit
openly and sexually active gay men and lesbians to the rabbinate.
Earlier, Reconstructionism, Unitarian-Universalists, and the
United Church of Christ had begun ordaining lesbians and gay men.
* 1991. There are 168 women rabbis ordained by the Hebrew Union
College (Reform); 40% were ordained during the previous five
years; 80% were ordained during the previous ten years. Women
rabbis constitute about 10% of Reform rabbis.
* 1992. Rabbi Susan Grossman is elected as the first woman to serve
on the Committee on Law and Standards of Conservative Judaism's
* 1993. Conservative Judaism has ordained a total of 52 women rabbis
between 1985 and 1993. Of the total of twenty graduates who were
ordained in 1993, eleven were women (55%). June 1993 The Hebrew
Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (Reform) has ordained a
total of 205 women rabbis. Of the 224 currently enrolled in the
Hebrew Union College, 101 are women, constituting 45% of the
* 1995. Bea Wyler, who had studied at the JTS in New York, became
the first woman rabbi in post war Germany at the Jewish community
Subject: Question 9.21: Are extremely observant men permitted to pray at
Yes. It's common for a man to pray at home on a day off if the
schedule of the day's activities can't be reworked to fit it. However,
there are a few other factors that come into play.
Monday and Thursday have Torah reading. Many Orthodox men will work
harder to fit congregational prayer ("minyan") into the schedule on
those days. This is even more true on the first day of the Jewish
month (and the thirtieth of the previous month, when there is one),
which has both a special Torah reading /and/ additional prayers.
Similar concerns would apply on the minor holidays (limiting to days
where work is permitted), such as Hannuka and the intermediate days of
Sukkot and Passover. Additionally, when someone is in mourning (for
example, the first eleven months after one has lost a parent), there
is strong motive to attend every service due to the custom of saying
kaddish for the deceased.
Subject: Question 9.22: What is the Qetzatzah Ceremony?
The "qetzatzah ceremony" is described in the Jerusalem Talmud
(Yerushalmi Kiddushin Chap. 1 and Midrash Ruth Rabba), and also
appears in the Babylonian Talmud (the Talmud referred to when no
adjective is used) at Kesuvos 28b. In general, it is a means of
effecting a deal. For example, the Malbim (a 19th cent commentator)
mentions it when writing on the book of Ruth. Ruth 4:8 says "that
[handing someone your shoe] was the contract in Israel." Malbim notes
that between the time of the story and the time of its writing, the
standard means was changed to ketzatzah. Both are still valid today,
the comment was about a shift in popularity, not validity.
Ketzatzah involes breaking a barrel of fruit in the middle of the
street and then making a formal announcement. An example of its use is
a ceremony used to publicize a family's disapproval of the lineage or
sexual history of someone marrying to one of their offspring. The
family would revoke the child's right to inherit. To formalize this
transfer, ketzatzah was performed announcing (translation from the
Talmud): Hear our brothers Israel! Our brother so-and-so married a
woman of improper lineage. We are afraid that our seed will be mixed
with his. Come take some fruit as a rememberance, so our seeds will
not get mixed.
According to the Malbim, the point of ketzatzah is to do something
that would make an impression not only on the adult witnesses, but on
the children as well. Ketzatzah was used to keep the memory of
something alive as long as possible.
Subject: Question 9.23: What time of day were the sacrifices offered?
Pretty much all times of the daylight hours and part of the evening.
The morning Tamid (perpetual) offering was performed at or close to
sunrise every day. The evening Tamid was right before sunset. The
daily minchah (gift) flour offering was in the early afternoon. On
holidays there were also mussaf (additional offerings). In between
were voluntary offerings and various kinds of sin offerings, offerings
after birth or certain other lifecycle events. After sunset, anything
remaining from the day's services were offered.
Subject: Question 10.1: Does Halacha (Jewish law) permit intermarriage?
According to post-Sinaitic Jewish law, a marriage can be contracted
only between two Jews, so an intermarriage is not recognized as a
In some countries, the progressive Jewish movements recognize civil
marriages as Jewishly valid, irrespective of religion.
Subject: Question 10.2: I'm a Jew who married a gentile. Am I still Jewish?
Yes. Marriage doesn't change your status.
With respect to your children, according to Conservative and Orthodox
Judaism, the children of Jewish mothers are Jewish, and the children
of gentile women are gentile unless converted. (An adult who converts
must accept the Obligation of the Commandments at the time of
conversion. A child who converts delays this acceptance until age 13
(12 for girls), thereby validating the childhood-conversion. If he
doesn't accept the commandments, he is not considered Jewish.)
Reform requires that a child born of a mixed marriage identify
publicly with Judaism (e.g., have a Jewish naming, Brit (if
appropriate), Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Confirmation, etc.) to be considered
Jewish by Reform. This is called the "patrilineal descent"
The liberal Jewish movements (Reform, Progressive) often try to work
with intermarried couples to encourage them to remain involved in
Judaism, to raise their children as Jewish (with subsequent formal
conversion, or to meet the requirements for Reform Judaism), and to
educate the non-Jewish partner so that Jewish life at home is not
sabotaged (often, as a side-effect of this, the non-Jewish partner
makes an independent decision to convert). There is a group that works
on promoting services to intermarried families, called the Jewish
Outreach Institute (JOI) <http://www.joi.org/>. Since 1989, this
group has held several national conferences for Jewish communal
professionals and lay leaders to foster expertise in programming for
the nearly 600,000 intermarried families and their more than 700,000
children in North America. If you are interested in JOI's publications
or obtaining a directory of services, visit their homepage, write
them at 1270 Broadway, Suite 609 New York NY 10001; contacted them via
Email at email@example.com, or via telephone at +1-212-760-1440.
Subject: Question 10.3: I'm a Jew who accepted the tenets of another
religion, but now wants to practice Judaism again. Am I allowed? Am
I still Jewish?
A Jew cannot become a non-Jew. This is because any Jew can do tshuva
(repentance or "return") up to the moment of death, and this includes
forsaking one's estrangement from Judaism. The three steps of Teshuvah
are based on the Rambam.
A Jew who sins (e.g. by joining another religion) may lose the
privileges of being a Jew (e.g. participation in the Jewish community)
but at no point does a Jew become a non-Jew. For example, if a
particular activity is permitted to non-Jews, but forbidden only to
Jews, it remains a sin for this person.
In Judaism, repentance consists of admitting the sin, regretting that
one sinned, and resolving not to repeat the sin. In the case of a sin
that consisted of joining another religion, recanting would certainly
be involved--one would (in addition to admitting "I believed in X")
say "I regret that I believed in X" and "I will no longer believe in
In English, one does not "repent to", one repents. In Hebrew, "to
repent" and "to return" are the same word. One returns to G-d. But one
returns to G-d by doing the above three actions.
Subject: Question 10.4: OK, then apart from halachic considerations, why do
many Jews of all types oppose intermarriage?
Children of intermarriages are statistically less likely to identify
with Judaism than children raised by Jewish parents, so intermarriage
weakens the Jewish people. Therefore, Jews across the spectrum oppose
intermarriage in order to prevent this weakening.
A large part of Jewish observance and identity centers on the home,
family, and community. Religion is a part of daily life, in areas as
diverse as making a blessing before wearing new clothes for the first
time to thanking G-d before and after meals. Special occasions such as
Shabbat and holidays carry special customs and observances. A home
made by a Jew and a non-Jew is much less likely to be a "Jewish home".
Where children are involved, they are most likely to grow up with a
positive Jewish identity when they see both parents Jewishly
Also, for many people, a difference in religion is an added stress on
a relationship. For this reason, many Jewish parents discourage
intermarriage in their children in an honest attempt to help their
children find long-term happiness.
Given all this, what should be our attitude when intermarriage occurs?
There are some that believe the intermarried couple should be
ostracized. Others take a different view.
First, if there are no children involved (as sometimes happens with
elderly couple), then there is no real loss to the community in terms
of future generations. If there is no conversion, each partner just
practices their own religion.
If there are children, or potential children, involved, the issue is
different. Ostracizing the couple may have the side effect of
destroying any positive attitudes towards Judaism, ensuring the
children will not be Jewish. Remaining open to the couple, inviting
them to family ceremonies, and showing them the beauty of Judaism can
help educate the non-Jewish partner. Even if the partner doesn't want
to convert, it may convince the partner to raise the children Jewish,
and (if appropriate) have the children be formally converted into
Judaism. Often, having children will make a parent want to reconnect
with their spiritual heritage. The Jewish parent may feel an increase
desire towards reconnecting with Judaism, and keeping their children
connected. This desired would be destroyed if the couple had been
The best thing to do is to keep an open mind. Believe that the couple
is not lost. By demonstrating to them the joy and beauty of Judaism,
they may choose to return or increase their Jewish practices.
Subject: Question 10.5: Is objection to intermarriage a form of bigotry?
The traditional objection to intermarriage is simply that it is one of
the 613 Mitzvot (commandments) that a Jew cannot and may not marry a
non-Jew. Of course one may and should look for reasons for this
Mitzvah, but the bottom line is that Mitzvot are done because they
were commanded by G-d.
Is this bigotry? Perhaps. Yet such exclusiveness is common in religion
-- and not just Judaism. On the other hand, the dictionary definition
of a bigot is "A person who is rigidly devoted to his own group,
religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ."
Although Jews are devoted to their own group or religion, they are not
intolerant of the other groups. Rather, the attitude is "live and let
live", and if one wants to become part of the Jewish community, one
should join the community.
Subject: Question 10.6: But I still want to intermarry? Do you know of a
Rabbi that performs intermarriages?
Sigh. As Eliot Shimoff wrote:
I do not like this thread, it's dead
I do not like it, mark it "read"
I could not, would not, on the Net
I shall not, must not, on a bet
Decimal, octal, or binary
It isn't good to intermarry
I would not co-officiate
I wouldn't even approve a date!
I must not officiate-co
Absolutely, NO NO NO
I don't approve of marriage, inter
Summer, fall, spring, or winter
I know deep down I should hit K
Kill this thread, and save the day
I don't approve of intermarriage
But here is comes, our next net barrage. :-)
If you really insist on going through with the intermarriage after
everything you have read and you are in the United States, Frank F.
Smith wrote on soc.culture.jewish that you might want to contact
The Rabbinic Center for Research and Counseling
(http://www.rcrconline.org/) in Westfield, NJ (908-233-2288
(automated message); 908-233-0419 (real person), 908-233-6459 (FAX)).
Founded in 1970, the Rabbinic Center for Research and Counseling is
the first organization established to promote research on
intermarriage and to serve the needs of intermarrying and intermarried
couples. The Rabbinic Center provides a list of rabbis who officiate
at intermarriages, conducts and promotes research on intermarriage,
offers premarital and marital therapy for intermarried couples and
their families, and presents a variety of programs specifically geared
to the needs of intermarried couples. Their list of rabbis is
available at http://www.rcrconline.org/rabbi.htm. To obtain the
list by mail, send your name and address with a check for $20 to the
Rabbinic Center, 128 East Dudley Avenue, Westfield, New Jersey 07090.
In addition to the list of over 290 rabbis, you will receive some
articles on intermarriage and on the programs the Center offers for
intermarried couples. The list will be sent by return mail. Please add
$10 if you want the list sent by fax or email and add $20 for Federal
Express. For telephone information on the List of Rabbis Who Officiate
at Intermarriages, call (908) 233-2288. Note: All rabbis on the list
are members either of the Central Conference of American Rabbis or of
the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; the list is updated
monthly, and that some rabbis have conditions under which the
officiate (such as raising the children as Jewish).
Subject: Question 10.7: How does one convert?
Please Note: Potential converts should be aware that, depending on the
movement that performs the conversion, other movements may or may not
recognize their conversion. For example, Orthodox movements do not
recognize all Reform conversions, most Conservative conversions, and
even some Orthodox conversions. In general, the more liberal the
movement, the more accepting it is of other movement's conversions;
the more orthopractic the convertion, the more acceptable it is more
movements. However, the question of Jewish status in Israel is
different. Jews (regardless of affiliation; regardless of conversion
status) may receive Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. Once
in Israel, one's acceptance as a "Jews" is usually up to the Orthodox
religious authorities, who may or may not regard a non-Orthodox
conversion as halachically-valid regardless of the affiliation on your
Israeli identity card.
Conservative and Orthodox Jews require that the potential convert be
instructed about how to live as a Jew, and undergo kabbalat ol mitzvot
[agreement to do the commandments], mila [circumcision for men], and
tevila [immersion in a 'mikvah' ritual bath], and that the procedure
be supervised by a beit din [court] of three. Note that the members of
the Bet Din must be acceptable witnesses. According to the Orthodox
Jewish law, a witness must scrupulously observe all the laws,
particuarly Shabbat. From an Orthodox standpoint, therefore, any Jew
who does not follow Orthodox standards of practice--rabbi or
not--would not be qualified to sit on a Bet Din.
The Reform movement requires that the potential convert agree to
observe the commandments (according to Reform standards) and
participate publicly in the community, but they do not require mikva
or mila. Reform recommends that the potential convert be made aware of
mikva and mila, and that their conversion would be unacceptable to
Orthodox Jews, but such notification is not required. In fact, in the
pamphlet "Becoming a Jew", published by the UAHC/CCAR Commission on
Reform Jewish Outreach, it says in response to the question "If I
convert with a Reform rabbi, will all rabbis consider me to be a
Reform, Reconstructionist, and under certain circumstances,
Conservative rabbis recognize the validity of conversions performed
by rabbis of all branches of Judaism. Many Orthodox rabbis,
however, do not recognize non-Orthodox conversions. Your sponsoring
rabbi will be able to discuss further any implications of
conversion under his or her auspices for you.
The Reform portion of the FAQ contains contact information on how
to start the conversion process.
Conservative rabbis will accept Reform conversions with mila and
tevila, regardless of the observance level of the beit din, for the
sake of intergroup harmony.
The debate among movements as to the acceptability of different
procedures remains unresolved, and is unlikely to ever be resolved
(and certainly will not be resolved in network discussions). The
reasons for this depend on from which movement the question is asked.
And so the reasoning of each movement needs to be stated separately.
Liberal Judaism views this as a question of stringency. Therefore, for
Liberal Judaism to say "I will comply with the Orthodox standard" is
to acknowledge an insufficiency of its own standards. Obviously, then,
non-Orthodox rabbis are unwilling to leave all conversions to the
Orthodox (even though this may seem like an efficient compromise from
a practical point of view.) Conversely, for a Orthodox Judaism to say
"Liberal standards are acceptable" is to acknowledge a superfluity of
its stricter standards, an equally unlikely scenario.
Orthodox Judaism views this as a question of objective reality. A
non-Jew does or does not become Jewish by a particular procedure. This
is in some ways analagous to the procedure by which a person becomes a
naturalized citizen. Just as the oath of allegiance that the person
takes to become a citizen is only the end of a process, and only
certain judges may administer that oath; so to (l'havdil) the Beit
Din, Tevilah (immersion), and circumcision (if male) are the
culmination of a process and may only be administered by certain
rabbis. This is obviously unacceptable to Liberal Judaism, as part of
the procedure is an understanding and acceptance of the world view of
If you are still interested after reading the above, the following
will help you start:
1. First, get in touch with a rabbi in the movement with which you
wish to associate:
+ Orthodoxy: Consult your local rabbi.
+ Conservative: The Rabbinical Assembly, the organization of
rabbis affiliated with the Conservative movement in Judaism,
has established a national hotline to provide free advice,
information, and literature on the Conservative movement's
programs for people who wish to convert to Judaism. The
number in the US is (800) 275-6532 [800 ASK-N-LEARN].
+ Reform: Consult a local Reform rabbi. If you want to talk to
someone by Email, look at the answer to Section 18.7,
question 4 in the Reform FAQ. Rabbi Celso Cukierkorn also
provides conversion support for those in far-flung
communities interested in Reform conversion; see
http://www.convertingtojudaism.com/ for details.
2. Second, start reading. A good place to start is the General part
of the S.C.J reading list, in the section Where do I start?.
3. Third, you might consider exploring the Conversion Web Site
(<http://www.convert.org>). This site, run by Dr. Lawrence J.
