IV. OBSERVANCES AND CEREMONIES
A young man was lamenting that just when he was ready to declare that he had gotten Judaism completely out of his system, Friday night came along, and he had the feeling that he ought to be having dinner with his family, and he knew then he would always be a Jew. The words of the Shema, the smell of Jewish cooking, the sound of the rams horn, the mark of circumcision - all are reminders of what it means to be a Jew.
The family is extremely important in Judaism. One of the Ten Commandments specifically commands that children honor their parents, and there are dozens of secondary requirements which spell out what the commandment means. The father, the head of the household, has the responsibility of educating his children and bringing them up in the knowledge and fear of the Lord. The wife and mother is responsible for keeping her home religious. The home is a collection of individuals, each with his obligations and each a member of the family who serves the family as a whole.
The father, in early history, served as the family priest. When the Temple was established, the father represented his family in making certain sacrifices. When he made his pilgrimage there for a holy day or festivity, he went not only as an individual but as the head of a household.
Synagogues developed when families were in a strange land and the household heads needed to get together to discuss community problems. The Rabbis state that when there are ten men in a community, a synagogue must be organized. What gave meaning to the community was its loyalty to God; therefore a part of every assembly was the reading and study of Gods revelation and prayer. Unless the community was represented by a quorum, or minyan of ten men, no synagogue business, worship, or other activities could be considered valid. The first assemblies met in private homes. Later, public halls were used, and only when there was some permanence were buildings constructed for the purpose. Now that the Temple has been destroyed, synagogues have absorbed some of the characteristics of the Temple, but these appurtenances are not essential.
In addition to the rites within the home and the ceremonies associated with the synagogue, there are personal obligations, not the least of which pertain to the observance of the Sabbath.
The Jewish people have been referred to as the people of the Sabbath. The makers of the Talmud considered the observance of the Sabbath as the very foundation of the Jewish faith. For six days a man labors and does all that he has to