Epstein, contains information on conversion to Judaism in a manner
that hopefully avoids any partisan leanings. USA addresses and
phone numbers for obtaining information from the Orthodox (RCA),
Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements are provided.
Another good site is Rabbi Celso Cukierkorn's
Subject: Question 10.8: What about adults who are not circumcised?
Adult converts must also undergo some form of circumcision. In the
Orthodox and Conservative movements, actual circumcision is required
unless, of course, the convert is already circumcised (at which point
a pinpricking is performed to draw blood, an inherent part of the
act). In the Reform movement, circumcision for converts is recommended
but not required.
Subject: Question 10.9: What does the word "Jew" mean?
There are at least two totally distinct meanings of the word Jew.
The one that is germane to most of the issues of SCJ is what might
best be described as a "member of the Jewish people." The people who
are generally considered to belong to this group are enumerated under
the heading "Who is a Jew", below.
Although membership in "Am Yisrael," as we call the Jewish people, is
determined by religious criteria, these criteria do not include the
actual practice of Judaism. So Am Yisrael is truly a group of people
who identify themselves as such, and not just a religion. Some people
refer to Am Yisrael as a nation.
Because many people have joined Am Yisrael through conversion over the
years, Jews are not, at this point, a single ethnic group, any more
than the French people. There are Jews of several different
ethnicities, as described elsewhere in this FAQ.
Nevertheless, there is an group that, for better or worse, is often
described as Jews: the descendants of the ancient Hebrews, many of
whom were dispersed across much of the earth during Roman times. And
the vast majority of Am Yisrael belong to this group. To avoid
confusion, we shall refer to this group as "descendants of the ancient
It is sometimes unclear whether a frequently asked question about Jews
refers to Am Yisrael or to the descendants of the ancient Hebrews. We
shall give separate answers in case of confusion.
In soc.culture.jewish, speaking as a Jew has the implication that one
is currently Jewish, and not practicing another religion. Hence, a
person born Jewish but practicing Islam should not write "I'm a Jew
who accepts Muhammad's prophecy" but rather the more truthful "I'm a
practicing Muslim of Jewish ancestry." Of course, Jews who practice
other religions are welcomed and encouraged to return to practicing
Judaism at any time.
Subject: Question 10.10: Who is a Jew?
You had to ask this question? You really had to ask "who is a Jew?"??
Come on, couldn't you have asked a hard question, like whether Adam
had a pippik or not? (pippik means navel, a/k/a 'belly button')
For thousands of years the answer was simply someone born of a Jewish
mother, or someone who undertook a conversion, which involved
accepting the yoke of the commandments, an immersion in a mikveh
[ritual bath], and for men, circumcision, the latter two in the
presense of witnesses. And then came modern times. Hooboy! You sure
you aren't interested in Adam's pippik?
Anyway, then came modern times, and along came new answers. First the
oldtimers complained that the newtimers weren't kosher to do a
conversion and then the newtimers got newfangled about the yoke and/or
the immersion and/or the circumcision and boy did the oldtimers really
got unhappy with this and then the issue got more confusing when the
Israeli government started guaranteeing automatic citizenship to Jews
resulting in a play it by ear like no one who takes up other religions
is accepted but the latest round of yelling was when the newtimers
started accepting Jewish father and Jewish upbringing and at this
point we give up and are asking all prospective posters of this
question to first tell us whether Adam had a pippik.
The only thing that is universally agreed is that the practicing of
other religions is the same as the rejection of Judaism.
Even within Orthodoxy the answer gets, uh, "flexible" at times. (You
thought this was just newfangled vs oldfangled? Heh!) When the Nazis
were trying to figure out whether to murder the Karaites quickly or
slowly, they asked several Orthodox rabbis if the Karaites were Jewish
or not. (You figured out the answer? Maybe you belong in yeshiva!)
Nineteenth century Samaritan massacres by Islamic zealots were stopped
when they got official word that Samaritans are Jews, i.e., people of
the book. There have been conflicting answers regarding the Ethiopian
Another bit of Orthodox "flexibility" comes regarding Conservative
conversions. Such a person (a sofek) is not counted as Jewish for
anything positive, but is often treated as Jewish for things negative,
just in case. Thus, a sofek may not be called to the Torah, or even be
counted for a minyan, but would not be treated as a Shabbos goy. (He
would be expected to do a divorce in the traditional manner, but this
shouldn't be a problem, since as a Conservative he holds by that too.)
Conservatives often act the same towards Reform conversions, and even
within all three movements, there is often rejection of lenient
Reform Judaism rules that the children of two Jewish parents are
considered Jewish. Reform also rules that when one parent is Jewish
and the other gentile, the identity of the child as Jewish must be
established subsequently through Jewish education and positive Jewish
acts such as Bar Mitzvah, Confirmation, etc. This is known as the
"Patrilineal descent" ruling, because it considers the child of a
Jewish father and gentile mother to be Jewish without a conversion
ceremony, as opposed to "Matrilineal descent" in which the child of a
Jewish woman is automatically Jewish, irrespective of paternity or
subsequent practice. If you want to look at the text of the
decision, which is a recurring debate topic on S.C.J, it may be found
at the URL
While countless treatises have been written on this subject, some
readers recommend the Chabad/Lubavitch booklet "Who is a Jew?" by R'
J. Immanuel Schochet, available from SIE, 788 Eastern Pkwy, Brooklyn,
Subject: Question 10.11: What is the origin of Matrilineal Descent?
The Torah does not always state every law explicitly. In the case of
Matrilineal Descent, the practice is derived from Deuteronomy 7: 4,
"Because he will lead astray your son from before Me" To understand
this verse, look at the preceding verse, which states: "And you shall
not intermarry with them, your daughter you shall not give to his son
and his daughter you shall not take for your son". Verse 4 should have
stated "Because SHE will lead astray your son", for the non-Jewish
girl that your son married ('your' meaning Jewish) should be the one
that would lead your son astray. So who is the 'HE'? It might be the
girl's father, but in general, women leave their father's house and
live in their husband's house; they would then not be living with her
father. Hence, it would not make sense for the girl's father to lead
"your son" astray if your son doesn't live with him.
The Rabbis concluded that 'HE' is the man that your daughter married,
and 'your son' mentioned in verse 4 is your grandchild, meaning Jewish
grandchild. Thus, verse 4 is referring back to the middle section of
verse 3. It reads like this, "your daughter you shall not give to his
son because he will lead astray your son" This shows that the child of
a Jewish girl and a non-Jewish boy will be Jewish.
It is not uncommon for the Torah to refer to a grandchild as an actual
child. For instance, Kings I 15: 11 states, " And Asa did that which
was correct in the eyes of God just like David his father". David was
not Asa's father. He was his great-great-grandfather.
Additionally, Leviticus 24:10 speaks of the son of an Israelite woman
and an Egyptian man as being "among the community of Israel" (ie, a
Jew). On the other hand, in Ezra 10:2-3, the Jews returning to Israel
vowed to put aside their non-Jewish wives and the children born to
those wives. They could not have put aside those children if those
children were Jews.
Subject: Question 10.12: I've heard that Jewish parents consider an
intermarried child as "dead". Is this true?
There are many believe that Judaism teaches that the family must
consider as dead (and as a result, perform appropriate mourning
practices such as sitting "shiva") for a child who marries a non-Jew.
However, it is not clear the anyone does this. It is definitely not
halacha (Jewish law), nor is it widespread enough to be a custom.
This "legend" arose because, until recently, those who had interfaith
marriages often abandoned Judaism, becoming apostate Jews. The custom
of sitting shiva for apostates seems to be based on a misunderstanding
of a passage in the Or Zarua (13th cent), which stated that Rabbenu
Gershom (11th cent) sat shiva for his son, who had become a Christian.
My understanding is that Rabbenu Gershom sat shiva when his son died,
despite the fact that he had apostasized, not when the son became a
Christian. The halakhic discussion of this point, which starts in the
Or Zarua, goes back and forth on whether or not we follow that
practice, but, there is no suggestion that we should sit shiva when
someone leaves Judaism.
Subject: Question 10.13: Why is the conversion process so complicated? The
matriarchs didn't have to convert.
Jewish tradition dates itself back to Sinai. In other words, "the
Torah" that the Jews recieved in the desert includes not only the text
of the Five Books, but also a vast body of what we generally call Oral
Torah. This means that the laws of conversion, or at least, the
principles from which they derive, are as old as the Torah.
Before the covenant at Sinai, there wasn't really Judaism per se. One
could join the earlier covenant that G-d made with Abraham, but there
could be no parallel to the conversion of today. The forefathers'
wives therefore didn't need to formally convert. And, depending upon
the sequence of events, if Jethro became a Jew before the revelation
at Mount Sinai (which is the order the stories are told in the text)
he didn't have to formally convert either.
We do find that the Israelites who left Egypt were taken through the
same steps that a convert would take today: the men were obligated to
circumcise themselves before leaving Egypt, they immersed themselves
three days before the revelation, and they were formally asked if they
would accept the yoke of observance the day before recieving the
decalogue. The Talmud find allusions in the book of Ruth that indicate
that she converted according to the current process. The same word,
"geir", is used in the Torah to describe two kinds of people. As this
causes confusion, the Talmud utilizes adjectives to distinguish the
two. The "geir tzedek" (righteous convert) is what we usually think of
when we say "geir". However, there is also the person who decides to
observe the 7 categories of laws required by G-d's covenant with Noah.
In modern parlance such a person is called a "Noachide" (or Noahide).
How does this relate to "geir"? Here's how. A Noachide who agrees to
live in a Jewish Israel, within a government run by Torah law (such as
that of the 1st Temple period, or under the Sanhedrin, or after the
messiah establishes a third commonwealth), but as a non-Jew is called
a "geir toshav" (a resident alien). A geir toshav only goes to court
(which can be any three observant Jewish men of sound mind) and
proclaims his/her acceptance. Because of the ambiguity of the term
"geir", people reject our beliefs about the origins of the Oral Torah
assume the two, geir tzedek and geir toshav, are identical. This would
make it seem that the text is only obligating a proclamation of
acceptance. This, however, leads to inconsistancies. On the one hand,
"one law shall you have for yourselves, for the geir and for the
native of the land". Including rituals. This expression is used
(amongst other places) in discussing fasting on Yom Kippur, where the
punishment is phrased as "he will be cut off from amongst his people,
Israel". So, this geir is a member of Israel. However, the word "geir"
as used in a verse about working on the Sabbath does not assume that
when G-d speaks to Israel, the geir is included. "Do not do any work,
[neither] you, your son, your daughter, your servant, your
maid-servant, your animal, and the geir who is within your gates." The
geir isn't included amongst the "you". There are numerous examples of
each side of this dilemma.
Subject: Question 11.1.1: Dress: Why do some Jewish women wear wigs or cover
their hair with a snood, beret, tichel, turban, kerchief or hat?
Within Orthodoxy, it is considered a breach of modesty for a married
woman to have uncovered hair while in the presence of men other than
her husband. Customs differ as to how much hair can be showing beneath
the head covering, or if a wig is better/worse than a hat of some
Subject: Question 11.1.2: Dress: Why do many Jewish men wear head coverings
(variously referred to as "yarmulkas," "skullcaps," and "kipot")?
The customary Jewish head covering (for simplicity, we'll call it a
kipa (singular of kipot), although all the terms refer to
approximately the same thing) is a sign of humility for men,
acknowledging what's "above" us (G-d). An additional explanation is
that in ancient Rome, servants were required to cover their heads
while free men did not; thus, Jews covered their heads to show that
they were servants of G-d. It's necessary for men to cover their heads
during certain prayers (whether it be by a kipa or another
headcovering), and for one making blessings all day, it's inconvenient
to keep donning and removing a kipa. In some places, the type of kipa
and way of wearing it expresses affiliation with a particular yeshiva
or political viewpoint. In other places, it doesn't really matter.
Many Ashkenazi rabbis acknowledge that wearing a head covering at all
times was once considered an optional "midat chasidut" [pious act] but
that nowadays, full-time head covering is the norm except under
Sephardic communities generally did not have the custom of wearing a
kipa all the time.
Some diaspora Jews leave off the kipa at school, work, or when
testifying in court, because of real danger or uneasiness in appearing
in the secular world with an obvious symbol of Jewishness.
Many non-Orthodox Jews (and some modern Orthodox Jews) do not always
wear a kipa. This is because some sources make covering the head by a
Jewish male a special practice of the pious (midat chasidut). However,
these movements do recognize that it is a Jewish way of showing
reference and respect, as well as a positive means of identification
(which can serve as a barrier against assimilation). Some movements
have specific recommendations as to the time that a kipa is worn; for
example, Conservative practice is to cover the head in the following
* Whenever in the sanctuary of a synagogue.
* When praying and when studying or reading from sacred literature.
* Whenever performing any ritual.
* When eating, since eating is always followed by a benediction.
Some follow the minhag of certain Jewish communities in Germany
where they cover their heads during the blessing before the meal
and during the benedictions after the meal, but not during the
In Israel wearing a kipa also has a social significance. While wearing
a kipa shows that you are somewhat religious, not-wearing one is like
stating "I'm not religious". The style of kipa in Israel can also
indicate political and religious affiliations.
The wearing of the kipah at school and work has increased in recent
years. These are also affectionately called "beanies," "holy
headgear," "Yamahas," "Yid-lids," and "Kapeles." (Similarly, some hair
coverings for married women are affectionately called "shmattehs.")
On Usenet, some related, but not necessarily common, "Jewish" smilies
Clean-shaven smiley wearing a kipa
Modest married smiley wearing snood/beret
Modest married smiley wearing sheitel (wig)
Smiley wearing black fedora and short beard
Smiley wearing glasses, streimel (fur hat), and long beard
Smiling bearded guy with (most of) his own hair and a kipa
Antisemitic long-nosed smiley
From whence does the term originate? The word yarmulke is Yiddish.
According to Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish, it comes from a Tartar
word meaning skullcap. Some rabbis claim it comes from the Aramaic
words "yerai malka" (fear of or respect for The King). The Hebrew word
for this head covering is kippah or kipa (pronounced key-pah).
Subject: Question 11.1.3: Dress: What is a Tallis? Tzit-tzit(those fringes)?
Why do Jews wear them?
The Torah commands us to wear tzitzit (fringes) at the corners of our
garments as a reminder of the commandments [Num. 15:37-41, which is in
the third paragraph of the Sh'ma, recited during the morning and
Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall
make themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments,
throughout their generations and they shall place upon the tzitzit
of each corner a thread of blue wool. These shall be your tzitzit,
and when you see them, you shall remember all of God's commandments
so as to keep them. You will then not stray after your heart and
eyes after which have lead you to immorality. You will thus
remember and keep all My commandments, and be holy to your God.
This is reiterated in Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 22:12:
You shall make for yourselves twisted threads on the four corners
of your garment with which you cover yourself.
This commandment only applies to four-cornered garments, which were
common in biblical times but are not common anymore. Since the normal
clothing in our time does not have four square corners, Traditional
Jews wear a garment that is specifically made to have four corners so
that the mitzvah can be fulfilled. This is known as the "Tallit Katan"
and is usually worn under the shirt. This garmet is similar to a
poncho. The tallit katan is worn under the shirt, sometimes with the
tzitzit hanging out so they can be seen.
All garments of a certain size or larger that have at least four
corners must tzitzit attached. The original requirement was to have a
blue thread among the other threads. However, since the precise shade
of blue is no longer known and the source of the dye used, only the
other threads are used (except among certain chassidic groups that
claim to know the dye formula). Typically, these threads are white.
Why? Although technically, they can be of any color, there is a debate
as to which color is the ideal: some say they should be white, some
say the color of the garment. The question is avoided by wearing a
Note: There is a complex procedure for tying the knots of the tzitzit,
filled with religious and numerological significance. The tying
pattern symbolizes the 613 traditional commandments in the Torah.
Why do tallit typically have blue or black stripes? The reason why the
tallis is striped is simply because that was the fashion in Greece and
Rome. But this doesn't answer the question of why blue or black?
Tzitzis are supposed to include a thread of blue wool in each tassle.
Most believe we do not know the specific dye needed for the mitzvah.
In memory of this dye, some adopted a custom to place a blue stripe on
the garment itself. Others decided to add a black stripe of mourning
for the lost element of the mitzvah. The black stripe gained
popularity in Europe of the 15th through 19th centuries, when
black-and-white clothing was more common for Jews in general. The blue
stripe is now seeing a revival in the 20th and 21st centuries, but
it's actually the older of the two customs. It just seems to us to be
more modern. Sepharadic Jews believes the debate over what color is
appropriate precludes wearing colored stripes, so they wear white
stripes (or a different weave) on their talleisim. Maimonides was of
the "same color as the garment" camp. For Baladi Yemenite Jewry (those
Yemenite Jews that resisted the influx of Syrian customs), Maimonides
is the final word on Jewish law. So, they do not wear a tallis of any
particular color. One will often find an older, more traditional,
Yemenite man wearing a rich blue or red tallis with matching strings.
With or without stripes.
A tallis can be made of any fabric. Ideally it should be wool or
linen, as there is a rejected opinion that requires one of those two.
However, since it's a rejected opinion, using anything else is no big
deal. In practice, however, since you can't find linen strings to hang
on the tallis and you can't put wool strings on a linen garment due to
shaatnez, Wool is the norm (at least in Orthodox, Sepharadi, and
Yemenite circles). Some even make a point of wearing a wool garment
for the tzitzis worn under the shirt. As for the minority of the
garment (if it is made of wool): assuming you avoid linen, any other
thread can be included in the minority of the garment -- silk,
artificial fibers or metal.
During prayers, the custom is to wear a four-cornered shawl with
tzitzit (Tallis Gadol) and pray while wrapped in it. There are
different customs as to when this is done. Most Ashkenazic men will
begin wearing the Tallis when they get married. In some Sephardic and
German-Ashkenazi communities, a boy will put on a tallis when he
becomes a bar-mitzvah (13 years old). There are some communities that
begin this earlier. Customs vary among liberal Jews as to who wears a
tallis, and when it's worn.
Subject: Question 11.1.4: Dress: What are those black boxes and leather
straps Jewish men wear?
They are called "tefillin" (mentioned in the Torah as "totafos", and
often seen in English translations as "frontlets"). They contain
parchments with verses from the Torah. During the weekday morning
service, one of the boxes (the "Hand t'filluh") is placed upon the
left arm so that it rests against the heart, and the suspended leather
strap is wound around the left hand, and around the middle finger of
that hand. The other box (the "Head t'filluh") is placed upon the
head, above the forehead, so as to rest upon the cerebrum. This is in
fulfillment of the Torah commandments. If you go to a traditional shul
and lack tefillin, you can be sure that someone will lend you his and
assist you in fulfilling this mitzvah.
Note that the actual commandment is to wear them anytime, all the
time. That is, anytime a day for a moment to fullfill the obligation,
and all the time to fullfill the non-obligatory commandment. The
rabbis forbade wearing them at nightime (except under very specific
circumstances) so they must be worn during the day only.
Traditionally, we consider wearing them for prayers important, though
that should not be confused with the actual commandment. Hence, their
primary use during services.
The two boxes each contain four sections of the Torah inscribed on
parchment. These passages cite:
1. The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) - pronouncing the Unity of The One
2. Vehayah (Deuteronomy 11:13-21) - expressing G-d's assurance to us
of reward that will follow our observance of the Torah's precepts,
and warning of retribution for disobedience to them.
3. Kadesh (Exodus 13:1-10) - the duty of the Jewish people to always
remember the redemption from Egyptian bondage.
4. Vehayah (Exodus 13:11-6) - the obligation of every Jew to inform
his children on these matters.
A good summary of the laws and customs regarding Tefillin may be found
One of the medieval blood libels was to tell gentile peasants that
Jews poisoned wells, and received coded magic instructions in small
black boxes. The mobs would destroy the expensive tefillin to open
them, and mistake the Hebrew verses as "magic codes," followed by the
usual rape, murder, and pillage of Jews that (alas) characterized much
of medieval Europe.
Note that in some congregations, women also wear tefillin. Although
halakha exempts women from this mitzvah, it does not explicitly
prohibit them from following it. Some segments of Orthodoxy do feel
that actions that are not commanded must be considered as forbidden.
Others feel that people should not take on additional responsibilities
until they fully carry out those actions that are commanded. Thus,
while women such as Bruria (Rabbi Meir's wife) or Rashi's daughters
may have been on a high enough level, women nowadays are not on a
level that would allow them to wear tefillin.
However, non-Orthodox movements, and some liberal segments of the
Orthodox community, do permit it. In those movements that permit the
practice, the wearing of teffilin has become an important way for
Jewish women to express their Judaism.
Subject: Question 11.1.5: Dress: Why do many Jewish men sport beards and/or
The Torah, the Five Books of Moses, has a commandment not to shave the
corners of the head. [Specifically, Leviticus 19:27 says, "Do not
round the corner of your head."] The Torah also forbids a male Jew
from removing hair from one's sideburns and temple are (known as
pei'ot ha-rosh). Actually, the sideburns merely have to be long enough
that one can pull on the hair, and the beard area can be shaved with
something other than a sharp blade (many people accept the use of
electric shavers). But specifically within the Chassidic community,
there is a custom not to shave (and frequently not even to trim) the
beard, and to permit the sideburn area (all the way up to the top of
the ear) to grow long as well (the long sideburns are called peyot) .
Some tuck the hair up under their kipot/skullcaps, while others curl
the hair. Many Orthodox say the payes (a.k.a. earlocks/sidelocks)
begin right at the temple, to just behind the ear, and must grow no
shorter than the top of the cheekbone. Then they are to be worn pushed
forward of the ear so as to be visible. Many, following Rabbi Nachman,
grow them long because he said he could "pull them by their payess out
of hell" once he was in Paradise!
Another note related to the "not rounding of the corners". This is in
direct relation to the passage about not harvesting the corners of the
field, but leaving it alone for G-d. Finally, in not rounding "the
four corners" of the face, we have a comparison with the tzitzis at
the four corners of the tallit. People forget that the hair, the
harvesting, and the tallit are all mitzvot.
On a practical level, shaving or trimming of the beard is not
permitted on the Sabbath or Holidays, and for a few stretches during
the year [such as portions of the time between Pesach and Shavuos]. A
beardless man will grow days or weeks of stubble, but a bearded man
who doesn't shave or trim his beard during that time will not look
To be specific, the Law is that one must not use a straight razor
(including safety-razors) on one's temples or to shave one's beard.
Those Jewish men who have wanted to be clean-shaven have had various
options; in the past century, either depilatory powder (ancestor to
Nair), or electric shavers. Electric shavers (at least most of them;
check with your local Orthodox rabbi for acceptable brands) function
like a scissors: two relatively dull blades pinch off the hair, rather
than one very sharp blade slicing it off.
Chasidim and some others have kabbalistic reasons for growing a beard,
so they will not take advantage of modern technology. Otherwise,
Jewish men having beards have it for other reasons, be they simply "to
look Jewish" or style or whatever.
As for sidelocks, that is a result of a peculiar interpretation of the
law against shaving one's temples. The basic law is that there must
remain enough hair to bend it over with one's fingers; that can be as
little as 1/2 inch or so. Some, notably Hungarian chasidim and
Yemenites, do not cut the sidelocks at all, and they grow very long.
Most chasidim have short sidelocks: thin, 2-3", that they tuck behind
their ears, so you won't see them.
Many who grow long peyos do so for Kabbalistic reasons. One of the
opinions in Kabbalah is that the peyos need to be worn long only until
the beard grows in. Once the beard grows, the peyos of the side of the
head should not be allowed to grow down beyond where the sides of the
beard begin to appear.
Finally, some Jewish men just don't like to shave.
Subject: Question 11.1.6: Dress: Why do some Orthodox Jews, especially
Chassidim, wear a distinctive style of clothing (i.e., fur hats,
black coats, gartel)?
The particular appearance is a matter of local custom for the group.
Black is the color of Gevurah (severity), and thus is a
symbolically appropriate garb for serious and important events
(praying, holidays, etc.) Those who wear such clothes all week
are thus indicating that their daily life is also bound up in
divrei yirah shamayim [fearing heaven].
It is worth noting that black was the traditional colour of
formal wear among many circles in the 18 Century CE. Hassidic
garb is based on what the first Rebbes wore, and by and large
represents the colours worn by Polish and other central
It is required by the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law) to
have a separation between the top half of the body and the
bottom while praying. Those who do not wear a gartel hold that
other clothes satisfy the halacha; e.g., a regular belt or the
waistband of his pants.
A double head covering (and more complete head covering than a
kippot) is used during davening. Some choose to wear it all the
time, but it is not required. Some wear it while eating.
The style of hat varies by groups, and the black hat is
relatively modern. In the pre-war Lithuanian Yeshivot, grey
suits and grey fedoras were the style and many in the Litvish
tradition still wear grey and blue suits. In Jerusalem until
the 1960s, Panama Hats were worn in the summer by some Haredim,
and one very occasionally still sees Haredim wearing them.
Right now in the yeshivah world, black suits and black
Borsalino hats seem to be de rigeur; yet it wasn't that long
ago that many yeshivah bocherim wore black berets, and flat
caps were not unknown.
Some wear a (distinctive) gartel or hat (or simply a
not-so-distinctive jacket) just for davening, to provide extra honor
when talking to G-d. There is also a kabbalistic justification of the
double head covering that refers to two distinct aspects of one's
Subject: Question 11.1.7: Dress: What is Shaatnez?
`Shaatnez' is the occurence of wool and linen in the same garment.
There are various prohibitions (Lev 19:19, Deut 22:9-11) against the
mingling of different kinds; this is one of them. A linen tie worn
with a wool suit is permitted, but a wool suit with linen threaded
buttons is prohibited.
While in practice, many garments do not have any Shaatnez and may be
assumed to have none, the particulars vary by garment type. The
padding in many garments such as suits or the embroidery thread, such
as designs on sweaters (men's and women's) may cause shaatnez
problems. The padding filler in many suits is made of assorted rags
which may be mixed linen and wool in themselves (so it is not just a
worry of linen threaded padding in a wool shell suit).
Nowadays, the usual way of observing the Shaatnez prohibitions is to
first check the fabric list (careful: lana/lino is Spanish for
wool/linen). If the fabric list shows a forbidden mixture, don't
bother, you probably can't get it fixed. If the label shows "other" it
may or may not be linen. Even if the label shows 100% wool, there may
still be problems.
Since the fabric list on suits usually refer only to the shell (and
ignore padding or ornamental threads), the label can only be used to
identify garments that definitely have shaatnez. Thus if the label
indicates that the suit (for example) can be good, take it to a
Shaatnez lab for testing. Most cities with at least a medium sized
Orthodox community have qualified Shaatnez testers. If the city has a
local Vaad Hakashrus they can usually refer you to a reliable tester.
Subject: Question 11.1.8: Dress: Are there any special dress rules or customs
Traditionally, there are halachic rules and community customs that
lead to a particular pattern of dress for those that observe the
halacha regarding modesty. This is most typical among the Orthodox
segment of Judaism, but is occasionally found elsewhere. It is good to
keep these rules in mind if you visit traditional communities,
especially in Israel. These dress rules/customs include:
* Sleeves are typically covered as far as the elbow.
* The neckline does not expose any cleavage.
* Skirts are long enough to cover the knee when seated.
* Depending on the area, pants or slacks may be allowed; for
example, in many religious kibbutzim the women wear pants out of
habit, for the simple reason that they work in agricultural areas
or other activities where a skirt would be less modest. However,
this is the exception; when not performing these activities,
skirts are worn. Women not in such situations at all are
encouraged not to wear pants.
The problem with pants are two-fold: first, some communities still
consider them banned under the laws that prohibit cross-dressing.
The other is that any attire that shows the location of the croch
is considered immodest attire for women. If the problem is only
the latter, then perhaps a skirt or apron over pants would be
permitted. Different rabbis and communities follow different norms
* Married women cover their hair either completely, or with
approximately 2 finger widths showing of the bangs. As to
unmarried women, hair covering is not required, although there are
Sephardi customs that even unmarried women should "put their hair
up", so that it's not flying 'wildly' (but not necessary to cover
it). In some communities, particularly amongst Hassidim and
Sepharadic Jews (those from Arab countries), wearing a wig is NOT
sufficient head covering. In some Chassidic groups women wear a
hat over their wig. Amongst Sepharadic Jews, the wig is of no
relevance to this law, and the hat would have to be large enough
to cover all of their hair--making the wig pointless.
The origin of this law is murky--in one place the Talmud makes
this seem to be a rabbinically set modesty issue, in another it is
a scriptural reference. This too is followed by all but the most
modern edge of Orthdoxy (and even in their camp, most acknowledge
that they are violating the rule as set forth in the Talmud).
Subject: Question 11.1.9: Dress: What is a Kittel?
A kittel is a white robe worn in the synagogue on such major festivals
as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The rabbi wears it, as does the
cantor, the blower of the shofar, and male members of Ashkenazi
congregations. Before a Seder dinner in traditional households, the
leader of the Passover seder dons a kittel, and in Orthodox
communities the bridegroom wears it at his wedding. Pious Jews use the
kittel as a burial shroud.
Subject: Question 11.1.10: Dress: What is the large high ceremonial hat that
the Rabbi wears in the synagogue called?
There isn't one. Many traditional Rabbis tend to wear fedoras, but
then, so do most of the congregation as part of formal Sabbath wear.
Some with more Chassidic leanings would wear a Hamburg, a felt hat
with a flatter brim, no pinches in the hat itself like you would find
on a fedora. Chassidim themselves tend to wear fur hats. Those
communities from Russia and eastern Poland wear a "spodik", a brown
(nearly black) fur hat that is taller than it is high. Those from
Hungary, Galicia and therabouts wear a "shtreiml", an almost disklike
hat whose center is felt surrounded by a brown mink ruff. But these
are worn by the entire community for the Sabbath, and aren't specific
At one point in time, during the 19th and early 20th century, cantors
-- the ones trained in the melodies and meanings of prayer -- tended
to wear high Cantorial Caps. They were actually elaborate versions of
the style of Yarmulka worn amongst Latvian Jews. (The plainer version
looked something like an old seargent's hat or cooks cap, but in
Subject: Question 11.2.1: Sex and Purity: What's this I've heard about a hole
in a sheet?
We don't know what you've heard, but what we've heard is that when it
comes time for three men to "witness" a woman's conversion [involving
nude immersion], what's commonly done is for the water's surface to be
covered with a thick, opaque sheet with a hole in it, just big enough
to let her head through while discreetly shielding the rest of her
Anything else is probably just your warped imagination, and no, we
still have no idea of what you're thinking, but you should be ashamed
of yourself, just in case. And another thing, it's not true, so there!
Actually, there is an urban legend regarding what you think. As with
any urban legend, there is a spark of truth in it. Here are two
* The myth derives from seeing Jews in religious neighborhoods
hanging their "talitot katan" out to dry. This poncho-like garment
is about two feet by four feet, has a fringe on each corner, and a
hole in the center for the wearer's head, and it looks somewhat
like a small sheet with a hole, and many people have vivid and
* There is such a practice, but it is based on a misreading of the
Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, a poor source for information on mainstream
halakhic opinion on sexual matters. Most consider the legend to be
an incorrect practice. Nevertheless, the practice does seem to
survive in some "fanatical" extremes of Orthodox Judaism, without
Subject: Question 11.2.2: Sex and Purity: Can a Jewish man only uncover his
wife a hands-breadth?
This "legend" is derived from a one of several conflicting
interpretations of what was said about Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkanos in
Nedarim 20a,b. It runs as follws:
"Ima Shalom [R. Eliezer's wife] was asked why her children were so
very good-looking. She told them " ` ... and when he speaks to
[Rashi: copulates with] me, he uncovers a handsbreadth and covers a
handsbreadth and he seems to be coerced by a demon."
The conflicting interpretations are as follows:
* Rashi (ad loc.). Handsbreadth: of her clothing. Seems to be
coerced by a demon: Comes upon her powerfully, as if a demon were
coercing him. However, some say that he covers himself completely
[and only uncovers as much of himself as necessary], as if he were
afraid of a demon.
* Ra"N [R. Nissim bar Ya`kov] (ad loc.). Handsbreadth: [citing
Berakhot 23B] a woman is permitted to uncover two handsbreadths
when she urinates. He uncovered only one handbreath, leaving the
second one covered. Seems to be driven by a demon: He would hurry
[through the act] like a man coerced by a demon, but would
[literally] speak to her during intercourse.
* Ro'Sh [R. Asher ben Ye`hiel] (ad loc). Handsbreadth: [An obscure
reason not easily figured out] or perhaps in order not to enjoy
direct body contact, as in [intercourse] through a sheet
(Yerushalmi Yebamot 1,1) [This reference to Rabbi Jose ben
Halafta's behavior, while he was levir to his brother's widow, may
be the origin of the urban legend about the "hole in the sheet"].
* Hameiri (ad loc). ...he should uncover a handsbreadth of her
clothing and cover that handsbreadth with his own ...
* Rambam (Hilkhot De`ot 5,4). ... he should speak to her and sport
with her a bit until she relaxes, and then couple with her
modestly and not brutally ...
Not much of a consensus, as you can see. Choose whatever
interpretation you like. Rashi's first explanation has the ring of
truth: It was R. Eliezer's way of building up sexual excitement by
foreplay. As supporting evidence, we continue to read the text: "I
(Ima Shalom) asked him `Why do you do this?' He aswered `So that I
should not look [with desire] at any other woman'".
Note that the Talmud in Ketubot 48 states that the proper way for a
man and woman to have sex is for both to be nude; in fact it goes on
to state that if one insists on wearing clothes during the act, that
can be considered grounds for divorce. This was later codified in the
Shulkhan Arukh (16th century), Even ha-Ezer 76:13
For a detailed and sensitive discussion of Jewish views towards sex
and sexuality, see "Does God Belong in the Bedroom?" by Rabbi Michael
Gold (published by JPS), and "Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and
Intimacy" by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (published by Doubleday).
Subject: Question 11.2.3: Sex and Purity: What is a "mikveh"?
A mikva or mikveh is a place used for ritual immersions. A proper
mikva contains a minimum of 40 SE'AH--about 191 U.S. gallons (Sorry,
but you'll have to do your own metric conversion.) of undrawn water.
In general, if there are more than 40 SE'AH, then the remainder of the
water may come from any source.
"Undrawn" means not filled by bucket or by metal pipes.
Natural lakes, whether or not fed by streams or rivers, fall into the
category of "undrawn waters." Many synagogues also provide indoor
Additional information may be found in N. Lamm, A Hedge of Roses;
and I. Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice (Chapter 37).
Subject: Question 11.2.4: Sex and Purity: What are Jewish hygene practices?
While traditional Judaism has a number of practices that are hygenic,
there appears to be only one that is motivated by hygene. There is a
law called "machayim achronim" (water after [the meal]), a rule that
one must wash one's hands after eating. The claimed reason for this
law is that people tended to eat sodom salt with their food. [Our
common table salt, sodium chloride, was quite expensive. The Roman
army paid their soldiers in it! Thus the expression "worth his salt".]
Sodom salt, whatever it is, could injure the eye, so one should wash
one's hands after the meal to avoid blindness. Today, since we don't
use this kind of salt anymore, most do not feel the law is in
practice. Others still keep the rule, as there is an allusion to it in
However, other practices have hygenic effects:
* There are seven distinct prohibitions involved in eating
insects--they are less kosher than pork! People inspect their
vegetables very carefully to get rid of all of them. Some Jews
don't even eat brocolli or cauliflower because they are nearly
impossible to inspect.
* Right after you wake up, before doing anything else, you are
supposed to wash your hands because: (a) your hands could be
anywhere when you're asleep; and (b) sleep is a modicum of death,
and there is a state called "tum'ah" (untanslatable) which is
associated with death.
* You must wash your hands before eating bread, so most meals are
preceded with washing your hands. This is to get people used to
being un-tamei (different conjugation of tum'ah, still
untranslatable) when eating, which was necessary for eating from
sacrifices, or if a priest or levite wanted to eat from their
respective tithes. This washing is called "mayim rishonim", water
before [the meal], and was considered less stringent than the
post-meal washing (back when the latter was for health reasons).
In general, Jewish law sees health as a higher priority than
itself. (Barring three do-or-die commandments.)
The three hand washing laws, upon waking up and before and after
meals, had significant impact on survival during the Black Plague.
Jews faired much better than the rest of the population. To the
extent that it was taken as "evidence" that the plague was some
kind of Jewish conspiracy, leading some to set arson and murder.
* There are no sexual relations from the time menstruation begins
until a week after bleeding stops. Before resuming marital
relations, the wife immerses herself in a mikvah, a ritual bath.
Before going to the mikvah, she must be entirely clean, so that at
least in potential, nothing comes between her and the water. In
practice, this means soaking in a regular bathtub for roughly half
an hour, flossing, making sure her hair has no knots, and other
* In many communities, men go to the mikvah the day before a
holiday, and often on every Friday. (Most only twice a year:
before Rosh haShanah, and before Yom Kippur.) Some immerse
themselves before prayers the morning after having sexual
relations. The preparations are less grueling, as these are only
custom, while the post-menstual immersion has a biblical source.
However, it still means that men in these communities bathed quite
often, as these things went before indoor plumbing.
Subject: Question 11.3.1: Writing: Why do some people write "G-d" with a
hyphen instead of an `o'?
Based on the words in Deut. 12:3-4, the Rabbis deduced that it is
forbidden to erase the name of G-d from a written document. Since any
paper upon which G-d's name was written might be discarded and thus
"erased", the Rabbis forbade explicitly writing the name of G-d,
except in Holy Books, with provisions for the proper disposal of such
According to Jewish Folklore, G-d has 70 names. However, only one of
these names is the ineffable name, which cannot be erased or
pronounced. Further, of the 70 names, seven may not be erased but they
can be pronounced on certain occasions (such as when reading the
Torah). The other names may be erased and pronounced, but still must
be treated with respect. The Talmud (Shevuot 35a-b) makes it clear
that this prohibition applies only to seven Biblical names of G-d and
not to other names or attributes of G-d, which may be freely written.
The prohibition was later codified by Maimonides (Mishneh Torah,
Yesodei HaTorah 6:1-2). The practice of writing "G-d" is supported in
Shut Achiezer, 3:32, end, where it is endorsed and accepted as the
prevailing custom. Rambam cites Deut. 12-03:04, which states "and you
shall destroy the names of pagan gods from their places. You shall not
do similarly to G-d your Lord." The intent of this is to create an
atmosphere of respect for G-d's name vs pagan gods names.
As a result of this, people acquired the habit of not writing the full
name down in the first place. Strictly speaking, this only applies to
Hebrew on a permanent medium, but many people are careful beyond the
minimum, and have applied it to non-Hebrew languages. Hence, "G-d".
One explanation is that using G-d is a reminder that anything which we
may say about G-d is necessarily metaphorical. Spelling out the Name
(even in a language other than Hebrew) would imply that one could
speak meaningfully (not just metaphorically) about G-d.
However, the Shach (Yoreh De'a 179:11) ruled that "God" spelled in a
foreign language does NOT have the status of a "shem" and thus may be
erased, lehatkhila. There is a story about Rav Soloveitchik (z"l)
intentionally writing GOD on the board while teaching a class and then
just as deliberately and intentionally erasing it, so as to
demonstrate by his own example that this was not a halakhically a
http://communities.msn.com/JudaismFAQs&naventryid=160) and Reform
practice is to use "God". However, even some who are not strict (or
even observant) in general will write "G-d", to emphasize that Jewish
conceptions of G-d are meant.
Note: There is one exception to the destruction of G-d's name. In
Numbers 6, the Suspected Wife Ceremony, a man who suspects his wife of
adultery (with witnesses seeing a forbidden seclusion) brings his wife
to the temple. The Priests test the women by pronouncing the horrible
Biblical curse. After reading the curse it is written on parchment and
dissolved in water (which the women drinks). If she is guilty she dies
and otherwise the couple gets their marriage back. Thus, G-d actually
allows the ineffable name to be dissolved in water that the women
drinks. As the Talmud notes: G-d allows the ineffable name to be
erased for the sake of bringing peace between a husband and wife.
Note that if you disagree with another poster's decision to omit or
include the hyphen, you should not publicly criticize or ridicule said
Subject: Question 11.3.2: Writing: Why do some Jews write "J-s-s" and
Some Jews consider Jesus to have been an ordinary man and write his
name like that of any other man. Some question whether or not he even
existed, possibly being a myth borrowed from similar stories. Others
ascribe to him the status of a "deity worshipped by others," whose
name Jews should not pronounce. Many extend this ban to the written
form. Some write "Xianity" as a simple shorthand, like "Xmas," while
others prefer not to write "Christianity" lest it appear that they
consider Jesus to have been the Messiah.
Note that the shorthands "Xianity" and "Xmas" do not derive from
attempting to "blot out" the Jesus's name; rather, they arose because
the first letter of the Christ in greek (Christos) is a Chi, which
looks like an "X". In fact, the shorthand is used by many Christians.
The possible halachic problem with writing Christ derives from the
fact that "christos" is the Greek word for Messiah/moshiach. Hence
some argue that writing the name Christ in full tacitly acknowledges
(G-d forbid) that Jesus was the Messiah.
Subject: Question 11.3.3: Writing: Why are somethings written in Hebrew, and
others in Aramaic?
Aramaic was the Jewish vernacular from the second Temple period until
well after the closing of the Talmud (700 CE). That period includes
the last remnant of the Sanhedrin in Yavneh. Thus, documents during
this time are in Aramaic. According to tradition, our affiliation with
Aramaic dates back to Abraham, who was a native of Aram Naharaim (note
Subject: Question 11.4.1: Practices Towards Others: Does Judaism permit
There are really two questions here:
Question 1: Does Halacha Permit Jews to Own Slaves?
First, note that "Slavery" in the Torah generally refers to temporary
indentured servitude to one's creditor. Such slavery was permitted
under Jewish law. However, the treatment of Jews towards their slaves
was much more humane than that of the surrounding culture, for a key
element of Judaism is to remember that Jews were once slaves in Egypt
(in fact, this is the central theme of the holiday of Pesach).
In Judaism, the slave was protected. Exodus 21:2-11 defines the rights
of the servant. Quoting from the Hertz Penatateuch and Haftorahs:
Slavery, as permitted by the Torah was quite different from Greek
and Roman Slavery, or even the cruel system in some modern
countries down to our own times. In Hebrew law, the slave was not a
thing, but a human being; he was not the chattel of a master who
had unlimited power over him. In the Hebrew language, there is only
one word for slave and servant. Brutal treatment of any slave,
whether Hebrew or heathen, secures his immediate liberty.
Jewish law required that a slave could go free in the seventh year of
service (Exodus 21:2), although his family would not be freed;
although if he came into servitude with a wife, that wife would also
be freed. The slave could, however, indicate that they perferred
bondage to freedom. Every fiftieth year (the "Jubilee"), the slaves
with their families would be emancipated, and property (except house
property in a walled city) would revert to its original owner. (Lev
In Judaism, there is also the concept of an "Eved Canani", a
non-Jewish slave, who is the property of a Jew, as is discussed in
Vayikrah 25:46. This concept of slavery is nothing like slavery that
occurred in America to the Negroes. The slaves were not kidnapped, but
rather were purchased from themselves; i.e., they were offered a sum
of money, or guaranteed shelter and food, in exchange for becoming
slaves. The obligation to treat your slave humanely applies to both
Jewish and non-Jewish slave, as does the obligation to make sure they
have all necessary comforts, even at the expense of their master's own
comfort (e.g., if there are not enough pillows for all, the master
must provide his slaves with pillows before himself).
Slavery is clearly discussed in the Torah, especially in reference to
Canaan, who was cursed by his grandfather Noach to be destined to be
the slaves to the rest of mankind, as stated and repeated a number of
times in Beraishis 9:25-27.
Is slavery moral? We live in a society where same sex marriages,
partial-birth abortions, and mercy killings are considered moral by
many--and perhaps even the majority--of our society. Additionally, it
is considered "sport" to watch two men get together in a ring, and
attempt to injure each other, and we roar in approval when one has
managed to draw blood from the other and knock him unconscious. We
must realize that what we consider moral or immoral is the sum total
of the society in which we live. In Judaism, we've been blessed with
the Torah, which tells us very clearly what is moral and immoral, and
directs us to elevate ourselves above our society and accept the
Torah's definition of morality. When the Torah says that theft is
forbidden, this is not because society has determined that theft is
forbidden, but because G-d is telling us so. Hence, it is forbidden to
steal even in situations that society would not necessarily consider
it theft, such as pirating software from large corporations.
Additionally, when the Torah tells us that there is a Mitzvah to
eradicate Amalek (evil) from the face of the earth (Shemos 17:14-16,
and Devarim 25:17-19), as difficult as it is for us to swallow this,
we must realize that this is the moral thing to do. This means, that
when a Jewish doctor was summoned to save little Adolf Shicklegruber's
life when he was an infant (later known as Adolf Hitler), rather than
save his life, he should have smothered him to death (assuming that he
knew that he is from Amalek). Of course, everyone there would have
been horrified--but can you imagine how much less the world would have
suffered had he realized that there is a divine code of morality that
is higher than his own understanding and society's definition of what
is moral and immoral! Similarly, when we find the concept of slavery
in the Torah, while we certainly may and should question and try to
understand, it must be with the realization that our Torah is actually
the only code of morals that we have that we can be certain is correct
(based on our beliefs), and we must accept the Torah whether it fits
into our own preconception of what is moral and what is not.
Question 2: Did Jews own Slaves?
It is true that some Jews in the Southern U.S. before the Civil War
did own slaves (alas), and there were intense antebellum debates on
the subject; for example, Rabbi Morris Raphall of Congregation B'nai
Jeshurun in New York, preached a sermon in 1861 defending slavery,
while David Einhorn of Baltimore, a committed abolitionist, was forced
to flee town. Additionally, recent research [FABER, ELI : Jews,
Slaves, and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight. ; New York
University Press, (1998)].suggests that Jews in the Caribbean held
slaves in numbers approximately similar to non-Jews of equivalent
socio-economic strata. However, Jewish Law prohibts treating a slave
like chattel and abusing him or her.
A good site with information on Jewish participation in the Civil War
Subject: Question 11.4.2: Practices Towards Others: What does "eye for an
The Written Law does, in Exodus 21:24 demand an "eye for an eye"
(Exodus 21:24). However, the Oral Law explains that the verse must be
understood as requiring monetary compensation: the value of an eye is
what must be paid.
Note that the Written Law does NOT imply "lex talionis" - gouging out
the perpetrator's eye as retaliatory punishment. Gandhi and many
others misunderstood this verse.
Subject: Question 11.4.3: Practices Towards Others: Is it permitted for a Jew
to sell Christian objects?
Most rishonim (medieval halachic authorities) considered Christianity
to be avodah zarah. A notable exception were the Tosafists. They felt
that the trinity is shutfus (assigning partners to G-d). That the
Father is the Creater, and identiable with the Jewish G-d, and the
other persons of the trinity are minor deities that mediate. The
practical distinction is that while Jews are prohibited from believing
in shutfus, it is permitted to non-Jews under the covenant of Noah.
The Tosafists are a major force in Ashkenazic ruling. On their ruling,
many Orthodox Jews who work in jewelery sell crosses and crucafixes. A
necessary factor is the assumption that the overwhelming majority of
customers will be people who aren't Jewish (in the sense of
peoplehood, not just religion). Others do not rule like the Tosafists.
Another issue is whether the Tosafists' statement about the
Catholicism of their day applies to any / some / most of the plurality
of Christianities that exist today. For a pragmatic ruling, it's
something you'd need to discuss with a rabbi.
Subject: Question 11.6.1: Death and Burial: Is it true that someone with
tattoos cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery?
While tattooing is against Jewish law, there is also a principle that
a person can repent up until the moment of death. The assumption is
that the person did teshuva (repented) before they died, and so there
should be no problem burying them in a Jewish cemetery. Of course, it
is probably appropriate to CYLAR* (appropriate rabbi) as well as
CYLAFD* (appropriate funeral director). There is a story that relates
to this (courtesy Micha Berger):
There was a ba'al teshuvah (returnee to Orthodoxy) who went to the
mikvah on erev Yom Kippur. Before discovering Judaism, he got a
tatoo on his upper arm. By the time of the story he was learning in
a yeshiva and quite embarassed of it. An older man saw how this
teen was standing with that arm toward the wall. And then "just
happened" to throw his towel over that shoulder. In short,
squiriming around to make the tatoo less noticable. The man walked
over to the boy and showed him his arm. "See I too have a tatoo. I
wear it with pride. It reminds me where I have been, and how far I
Note that deliberate tattooing is against Jewish law: "Do not lacerate
your flesh for the dead, do not tattoo yourselves." (Lev. 19:28).
Cutting of the flesh and tattooing was associated with idolatrous
usages among the Canaanites. Many traditional mortuaries and
cemeteries will not officiate at a funeral of one who is tattooed.
However, since this practice has become more and more common, even
among Jews, the policies may become more relaxed with time. If you
intend to be interred in a traditional Jewish cemetery, you should
contact them to verify their policies.
Do remember: today, tattoos are in; tomorrow they might not be. And
though there are ways to remove them, why risk the potential cost and
pain? Let the beauty of your soul be the example people will see and
not a "heart with Mom" inside. And take the money you would have spent
on this body art and give it to a noble cause.
*[CYL = "Consult your local"]
Subject: Question 11.6.2: Death and Burial: I've heard about a custom of
putting stones on the grave. Do you know where this custom
Originally, there were no engraved tombstones like we have today.
Originally, tombs were marked with a simple cairn, a simple pile of
stones. This meant that wind and rain would cause the tomb marker to
wear down. Each visitor would therefore add to the pile again, to show
respect, that the deceased was remembered. Over the years, a mound of
stones would accumulate, memorializing the deceased through the hands
of his/her loved ones.
The tombstone we have today serves as another form of cairn.
Originally, names were not put on a tombstone; this is a more modern
custom. Although Jews now follow this practice, many people still
continue the earlier custom of leaving stones.
Subject: Question 11.6.3: Death and Burial: Is "stone setting" at the
cemetery within a year after death is a Jewish tradition?
In the Torah, we read that Jacob set up a marker for Rachel (Genesis
35:20). This led to the practice whereby Jewish graves are marked with
the name of the deceased. Rabban Gamaliel's instructions for burial
emphasized equality and simplicity (which is a hallmark of the Jewish
burial customs); thus, large ornate stone markers are discouraged. His
son, Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel is quoted in Beraishit Rabbah (82:11)
as saying, "We need not erect monuments for the righteous; their
accomplishments are their memorials." In fact, stone markers were not
normative until the Middle Ages; Rabbi Solomon Adret (13th century,
Spain) prescribed the use of a matzeivah (burial marker). Nowadays, tt
has become traditional to mark a grave with a stone monument or metal
plate on the ground. This is generally done some time during the first
year, prior to the Yahrzeit (first year anniversary of the death), but
traditions differ widely.
The dedication of the marker is a rather late tradition of American
Jewry (19th century). Now, it is widely done and carried over to other
countries, including Israel. The tradition is that the dedication is
done at the end of the Avelut (mourning) period or 11 months following
the death. It is an act of spiritual closure ending the time of
recitation of the Kaddish prayer for a loved one. It is traditional
not to return to the cemetery for 30 days (Sh'loshim). Therefore, one
would not even order a marker until after that period, assuming the
mourner would want to compare stones and inscriptions, etc.
Israelis occasionally dedicate the headstone (Matzevah) at the end of
the Shiva (7 day) period. The reason I have been told that Israelis do
a quick unveiling is that family might have traveled far (e.g. from
outside Israel) for the funeral and it would be too expensive to
return 11 months later. A problem for such a quick unveiling is that
the stone cutters cannot prepare the stone in time for such a quick
In many communities outside of the United States, the unveiling is
often done after 30 days. Some Sephardim do return to the cemetery and
have a ceremony marking the end of shiva. Their burial customs vary
with those of Ashkenazim.
The unveiling ceremony itself is a simple graveside religious service
marking the formal setting of a loved one's headstone at the cemetery.
It is a brief ceremony, with a few psalms, an actual unveiling of the
stone, and the Kaddish. The presence of a rabbi or cantor is not
Subject: Question 11.6.4: Death and Burial: What are the Jewish mourning
customs after the death of an immediate relative?
Judaism has three mourning periods for immediate relatives. The first
is Shiv'ah, the seven days starting at the time of interment. Since
the Hebrew calendar day begins at sundown, the evening of the funeral
is actually the second day. The basic rules for shiv'ah (lit: 7, the
first week after burial) are as follows:
1. One wars the garment torn at the funeral.
2. One does not wear leather shoes, but other leather clothing is
allowed. Typically, one wears slippers.
3. One does not eat meat.
4. One does not bathe their entire body (except as needed for basic
sanitation, and as preparation for Shabbat), nor wear cosmetics.
5. There is no sexual intimacy.
6. One sits on or near the ground. Typically, one sits on low wooden
7. One does not cut their hair for 30 days (including shaving, for
Additionally, mirrors are covered, and Religious Services take place
morning and evening where the mourners can recite the Kaddish, a
doxology acknowledging the greatness of G-d.The last day one arises in
the morning, walks around the block, and Shiv'ah is over. Thus, the
period is actually five days, surrounded by a few hours on each end.
During Shiv'ah, we remain at home and refrain from just about all
Why does Shiv'ah have these rules? If you note, all relate to signs of
physicality. Shoes are to the body as the body is to the soul; both
"cover" the lower extremity of the other. Hair care is symbolic of
fashion and concern with appearance. Meat, furniture and sex are
physical pleasures. Confronting death is a time at which one can
reaffirm in themselves the idea that man is more than a clever mammal.
To spend time thinking about our physical selves would waste that
opportunity. The whole procedure, having you interrupt your life for a
definite period of time, is quite cathartic. By having the duration
fixed, one doesn't feel that they short-changed their love-one's
When Shiv'ah is over, we enter a period called Sh'loshim, which means
thirty. This period actually includes Shiv'ah, so in effect, it is
only twenty three days long. During this time, we get back into the
outside world. This would include going to work, pursuing volunteer or
political activities, or return to school. In other words, we get on
with the activity of life. However, we do not go to parties or other
"light hearted" events. The Kaddish prayer is recited at three daily
services for 11 months.
On the thirtieth day after interment, official mourning is over,
except for the year long mourning period for a parent, during the
first eleven months of which, one is obligated to say Kaddish daily.
All of the above is according to Halachah (rabbinic law).
On the anniversary of the death, every year, those who losed loved
ones recite the Kaddish prayer. Four additional times during the year,
memorial prayers are recited at the synagogue. The earliest reason for
Kaddish was to elevate the soul of our loved ones to a high level in
the Olum Haba, (heaven or literally, The World to Come) Additionally,
there are many psychological reasons for remembering parents and
Note that Shiv'ah, and the practices during it, are a Rabbinic
enactment from the late 2nd Temple period.
Many Reform Jews observe Shiv'ah for only three days. Many do not
observe Sh'loshim at all. Many do come to synagogue every Friday night
for a year to say Kaddish.
So who should say Kaddish? The traditional laws governing mourning is
that a son (child) is obligated to sit shiva and officially perform
the Jewish mourning rituals. It doesn't apply, in traditional Judaism,
to grandchildren; in such cases, the obligation would fall on the
grandchild's father and any uncles. Traditional Judaism, in fact,
prohibits reciting Kaddish if your parents are alive. Sometimes
(again, in traditional practice), people hire someone to recite
kaddish for them if they are unable to attend the synagogue, or are
unable to participate in a minyon (for example, a daughter).
Progressive movements, such as Reform, permit anyone to say Kaddish
for someone they wish to remember.
The first reference to remembering the dead on Yom Kippur is found in
Orkhot Khayim by Rabbi Aaron HaKohen of France of the 14th century. It
is also mentioned earlier that there was a practice at the time of the
Maccabees of "taking a collection amounting to 2000 silver drachmas
from each man and sending it to Jerusalem... to pray for the dead...
to make atonement for the dead so that they might be set free from
their sin." (II Maccabees 12:43-45). Formal Yizkor remembrances were
instituted in the 19th century by the earlier reformers. The custom
began to be incorporated by other branches of Judaism shortly there
after. At Yizkor, we recite a prayer that we remember our loved ones.
That we pledge Tzedakah (righteousness and not necessarily charity) to
their memory. We ask that G-d keep our loved ones under the wings of
his Divine Heavenly Presence.
Subject: Question 11.6.5: Death and Burial: What are Jewish funeral customs?
The following is a summary of Jewish funeral customs:
* Funerals should take place as soon as possible, often done on the
day of death or the following day.
* Autopsies are not routinely done unless required by law.
* Cremation is not allowed. This is because traditional Jews are
prohibited to desecrate a body by artificial means. According to
Rabbi Maurice Lamm "Even if the deceased willed cremation, his
wishes must be ignored to observe the will of our 'Father in
* Burial is a plain wooden casket with no metal, that includes no
metal handles or even nails. They are put together with wooden
pegs. Actually, Jewish tradition is to bury the person without a
coffin; if a coffin is mandatory by local law, tradition dictates
choosing a simple one. As Rabbi JB Soloveitchik put it, the
deceased can't appreciate the fine furniture. Better you spend
that money getting your synagogue a new pew!
* The body is clothed in a white linen shroud and not street
clothes. Shrouds are sewn without knots, and are a multiple piece
garment. In earlier times, the sisterhoods or women's auxiliaries
used to make shrouds for their community; this practice may still
occur in traditional communities. Today, virtually all (Jewish)
mortuaries carry shrouds, the prices vary.
This is done because of a rabbinic decree of around 1800 years
ago. People were spending more than they could afford on funeral
expenses because no one wanted to show the deceased, typically a
parent, less honor than others showed their loved ones. So, Rabban
Gamliel, the "prince" of the Jewish community of the time (and
therefore his estate would be quite wealthy), demanded that he be
buried in simple white linen, and that this become the custom for
everyone. He patterned this clothing after that worn by the High
Priest in the Temple on Yom Kippur. If G-d asks the High Priest to
enter the Holy of Holies and confront the Divine Presence in
simple white linen garments, it seems fitting to do the same when
preparing someone to meet their Maker. To this very day, we bury
people in a hat, shirt (kittel), pants, belt -- all of plain white
linen, if a man, his tallis, and simplified (and ritualized)
shoes. No pockets, since you can't take it with you. And the belt
isn't knotted, for Kabbalistic reasons.
* Objects are not put into the casket as we come into this world
with nothing and so we leave with nothing. All of us are equal in
the world to come. Men are attired in a Tallis (prayer shawl).
Note: This include pet remains (yes, we've gotten the question of
people wanting to bury their pet remains with them). If you must
have your pet that close to you, consider putting the ashes besides
your casket (if this is acceptable to all parties).
* A Shomer, guard, remains with the body from time of death through
to the burial.
* After the ritual funeral, the casket is put into the ground and
the mourners and those attending the funeral fill the grave.
* A holy society (the Chevra Kaddisha) takes charge of a body at
death. They clean and bathe the body, perform a ritual of pouring
water over the corpse (called Tahorah), dress the body in the
shroud (Tachrich) and put the body into the casket.
* Once the funeral is over, all attending ritually wash their hands
as they leave the cemetery.
* Condolences are made at the home of the mourners.
* At the funeral, an article of clothing is torn by the direct
morners. This is called kriah. It is usually a lapel of a dress or
shirt, a tie or sometimes a black ribbon that is placed over the
* Flowers are normally not sent, for the following reasons:
+ Simplicity. The tradition in Judaism is to keep funerals as
simple as possible, to make everyone equal in death.
+ Tradition. Although flowers are not prohibited, the custom
arose over time of not sending flowers, and making
contributions instead. In ancient days, the Talmud informs
us, fragrant flowers and spices were used at the funeral to
offset the odor of the decaying body. Today, this is no
longer essential and thus, many Jews do not use them at
Jewish funerals at all. Most feel it is much better to honor
the deceased by making a contribution to a synagogue or
hospital, or to a medical research association for the
disease which afflicted the deceased. This method of tribute
is more lasting and meaningful.
There is a reason for the plain wooden casket and linen shroud. First,
it demonstrates that everyone is equal in death--the rich and the
poor. Secondly, it frees the bereived family from any sense of duty to
spend more than they can afford.
A note with respect to cremation: For non-traditional Jews, the answer
with respect to cremation is more difficult. While frowned upon by
Jewish law, liberal Jews have wide opinions concerning cremation. On
the negative side, cremation flaunts the death of our co-religionists
in the Holocaust. They were burned (cremated) to ashes against their
desired will. It is difficult to understand why a post-Holocaust Jew
would wish his/her body to be so destroyed after death, as if giving
the Nazis another small victory in obliterating the remnant of our
people. On the other hand, the great Rabban Gamliel (Moed Kattan 27a)
wrote the ruling that Jews subscribe to today. There should be respect
of the dead and not undo financial burden placed upon his/her family.
While he was a prominent and wealthy man, the leader of the Jewish
community two millennia ago, he chose to be buried in a plain casket
(substitute cheap) and dressed in simple linen/shroud (substituted
cheap garment as opposed to burying in an expensive suite.) His
rational is solid in as much as funeral costs today are very high.
Cremation is a way to substantially reduce the financial burden on the
family. This is in keeping with Rabban Gamliel's position. But even if
there is cremation, the cremains should be buried. First, it conforms
to the Jewish view of returning the ashes/dust to the primordial earth
and second, it gives the family a site to direct their mourning. Many
Jews find great comfort coming to the graves of parents and relatives
at special times of the year to pay homage and respect. Scattering of
ashes or leaving grandma in the hall closet does not have the same
Subject: Question 11.6.6: Death and Burial: Is getting cryogenically frozen
Such an action involves many difficulties in the law: Does a person
the right to consent to such a procedure with regard to himself? What
is the status of his wife and children? Are they mourning as if the
person were dead? When shall he be revived? Who will decide? etc.
These are often theoretical questions, as no revivals as of yet have
Typically, this question arises for situations where a person is
gravelly ill; the approach involves freezing the body for years and
then reviving it when some cure will have been found for the sick
person's disease. Such a proposal, theoretically amounts to the
delaying of the death of a dying person. This is clearly prohibited by
Jewish law. While one may not do anything at all to hasten the death
of a dying person, one may also not do anything at all to prevent his
dying. Such a person has the right to die. Ecclesiastes says: 'There
is a time to live and a time to die.' In other words, if there were a
trustworthy remedy already available for the disease, and this remedy
involved freezing, it would all be permitted. But if there is only
speculation that some day a remedy might be discovered, and on the
basis of that speculation the process of dying is prevented, that is
contrary to the spirit of Jewish law.
Subject: Question 11.6.7: Death and Burial: Are Jews buried facing West?
The custom is that the body is buried with its feet facing east, so
that when the Messiah comes and we awake from our slumber, called
death, we will already be on the right path toward Jerusalem. So, if
someone were buried in South Africa, their feet would face North. As a
matter of fact , many Lubavitch Hasidim communities bury their loved
ones with walking sticks for their eventual pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
However, many Jews are buried with their heads towards Jerusalem (i.e.
East) to be closer to that holy city.
Subject: Question 11.6.8: Death and Burial: Can Jews be cremated?
It is contrary to Jewish tradition for a Jew to be cremated.
Traditional Jewish authorities hold that the body must interred, in
tact, in the earth and this ruling is almost 2000 years old.
In the post-holocaust generation, an additional argument against
cremation relates to the Holocaust experience. When millions of our
co-religionists were cremated as expedience and as a form of
disrespect of Jewish sensitivities by the Nazis, for a Jew to wish
such a body disposal is painful to the memory of the holocaust
However, especially among progressive Jews, cremation is becoming an
alternative burial choice because of financial considerations. Rabban
Gamliel II argued for simple burial (wooden caskets, plain shrouds,
closed caskets) in order to give great equality for all Jews. Wealthy
Jews used to have extravagant funerals while poor Jews might abandon
their dead for public burial. Rabban Gamliel's ruling was to lessen
the financial burden on families. A similar argument is used for
cremation, for it makes all equal.
If one chooses cremation, one should bury the cremains as opposed to
keeping them in the closet or scattering them to the winds/seas. There
is psychological value to having a site to focus one's mourning. This
may ease the pain of the mourners.
Subject: Question 11.6.9: Death and Burial: What is the Jewish position on
The Jewish position on suicide is well summarized in the background of
the Reform Responsa on whether a suicide can be buried in a Jewish
Surprisingly enough, there is no clear law against suicide in the
Bible or the Talmud. Perhaps suicide was so rare that there was no
need for such a law. The Bible mentions only two suicides in the
entire long span of history which it covers: King Saul on Mount
Gilboa (I Samuel 31:4) and David's counselor, Ahitophel (II Samuel
17:23). Nor does the Talmud find it necessary to speak of the sin
of suicide. Some of the earlier scholars base the objection to this
crime upon the verse used by God to Noah when he and his family
left the Ark: "Surely your blood of your lives will I require"
(Genesis 9:5). But neither Maimonides nor Aaron Halevi in the
Chinuch count this as one of the negative commandments.
The first clear-cut statement about the crime of suicide is in the
post- Talmudic booklet Semachot, at the beginning of chapter 2.
There it is stated that those who commit suicide are to receive no
burial rites. The phraseology used there is important, since from
this source it has found its way into all important later
discussions. "He who destroys himself consciously (lada-at), we do
not engage ourselves with his funeral in any way. We do not tear
the garments, and we do not bare the shoulder in mourning, and we
do not say eulogies for him; but we do stand in the mourner's row
and recite the blessing of the mourners because the latter is for
the honor of the living." Then follows a definition of the crime of
suicide as follows: If a man is found hanged or fallen from a tree
or a wall he is not to be deemed a suicide unless he says, "I am
going to do so," and they see him climb up, etc. Then it is stated
that a child who commits suicide is not to be counted as a suicide,
clearly because he is not to be judged as acting with a clear mind
(lada-at), which must be presupposed before the crime is to be
considered a crime. Then follows the law that those convicted and
executed by the Jewish courts should not be mourned for in any way
lest the mourning imply that the Sanhedrin had made an unjust
From this statement in Semachot the law spread to all the codes and
frequently appears in the Responsa literature. In this original
source it is evident that only a person who commits suicide with
clear mind and with an announced intention beforehand, is to be
treated as a suicide. A mere presumption of suicide is not
This desire to be cautious with the accusation of suicide had many
motives, of course. One was that the law itself spoke of
circumstances under which one should willingly accept death, when
threatened with the compulsion to violate any of the three sins of
idolatry, immorality, and murder (B. Sanhedrin 74a). This type of
suicide, often carried out in wholesale fashion in the Middle Ages
as well as in earlier times, was honored as noble martyrdom.
Therefore, it was clear that not all surrender of life could be
deemed blameworthy by the law. At times it was even noble. Thus,
the Talmud speaks in praise of the mass suicide by the drowning of
young boys and girls being taken captive for a shameful life in
Rome (B. Gittin 57b). Besides martyrdom, the law also considered
personal stresses. Thus, the tradition never seems to have blamed
King Saul for his suicide. In fact, his case became a frequently
cited case in the following way: King Saul was afraid that the
Philistines would subject him to torture, and he saw himself as
dying anyhow, and therefore, while the sin is still a sin, it was a
With Saul as a pardonable prototype for most suicides under stress,
the Rabbis, in many a specific case that came before them, sought
and found reasons why a person who took his own life should not be
stigmatized legally as a suicide. They generally said that whoever
is under stress as Saul was ('anus keSha-ul"), is not to be
considered a suicide legally, even if he takes his own life. A
number of cases will indicate their considerate mood in this
Jacob Weil, a German rabbi of the 13th-14th century, in his
Responsa (no. 114) speaks of the case of a Jewish criminal who was
executed by the German courts. Should not such a criminal be deemed
equivalent to a suicide (since he willfully risked his life) and
therefore not have a regular burial and be mourned for? He gives a
number of reasons why this man should be mourned for with full
mourning ritual. First, he was tortured, and pain is considered a
purification of sin. Then, we assume, he made confession of his
sins, and that, too, brought him atonement. So Mordecai Benet,
Rabbi of Nicholsburg, early 19th century (Parashat Mordechai, Yoreh
De-a 25), discusses a criminal who was found in his cell, having
committed suicide. He says that such an act is to be called suicide
only if it is done with full and clear awareness (lada-at). This
man certainly was in terror of being executed, or of being
imprisoned for life in the dungeons of the city of Bruenn, which is
worse than death; therefore he is to be considered as having acted
under unbearable stress, as King Saul was. In general, he said that
a man is not wholly responsible for what he does in his grief.
Solomon Kluger of Brody (middle of the 19th century, Ha-elef Lecha
Shelomo, Yoreh De-a 301) speaks of a man heavily in debt who
attempted suicide, failed, and some days afterwards died. First,
there was a question of whether he really died because of the wound
he inflicted on himself; secondly, he was under great stress; and
Kluger concludes that whoever is under stress, as Saul was, is not
to be considered a suicide. Also based upon the original source in
the baraita Semachot, chapter 2, all children who for some reason
or other commit suicide are not to be treated as legal suicides
because they certainly cannot be assumed to act lada-at, with full
A summary of the thoughtful, sympathetic attitude of the law to
such unfortunates is summed up in the latest code, Aruch
Hashulchan, Yoreh De- a 345 (Yechiel Epstein). He says, in general
summary: "We seek all sorts of reasons possible to explain away the
man's action, either his fear, or his pain, or temporary insanity,
in order not to declare the man a suicide." Whatever the secular
coroner or medical examiner would declare, the concern of Judaism,
which deals with a man's religious rights, depends upon what Jewish
traditional law says and feels. It would amount to this: Only a man
who commits suicide calmly and with clear resolve is to be
considered a suicide. In fact, some of the scholars say that he has
first to announce his intention and then to fulfill it at once. If
he announces such intention and is found dead much later, or if he
is found dead under suspicious circumstances but did not declare
such an intention, he is not to be treated as a suicide.
Since the definition for legal suicide was so strict, there were
many cases of presumed suicides which were not definitely so
stigmatized. Therefore, the scholars could allow themselves to
permit full funeral rights for many whom-- out of kindness--they
declared as not being legal suicides. They were frequently
uncertain as to how much ritual should be permitted. The original
source in Semachot says that there must be no mourning at all--no
tearing of garments, no eulogies, no mourning rituals after the
burial. In fact, it begins by saying, "We do not deal with them at
all" ("Ein mitasekin bahem"), which would imply that we do nothing
even about burial. But, inasmuch as they were loath to declare
anybody a suicide, they proceeded, as it were, to nibble away at
the wholesale prohibitions just described.
The strictest of all codifiers is Maimonides (Hilchot Evel), who
says that there should be no mourning rites, etc., but only the
blessing for the mourners. The Ramban, in Toledot Ha-adam, says
that there should be tearing of the garments. The next step is
taken by Solomon ben Adret, the great legal authority of Barcelona
(13th century) in his Responsum no. 763. He says that certainly we
are in duty bound to provide shrouds and burial. A later authority,
Moses Sofer, in his Responsa, Yoreh De-a 326, says that we
certainly do say Kaddish, and he would permit any respectable
family to go through all the mourning ritual, lest the family have
to bear innocently eternal disgrace if they do not exercise
The one part of the mourning ritual about which there is almost no
permission is the custom of giving a eulogy of the dead. Thus,
Jacob Castro, in his notes to the Shulchan Aruch, while saying in
general that public mourning is forbidden but private mourning is
permitted, adds emphatically that we do not give a eulogy and
certainly do not have a professional eulogist. Why they were
increasingly lenient about mourning rituals but were firm against
eulogy is easily understood. Although the man who committed suicide
may be pardoned, he should not be praised as an example. In the
words of Rabbi Akiva, in the original source in Semachot: We should
neither praise nor defame him. In other words, he should be quietly
forgiven. Nevertheless, there are one or two opinions which would
permit even a eulogy. One is Ezekiel Katzenellenbogen, Rabbi of
Altona, early 18th century (Keneset Yechezkel, no. 37), who says
that whenever there is any sort of reason, we eulogize him. And the
other is the statement in the Talmud specifically about Saul, the
prototype, that the children of Israel were punished because they
failed to eulogize Saul adequately (B. Yevamot 78b). But, in
general, the mood was as summarized by the Pitchei Teshuva, Abraham
Zevi Eisenstadt, who said: "We mourn but we do not eulogize."
The long and complicated succession of discussions in the law on
the matter of suicide amounts, then, to this: An increasing
reluctance to stigmatize a man as a suicide, and therefore, an
increasing willingness to grant more and more rights of burial and
mourning. The only hesitation is with regard to eulogy. It would
therefore seem to be in accord with the mood of tradition if we
conducted full services and omitted the eulogy, provided this
omission does not cause too much grief to the family. If the family
is deeply desirous of some address to be given in the funeral
service, then the address should be as little as possible in the
form of a eulogy of the departed and more in the form of consoling
of the survivors. For the general principle is frequently repeated
in discussing this law: "That which is for the honor of the living
shall be done."
Subject: Question 11.6.10: Death and Burial: Can pregnant women attend a
It is Jewish tradition that a pregnant woman not attend a funeral. The
exception would be one of the seven relatives who one is obligated to
mourn (father, mother, sister, brother, son, daughter, spouse). A
pregnant woman would traditionally remain outside the fence/gates of
Subject: Question 11.6.11: Death and Burial: If a Jewish person lives in an
area where there is no synagogue, no Jewish funeral home, and no
Jewish cemetery, what would the rules be in regard to burial?
The general rule is to attempt to follow the most traditional
observance and deviate from that as circumstances prevail. One would
not say that since there is no Jewish cemetery, I will just be
cremated. The question to ask is how far away is the nearest Jewish
cemetery? Is it acceptably close? If so, be buried there. If not and
there are other Jewish families in your community, consider a
non-denominational cemetery in your area and see if they will block
off a small (or large) section of property for Jewish burial. Fencing
it with hedging and consecrating it as a Jewish burial site would
work. If that doesn't work, select an isolated plot in the cemetery.
Subject: Question 11.6.12: Death and Burial: Can Jews and Non-Jews be buried
Traditional Judaism would not permit such mixed burial. However, there
are circumstances where a non-Jewish cemetary sets aside a demarcated
region of land to be used exclusively by Jews, in which case it is
permissible for Jews to be buried in this section.
Conservative Judaism holds with the traditional rules.
Reform Judiasm, in principle, will bury non-Jewish spouses of Jews
next to the Jewish spouse; they also bury as Jews some whom the more
traditional movements would not consider Jews. However, if the Reform
Jew is using a recognized Jewish cemetary, the latter is more likely
to occur than the former (it all depends on that cemetary's practice,
Conservative Judaism has issued a responsa dealing with the impacts of
Reform Jewish practice. These subjects are discussed in "A Matter of
Grave Concern: A Question of Mixed Burial" Rabbi Ben Zion Bergman,
approved by the Committee of Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), January
30, 1991. Published in "Response 1991-2000" The Rabbinical Assembly,
Subject: Question 11.6.13: Death and Burial: Must the Chevra Kedisha be
The burial society ("Chevrah Kadisha" is literally "Holy Friends") is
never the deceased's family. Rather, they are a group of volunteers
who know the laws, customs, and the simple pragmatics of preparing the
deceased for burial, and who organize cemetary space, the pragmatics
of the funeral, etc. They need to be people who have experience, and
really can't be a different group for each deceased.
Subject: Question 11.6.14: Death and Burial: How have burial customs changed
Customs, although relatively static, do change over time. Consider the
following changes in customs between now and the 2nd Century CE:
* R' Shim'on ben Gamliel, in the 2nd Century CE, was frustrated with
the competitiveness in funeral arrangements. People felt that they
weren't doing enough for their loved one if they didn't do as
much--or out-do--their neighbors, sometimes to the point of
impoverishment. He was a descendent of Hillel, a nasi (prince; ie
not merely the rabbinic leader of the day, but also lauded for
being a descendant of David), and quite wealthy. He insisted in
his will that they bury him in a simple white linen garment,
figuring that everyone would follow. And such became custom.
* Jews in the 2nd Century CE placed the body of the deceased in the
ground by using caves rather than digging graves. Usually there
would be shelves in the walls of the cave, like a subterranean
mausaleum. However, burial space was running low. So, after a
year, when the body was reduced to dry bones, they would take the
bones out of their original location, and re-bury them in a
smaller box. (Note that this is similar to the custom seen today
in family crypts in locations where the water table is too high,
such as New Orleans)
Subject: Question 11.6.15: Death and Burial: Why do Jews emphasize burial
within 24 hours?
Jews normally bury the dead within 24 hours, however, there are
exceptions. A funeral could be held up for a day or two if it would
save a mourner the additional pain of missing the funeral. Second, we
do not bury people on the Sabbath or any of the holidays on which work
Why do Jews do this? The most straightforward reason is that the Torah
says so. In discussing capital punishment, the Torah says the body
must be buried before nightfall. And if a murderer deserves that much,
so ought any deceased person.
But this isn't enough? Why might there be this commandment? It's
considered disrespectful toward the dead to leave the body unburied.
Perhaps it's because it means people will witness the body's decay, or
see and remember something that seems like the person, but is
inanimate and without fears or dreams. There is a second reason, based
on kabbalah. During the course of a lifetime, a soul forms an
attachment to the body. Part of the punishment for sins comitted out
of a pursuit of the physical is the subsequent disillusionment with
the body and with the values that lead to that pursuit. This is called
"chibut haqever" (attachment to the grave). Burial hastens the end of
this punishment, by bringing the soul "closure" in its relationship to
the body. It is therefore merciful to the deceased to bury as soon as
Subject: Question 11.7.1: Charity: What are the levels of giving?
Maimonides defines nine levels in giving charity (Tzedakah):
1. Giving assistance to a someone who has fallen on hard times by
presenting a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with the
person, or finding them work, thereby helping that person to
become self supporting.
2. Giving assistance in such a way that the giver and recipient are
unknown to each other.
3. Donations to the community charities, which should only be done if
there is confidence that the charity is administered in an honest,
prudent, and efficient fashion.
4. Donations when the donor is aware to whom the charity is being
given, but the recipient is unaware of the source.
5. Donations when the recipient is aware of the donor's identity, but
the donor still doesn't know the specific identity of the
6. Donations where each party knows the other, but the gift is given
7. Donations where each party knows the other, but the gift is given
only after a specific request.
8. Donations where each party knows the other, but the gift is given
only after a specific request, and the donor gives less than
should be given (but does so willingly).
9. Donations given grudgingly.
(based on Yad, Matanot Ani'im X 1-14)
Subject: Question 11.8.1: Sacrifices: When did Jews stop making animal
Jews stopped making animal sacrifices when the Temple in Jerusalem was
destroyed. Jews are forbidden to offer any sort of sacrifice outside
of the Holy Temple.
Subject: Question 11.8.2: Sacrifices: What replaced animal sacrifices in
It is important to note that in Judaism, sacrifice was never the
exclusive means of obtaining forgiveness, and was not in and of itself
sufficient to obtain forgiveness. For some transgressions sacrifice
was not even effective to obtain forgiveness.
Jews believe that sacrifice is the least important way to gain
forgiveness from G-d. Repentance is more important. Very few sins
required sacrifice (per Leviticus). For example., the animal
sacrifices are only prescribed for unwitting or unintentional sin
(Leviticus 4:2, 13, 22, 27; 5:5, 15 and Numbers 15:30). The one
exception is if an individual swore falsely to acquit himself of the
accusation of having committed theft (Leviticus 5:24-26). Intentional
sin can only be atoned for through repentance, unaccompanied by a
blood sacrifice (Psalms 32:5, 51:16-19).
This is re-enforced: "And you shall call upon Me, and go, and pray to
Me, and I will hearken to you. And you shall seek Me, and find Me,
when you shall search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13).
Given its relative unimportance even in Biblical days, what comprised
an acceptable Jewish sacrifice?
Many people think that Jewish sacrifice required blood sacrifice. This
is not true. The primary commandment about blood is that it shouldn't
be eaten. (Leviticus 17:10) "And any man from the house of Israel, or
from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set
My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from
among his people." This can be paraphrased: "Don't eat blood." The
next phrase (Leviticus 17:11) goes on to say, "For the soul of the
flesh is in the blood and I have assigned it for you upon the altar to
provide atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that atones for
the soul." This explains why blood is not to be eaten, and that when
it is used as part of a sacrifice it must be sprinkled on the altar of
the Temple. Note that it doesn't say, "blood is the only way to atone"
it says that you shouldn't eat the blood because its only use is for
sacrifice. Since this is a little confusing lets use an example: we
can say that all little boys are people, but does that mean that all
people are little boys?. So Leviticus says "Don't eat blood. You can
use it for sacrifice," but it doesn't say that blood is the only
What is an acceptable sacrifice? Well, we know what isn't: the Torah
strictly forbids human sacrifice, unlike most religions of the
What kind of sacrifices were allowed? Throughout the Book of
Leviticus, only distinct species of animals are permitted for use in
blood sacrifices. There is also atonement by a cereal offering
(Leviticus 5:11-13), atonement by gold (Num. 31:50), and atonement by
the burning of incense: "So Moses said to Aaron, 'Take a censer and
put fire in it from the altar, put incense on it, and take it quickly
to the congregation and make atonement for them; for wrath has gone
out from the L-RD." (Numbers 17:11). Remember that prayer and
repentence must accompany sacrifices.
When Jews were not near the Temple (they lived too far away, or were
captives as in Babylon) sacrifice was not done by them. King Solomon
said that even in the days of the Temple prayer could be used by those
away from the temple to obtain forgiveness (I Kings 8:46-50).
Synagogues from the time of the Temple have been excavated by
archeologists. They were used, as they are today, for prayer. Once or
twice a year sacrifices were sent to the Temple from these Synagogues.
Now that there is no Temple there are no sacrifices. In accordance
with the words of Hosea, we render instead of bullocks the offering of
our lips (Hosea 14:3); i.e., prayer and repentence.
Subject: Question 11.8.3: Sacrifices: How do sacrifices relate to compassion
It is difficult to understand how one reconciles the fact sacrifices
were demanded in the temple and animals had to slaughtered for G-d,
with the requirements for compassion for animals (for example, resting
on Shabbat, freeing the mother bird, and helping an overloaded
animal). First, note that although animal sacrifices were required,
they were not to appease a meat-eating god. This is because in
Judaism, G-d is incorporeal and does not eat.
While it is true that there are clear expectations in regard to proper
treatment of animals (the hebrew term is "tzar baalei chaim", a
prohibition from causing pain to living creatures), it is also true
that the Torah approves of human use of animals. In fact, there are
detailed laws on how to kill an animal to eat it. If asked to describe
the Torah's expectations for our treatment of animals (and in fact for
the whole environment), one could summarize them as follows:
The world and everything on it was created for humankind's spiritual
growth. Specifically, we are expected to use the physical world to
enable and develop our spiritual side. That is, some physical acts we
do so that we continue to exist, which enables us to continue doing
spiritual acts. Other physical acts we do for their intrinsic
spiritual value. Often we try to merge the two: taking an act which we
must do in order to exist, and infuse it with some intrinsic spiritual
value (e.g., we eat in order to live, but as Jews we do much to change
the way we eat [blessings, the kosher laws, etc.] to make even eating
a spiritual act). We therefore have a responsibility to use the
physical world appropriately. When we use a physical object for
spiritual purposes, it suffuses that object with spirituality. That is
to say: humans achieve spirituality through their choices, we have
free will and our choices matter, and the rest of the physical world
achieves spirituality by how it is used by human beings.
To use an animal in the development of spirituality (by offering it on
an altar, or by eating it as part of a holiday celebration) is good
both for us and for the animal: it makes the creation of that animal
meaningful. Additionally, the Torah recognized the human capacity for
personification. Humans who treat animals cruelly develop their
capacity for cruelty to other humans as well. Humans who treat animals
kindly develop their capacity to treat humans kindly.
There are thus two considerations in evaluating a human's use of an
1. Is it truly useful (preferably in a directly spiritual sense, but
at least in a spiritualy enabling sense)
2. Does it develop the human capacity for kindness or for cruelty.
For those interested in this subject, some references for further
reading are: Talmud Baba Metzia 32a-b and 85a; Talmud Shabbat 128b;
Maimonides, Laws of Shabbat, 25:26; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 451;
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 223 (very end); Responsa Noda B'yehuda
Vol1, Yoreh Deah, 10; Responsa Yechava Daat 3:66; and Responsa Igrot
Moshe Even Haezer 4, 92:3. For information on vegetarianism, compare
the verses in Genesis 1:29-30 with Genesis 9:3-4, and then see the
Talmud Sanhedrin 59b and Olat HaRiyah Vol 1 p 292.
Subject: Question 11.8.4: Sacrifices: Will sacrifices be restored if the
Temple is rebuilt?
There is some disagreement about this. Most authorities believe that
with the rebuilding of the temple would mean the reestablishment of
animal sacrifices. Rav Kook suggests that animal sacrifices would not
be brought back, he connects this to a suggestion that animals will be
more humanlike in messianic times, and hence we will return to an Eden
type vegetarian existence. The actual positions of the movement
* Orthodox. Orthodox Judaism calls for restoration of Temple and
resumption of animal sacrifices.
* Conservative. Conservative Judaism calls for the restoration of
Temple, but does not ask for resumption of animal sacrifices. Most
of the prayerbook passages relating to sacrifices are replaced
with the Talmudic teaching that deeds of loving-kindness now atone
for sin. In the Amidah the phrase na'ase ve'nakriv (we will
present and sacrifice) is modified to read to asu ve'hikrivu (they
presented and sacrificed), implying that animal sacrifices are a
thing of the past. The petition to accept the "fire offerings of
Israel" is removed.
* Reform. Most of Reform Judaism calls neither for the resumption of
sacrifices or the rebuilding of the temple, although some
prayerbooks are moving towards calling for the latter.
Note that we do not rebuild the Temple yet for a simple reason:
ignorance. We do not know where on the Temple mount the altar or
holy-of-holies are supposed to be. And places it a few feet off would
violate the notion of only making offerings "in the place where I will
show you." In fact, if we had the proper location down pat, we could
rededicate the altar without building the Temple.
Subject: Question 11.9.1: Symbols: Why are Jews called Jews?
The word Jew is English and is only used by Jews who speak English. It
is derived from the Hebrew word, yehudi meaning Judean, which comes
from the name of the tribe of Yehudah (Judah). Before the Babylonian
exile, the Northern Kingdom of Israel essentially disappeared and only
the Southern Kingdom of Judah remained. As a result, the name of the
Southern Kingdom began to be used to refer to all the descendants of
Note: Arabs are also descended from Abraham, but they certainly do not
call themselves Jews. Why? Because they were not part of the tribes of
Israel. Rather, they claim lineage through Abraham's son Ishmael.
Subject: Question 11.9.2: Symbols: What does the Star of David represent and
what is its symbolism?
The Star (Shield) of David, also called Magen David, is a relatively
new Jewish symbol. Supposedly, it represents the shape of King David's
shield (but there is no rabbinic support for that claim). The symbol
is very rare in early Jewish literature.
Is there any theological significance to the symbol? Some claim that
the top triangle strives upward, toward G-d, while the lower triangle
strives downward, toward the real world. Others note that the
intertwining represents the inseparable nature of the Jewish people.
Still others claim the three sides stand for the three types of Jews:
Kohanim, Levites and Israel. A similar claim could be made for the
three major movements. However, these theories have little basis in
What is the history?
Intertwined equilateral triangles is a common symbol in the Middle
East and North Africa, where it supposedly brings good luck.
Originally, it was primarily associated with magic or family/community
insignia. Its geometric symmetry made the symbol popular in many
cultures. A common claim is that the upward triangle represents female
sexuality, and the downward triangle represents male sexuality;
combined, they symbolize unity and harmony. In alchemy, the two
triangles symbolize "fire" and "water"; together, they represent the
reconciliation of opposites.
Where did Judaism come into the picture? The earliest known Jewish use
of the star was as a seal in ancient Palestine (6th century B.C.E.).
It was next used eight centuries later in a synagogue frieze in
Capernaum. These may have only been ornamental designs. In the Middle
Ages, the star appears frequently on churches, but rarely in
synagogues or on Jewish ritual objects. Also note that Jews of this
time often wore badges proclaiming their Judaism (similar to those in
Nazi Germany). However, these badges used a six-pointed badge similar
to an asterisk, as illustrated in a fifteenth century painting by Nuno
Goncalves. The menorah served as the primary Jewish symbol, not the
Some historians have attempted to trace the star back to King David;
others trace it to Rabbi Akiva and the Bar Kokhba ("son of the star")
rebellion (135 CE); still others trace it to the kabbalists,
especially Rabbi Isaac Luria (16th century). However, there is no
documented evidence of these claim. Instead, evidence suggests that
the early use of the star was limited to "practical Kabbalah",
probably dating back to the 6th century. It is connected in legend
with the "Seal of Solomon," which was a signet ring used by Solomon to
supposedly control demons and spirits.The original ring was inscribed
with the Tetragrammaton; but medieval amulets imitating the ring
substituted the six-pointed star or five-pointed star, often
accompanied by rampant lions. Hence, the star was called the "Seal of
Additionally, medieval Jewish texts spoke of a magic shield possessed
by King David that protected him from his enemies. These texts claim
the shield was inscribed with the seventy-two letter name of G-d, or
with Shaddai (Almighty) or angelic names, and was eventually passed
down to Judah Maccabee. The kabbalist Isaac Arama (15th century)
claimed that Psalm 67, later known as the "Menorah Psalm", was
engraved on David's shield in the form of a menorah. Others suggest
that Isaiah 11:2, enumerating the six aspects of the divine spirit,
was inscribed on the shield in the outer six triangles of the star. In
any case, over time, the star replaced this menorah in popular legends
about David's shield, while the five-pointed pentagram became
identified with the Seal of Solomon. The star was also widely regarded
as a messianic symbol, because of its legendary connection with David,
ancestor of the Messiah. On Sabbath eve, German Jews would light a
star-shaped brass oil lamp called a Judenstern (Jewish star),
emblematic of the idea that Shabbat was a foretaste of the Messianic
Age. The star was also popular among the followers of Shabbatai Tzevi,
the false messiah of the 17th century, because of its messianic
associations. Among Jewish mystics and wonderworkers, the star was
most commonly used as a magical protection against demons, often
inscribed on the outside of mezuzot and on amulets.
Another use of the star in medieval times was as a Jewish printer's
mark, especially in Prague and among members of the Jewish Foa family,
who lived in Italy and Holland. In 1354, Emperor Charles IV of Prague
granted the Jews of his city the privilege of displaying their own
flag on state occasions. Their flag displayed a large six-pointed star
in its center. A similar flag remains to this day in the Altneuschul,
the oldest synagogue in Prague. From Prague, the star spread to the
Jewish communities of Moravia and Bohemia, and then eventually to
The star has achieved its status as the most common and universally
recognized sign of Judaism and Jewish identity only since 1800. In the
17th century, it became a popular practice to put Magen Davids on the
outside of synagogues, to identify them as Jewish houses of worship in
much the same way that a cross identified a Christian house of
worship. In Vienna, the Jewish quarter was separated from the
Christian quarter by a boundary stone inscribed with a hexagram on one
side and a cross on the other, the first instance of the six-pointed
star being used to represent Judaism as a whole, rather than an
With Jewish emancipation following the French Revolution, Jews began
to look for a symbol to represent themselves comparable to the cross
used by their Christian neighbors. They settled upon the six-pointed
star, principally because of its heraldic associations. Its geometric
design and architectural features greatly appealed to synagogue
architects, most of whom were non-Jews. Ironically, the religious Jews
of Europe and the Orient, already accustomed to seeing hexagrams on
kabbalistic amulets, accepted this secularized emblem of the
enlightened Jews as a legitimate Jewish symbol, even though it had no
religious content or scriptural basis.
The star gained additional popularity as a symbol of Judaism when it
was adopted as the emblem of the Zionist movement in 1897. Theodor
Herzl chose the Star of David because it was so well known and also
because it had no religious associations. In time, it appeared in the
center of the flag of the new Jewish state of Israel and has become
associated with national redemption. The symbol continued to be
controversial for many years afterward. When the modern state of
Israel was founded, there was much debate over whether this symbol
should be used on the flag.
During the Holocaust, the Nazis chose the yellow star as an
identifying badge required on the garments of all Jews. After the war,
Jews turned this symbol of humiliation and death into a badge of
Nowadays, the Star of David is the most universally recognized symbol
of the Jewish People.
Subject: Question 11.9.3: Symbols: What is the signficance of "Chai" and the
The word CHAI means LIFE in Hebrew. The "CH" is pronounced with a
gutteral sound. The word CHAI is written in Hebrew as CHET YUD. Every
hebrew letter has a numeric value, and CHET=8, YUD=10. Thus, the
"numeric value" of Chai is 18.
Subject: Question 11.9.4: Symbols: What is a Mezuzah?
In Deut. 6:4-9, a passage commonly known as the Shema, G-d commands us
to keep His words constantly in our minds and in our hearts, by (among
other things) writing them on the doorposts of our house. This is done
using a mezuzah. Almost all Jews have a mezuzah on the main external
door of their house. More traditional Jews have them on all external
doors, as well as on internal doors (except bathrooms), especially
bedroom doors. I have even seen mezuzah's for cars!
A mezuzah is a small case that is mounted on the doorposts of Jewish
homes. It is not a good-luck charm. Rather, as noted above, it is a
constant reminder of G-d's presence and G-d's commandments.
The mezuzah contains a tiny scroll of parchment, which has the words
of Deut. 6:4-9 and the words of a companion passage, Deut. 11:13. On
the back of the scroll, a name of G-d is written. The scroll is then
rolled up placed in the case, so that the first letter of the Name
(the letter Shin, which looks like a "W") is visible (more commonly,
as the mezuzah is not transparent, the letter Shin is written on the
outside of the case). The scroll must be handwritten by s sofer
(scribe) in a special style and must be placed in the case to fulfill
the commandment. It is commonplace for gift shops to sell cases
without scrolls, or with mechanically printed scrolls, because a
proper scroll generally costs more than the case. According to
traditional authorities, mechanically printed scrolls do not fulfill
the mitzvah of the mezuzah, nor does an empty case.
Once a mezuzah is ready to be affixed to a door (i.e., it has a proper
scroll inside), it is nailed or otherwise affixed, at an angle,
typically with the Shin angled towards the inside of the house or
room. At this time, a brief ceremony called Chanukkat Ha-Bayit
(dedication of the house) is performed.
Why angled? First, angling is an Ashkenazi custom, but as to why we
angle, well, as with anything in Judaism, there are multiple
* One explanation is that until the 12th or 13th century, all
Sepharadim and nearly all Ashkenazim put their mezuzos into the
doorframe so that it was positioned vertically, with the letters
in the same position as when you read them. However, there is an
opinion in the Talmud that was followed by a minority of
Ashkenazim that the mezuzah should be placed horizontally. The
Tosafists were the first to propose current Ashkenazi practice of
implementing a compromise. The current 45o angle satisfies both
* Historians of halachah, however, wonder about this. First, the
Tosafists were staunch supporters of assuming Ashkenazi norms were
halachic, even if there was no souce in the published texts. So
why would they be the ones to suggest a change here? The second
problem is that we rarely take comprimises rather than following a
single ruling. If you're unsure, then be stringent in Torahitic
matters, and follow a lenient ruling in more minor Rabbinic ones
-- as we do for other doubts. But this approach is nearly unique.
It was therefore suggested that there is a second reason for this
ruling. In houses that belonged to Jews and were taken over by
Crusaders, the mezuzah was removed and the new Christian residents
would add a horizontal line to the scar to make a cross in the
doorframe. This couldn't be done with the new diagonal scheme.
Therefore it was theorized that maybe the Tosafists were trying to
outmaneuver the Crusaders in a battle for our doorframes.
* The Chaim Mageni of Chevron had a different answer, based on his
studies of history and the gemoro. He states that the original
dispute was not about how to place the mezuzah but about which way
was forbidden; specifically, it is forbidden to place the mezuza
in such a way as to appear to be a lock on the door. Those who
placed it vertically, held that this was the horizontal position
(as dropping a bar across the door). Those who used the horizontal
position, stated that the vertical position was that of the
locking bar being inserted into holes on the top and bottom. Thus,
the compromise is a position which is acceptable to both views.
This is not really a "compromise", but is a method chosen so that
(though not preferable according to both views) the mezuzah would
still be kosher according to both views.
Speaking of doorframes. The norm in most areas until the 19th century
or so was to place the mezuzah inside the doorframe. Our current
practice of hanging a case on the doorframe is halachically equivalent
to enlarging the frame and putting it inside. In fact, the original
custom remains in the older parts of Jerusalem. If you go to the Old
City, to the current Moslem Quarter, you will find patches in the
doorframes where mezuzos were torn out of the Jewish homes in 1948.
When traditional Jews pass through a door with a mezuzah on it, they
will touch the mezuzah and then kiss the fingers that touched it. This
is done to express love and respect for G-d and G-d's commandments. It
also serves to remind them of the commandments.
When you move, unless you know for sure that the new occupant is
Jewish, it is proper to remove the mezuzot (plural for mezuzah). This
is because if you leave it in place, the subsequent owner may treat it
with disrespect, or treat it as a superstitious object.
More information on Mezuzahs may be found at
Subject: Question 11.9.5: Symbols: What is a Menorah?
A menorah is a 7-stick candle holder, typically with one holder higher
or different than the others. It is one of the oldest symbols of the
Jewish faith. It is mentioned in Exodus 25:31-40, which describes how
to construct the menorah. the priests (kohanim) lit the menorah in the
Sanctuary every evening and cleaned it out every morning, replacing
the wicks and putting fresh olive oil into the cups.
According to www.jewfaq.org:
The menorah is often considered a symbol of the nation of Israel
and its mission to be "a light unto the nations." (Isaiah 42:6).
The sages emphasize that light is not a violent force; Israel is to
accomplish its mission by setting an example, not by using force.
This idea is highlighted in the vision in Zechariah 4:1-6.
Zechariah sees a menorah, and G-d explains: "Not by might, nor by
power, but by My spirit."
In synagogues, there is often a light above the ark, called the ner
tamid (usually translated as the eternal flame). This symbolizes the
In a menorah, one of the holders is typically higher or different than
the others. This holder is called the shamash (head), and contains the
candle used to light the other candles.
Note: During Chanukkah, a nine-branched menorah is used. Technically,
this is called a Chanukiah. It contains eight holders, one for each
day of Chanukkah, plus the shamash.
Subject: Question 11.9.6: Symbols: What is the significance of the number 5?
Well, the number10 denotes a complete set, because we have (assuming
we're healthy, thank G-d) 10 fingers. Five is therefore representative
of half of a set. The 5th letter, with a gematria of 5, is the letter
hei. Hei denotes an outcry; that is, the letter is literally named
In kabbalistic understanding of the Tetragrammaton, the letter "hei"
represents the spreading of G-d's beneficience from a point outward.
It it therefore composed of a point-like yud and a dalet showing
orthogonal axis, 4 (the gematria of dalet) compass points. We find in
Genesis 1 that creation can be described through the metaphor of
speech. "And G-d said 'Let there be light!'" So, this permeation of
G-d's Goodness through the universe is very much an outcry. The Talmud
sees in the shape of the letter the theme of repentence -- the choice
of descending or finding that small window near the top. They too
touch on a theme related to outcry -- but not G-d's call to man, but
man's cry to G-d.
The song toward the end of the seder asks "Who knows one?" and makes
its way up to 13. For 5, the answer is "5 are the books of the Torah".
Which is why there are 5 books of the Torah -- because only with
including the Oral Torah with the written text are we dealing with a
complete set. This idea, of two halves crying out for each other, is
what the symbology of five revolves around in Judaism.
Subject: Question 11.9.7: Symbols: What is the significance of the number 3?
Three is extremely significant in Judaism, as the human condition is
seen as tripartite: mans relationship to himself and the world of his
mind, mans relationship to others in the quote real world unquote and
mans relationship with God. According to the Maharal, this is the
meaning of the three pillars in Avot 1:2--Torah, Avodah (Service of
God), and Acts of Kindness.
Next, we have R Samson Refaeil Hirsch, who speaks about the messages
mitzvot convey through symbols. He speaks of the primary colors in the
1. Red. The most bent by physical matter (in the rainbow). Also, adom
(red) is similar to adama (earth), representing mans physical
nature. This is why the red heifer is burnt as a means of ending
impurity, and the red string turns white on Yom Kippur when
atonement was gained, etc.
2. Green. The color of growth and human growth.
3. Blue. Spirituality. The color of tzitzis, the walls of Herod's
temple, the color of the sky. Spirituality.
Note the same triad.
Similarly Hirsch's treatement of numbers: 6 days of physical creation,
the 7th day of rest, and 8--going beyond the natural order. The eight
strings of tzitzis (the eighth, according to Maimonides, the blue
one), the eighth day of Shemini Atzeres, why Chanukah had to be eight
We can do the same with the three do-or-die sins, the three
forefathers, the three mitzvos of the seder (the lamb, matzah, and
maror), the three means of gaining atonement (teshuvah, tefillah and
tzadakah -- repentance, prayer and charity), the three items in the
fore-room of the Temple--the table of showbread (12, one for each
tribe), the menorah (representing wisdom and Torah), and the gold
altar (for a quote pleasing odor before Gd end-quote), etc.
Kabbalists, such as the Vilna Gaon, ties this back to the three
aspects of the soul discussed in the Zohar: the nefesh, the life-force
we share in common with animals (do not consume the blood [of the
animal], for the blood is of the nefesh); the ruach (lit wind), the
unseen mind which causes change and motion; and the spiritual
Subject: Question 11.9.8: Symbols: What is the significance of the number 40?
Forty days after a child is conceived, the Talmud tells us, the soul
enters the body. Forty, therefore, is a symbol of birth, rebirth and
change. It is interesting to note that it was recently found that
neural activity does begin at 40 days after conception. This also
means that abortion is permitted in more instances within the first 40
days of pregnancy than during the rest of pregnancy.
For the same reason, ritual immersion is done in a minimum of 40 seah
(a unit of volume) of water. Note that the letter mem, whose name is
from mayim (meaning water or fluid in general), is 40 in gematria.
When God wanted to rebirth the world, it rained for 40 days causing a
flood. Similarly, the Jewish People were born during 40 years in the
Subject: Question 11.9.9: Symbols: What is the significance of the number 7?
Consider the following:
A cube has six sides. We live in a universe of three dimensions. Each
dimension has two directions: front-back, right-left, up-down;
yielding a total of six. The seventh is then the middle point, a thing
of zero dimensions, and untouchable. Present but intangible. It
therefore represents the holiness which is inherent in the universe.
Thus, the physical world was created in six days, and imbued with
sanctity on the seventh, the Shabbos. Dr. Isaac Levy includes this
explanation in his English translation of Rabbi Samson Refa'el
Hirsch's commentary on Numbers 16:4):
The origin of this meaning is to be found in the work of the
Creation. The visible material world created in six days received
with the seventh day a day of remembrance of, and bond with its
invisible L-rd and Creator, and thereby its completed consummation.
Similarly the symbolism of the number seven in the Menora, in the
Temple, in the Mussaf offerings, in the sprinklings of the blood on
Yom Kippur, in the Festivals of Pesach and Succoth, in Sabbath,
Schmita, Tumma etc. etc. The symbolism of the number eight:
starting afresh on a higher level, an octave higher. The eighth day
for Mila, Schmini Atzereth and Israel as the eighth of G-d's
Creations. With the creation of Israel G-d laid the groundwork for
a fresh, higher mankind and a fresh higher world, for that shamayim
chadashim and the `eretz chadashah for which Israel and its mission
is to be the beginning and instrument (Is. LXV,17).
So that there are three elements in us. (a) our material sensuous
bodies, like the rest of the created visible world = 6; (b) the
breath of free will, invisible, coming from the Invisible One = 7;
(c) the calling of Jew, coming from the historical choice of Israel
Jews entered a covenant to assume a role as a "kingdom of preists".
This preisthood requires reminding the world of the notion of "8", so
that the world can get beyond the physical "6" and reach the
free-willed, created, human, sanctity of "7". Eight is therefore not
above all of creation, but beyond this universe. Eight represents
man's ability to rise to angelic heights -- yes an image of growth,
but not unobtainable. Man connects two worlds, eight connects those
worlds. (Which is why the letter chet, the eighth letter, is drawn in
the Torah as two copies of the seventh, zayin, connected by a bridge.)
Which is why the laws of the covenant G-d made with Noah and thereby
all of humanity are grouped into *seven* commandments, and the sign of
that covenant is seen in the seven-colored rainbow.
For Rav Samson Rephael Hirsch, the week gives meaning to the numbers
six and seven. The Maharal, though, finds that the week itself is
based on a more primary idea. He attributes the symbolism of six and
seven to the structure of space: When you look closely you will find
that the physical has six opposing sides, which are: top and bottom,
right and left, front and back. All these six sides are related to the
physical, because each side has extent, and limits physical objects.
But, it also has in it a seventh, and this is the middle, which has no
exposure on any side. Because it is not related to any side it is like
the non-physical, which has no extension [takes up no volume of
space]. (Gevuros Hashem 46)
Subject: Question 11.9.10: Symbols: Are there any Jewish housewarming
In traditional Judaism, there are none, save for putting up a mezuzah.
However, folk custom involves bringing wine, bread, and salt to the
house in addition to the mezuzah? Why? The answer may be found in
Reform Judaism's ceremony for the consecration of a house.
According to "Gates of the House" published by the Reform movement,
the items needs for the consecration of a house are a mezuzah, a
bible, wine, challah, and salt. The ceremony begins with the
Shema/Vehafta. The Challah is then dipped in the salt and hamotzi is
said. The specific symbolism is not said, but it may be to symbolize
that there will always be food in the house. The blessing is then said
over the wine, which symbolizes the joy that will occur in the new
house. The bible symbolizes the Torah, and a blessing is said
(...bemitzvotav laasok bediverei Torah) that there will always be
learning and doing in the house, and the house will be filled with
love of Torah. Psalm 15 is then said. The affixing of the mezuzah
follows, with the appropriate blessing (...bemitzvotav vetsivanu
likboa mezuzah). There appears to be no speciifc blessing for entering
the new house, other than shehechianyu.
Subject: Question 11.9.11: Symbols: What is the significance of blue in
Judaism? Are there other special colors?
In his analysis of the meaning of the mitzvah of tzitzis (tassles
placed on the corners of a four cornered garment), and in particular
the thread of blue that one is supposed to place around it, R' Samson
Refa'el Hirsch (Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, 19th cent) writes (in
Collected Writings vol III pg. 126):
We find only three terms to encompass the colors of the spectrum:
adom for red, yaroq for yellow and green, and techeiles for blue
Red is the least refracted ray; it is the closest to the unbroken
ray of light that is directly absorbed by matter. Red is light in
its first fusion with the terrestrial element: adom, related to
adamah [footstool, earth as man's footstool]. Is this not again
man, the image of G-d as reflected in physical, earthly matter:
"vatichsareihu me'at mi'Elokim" (Tehillim. 8,6)?
The next part of the spectrum is yellow-green: yaroq.
Blue-violet is at the end of the spectrum: techeiles.
The spectrum visible to our eye ends with the violet ray,
techeiles, but additional magnitudes of light radiate unseen beyond
the visible spectrum. Likewise, the blue expanse of the sky forms
the end of the earth that is visible to us. And so techeiles is
simply the bridge that leads thinking man from the visible,
physical sphere of the terrestrial world, into the unseen sphere of
Techeiles is the basic color of the sanctuary and of the High
Priest's vestments; the color blue-violet representing heaven and
the things of heaven that were revealed to Israel... no other color
was as appropriate as techeiles to signify G-d's special
relationship with Israel. A thread of techeiles color on our
garments conferred upon all of us the insignia of our high-priestly
calling, proclaiming all of us: "Anshei qodesh tihyun li--And you
shall be holy men to Me" (Ex. 19, 6).
If we now turn our attention to the pisil techeiles [blue thread]
on our tzitzith, we will not that it was precisely this thread of
techeiles color that formed the krichos [windings], the gidil
[cord], the thread wound around the other threads to make a cord.
In other words, the vocation of the Jew, the Jewish awareness
awakened by the Sanctuary, that power which is to prevail within
us, must act to unite all our kindred forces within the bond of the
Sanctuary of G-d's law.
The Talmud's desciption of the blue woolen thread reads: "The blue
wool resembles the ocean, the ocean resembles the color of the sky,
the sky resembles the purity of the sapphire, and the sapphire
resembles the throne of G-d." (Chullin 89).
Along similar lines, Israel's leaders get a vision of G-d on His
Throne during the revelation at Sinai. The throne room is seen as
being paved with "sapphire brick, like the essence of a clear sky."
(Exodus 24:10) And the Midrash writes that the two tablets themselves
Issacar, a tribe that was known for studying Torah full time, had a
standard with a picture of a donkey on it on a field of sapphire blue.
Subject: Question 11.9.12: Symbols: What is the significance of the number 8?
8 is 7 plus 1. If 7 is completion, and the 7th is Shabbos, the
sanctity inherent in the world, 8 is "beyond nature" and going beyond
The following was inserted by Dr Isaac Levy to his translation of R'
Samson Refael Hirsch's commentary on the Pentatuech (Numbers 16:41):
The origin of this meaning is to be found in the work of the
Creation. The visible material world created in six days received
with the seventh day a day of remembrance of, and bond with its
invisible L-rd and Creator, and thereby its completed consummation.
Similarly the symbolism of the number seven in the Menora, in the
Temple, in the Mussaf offerings, in the sprinklings of the blood on
Yom Kippur, in the Festivals of Pessach and Succoth, in Sabbath,
Schmita, Tumma etc. etc. The symbolism of the number eight:
starting afresh on a higher level, an octave higher. The eighth day
for Mila, Schmini Atzereth and Israel as the eighth of G-d.s
Creations. With the creation of Israel G-d laid the groundwork for
a fresh, higher mankind and a fresh higher world, for that shamayim
chadashim [new heavens] and the aretz chadashah [new earth] for
which Israel and its mission is to be the beginning and instrument.
[The Hebrew is a reference to Isaiah 65:17.]
So that there are three elements in us. (a) our material sensuous
bodies, like the rest of the created visible world = 6; (b) the
breath of free will, invisible, coming from the Invisible One = 7;
(c) the calling of Jew, coming from the historical choice of Israel
The highest drive Rav Samson Rephael Hirsch calls the drive to be
beyond human. To go beyond the seven days of creation and into the
eighth day of the bris. This is the neshamah, which lives in a higher
realm, constantly seeking communion with Hashem. The idea that eight
represents "an octave higher" can be seen in the form of the letter
ches. Its shape as written in the Ashkenazi variant of Assyrian
Script, the script used in Sifrei Torah, is that of two zayin's
connected by a bridge. Zayin is seven in gematria. Ches is eight. Ches
shows the bridge between one seven, one complete world, and the next.
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 5 (Worship and Who is a Jew) Digest
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Last Update August 08 2012 @ 06:19 AM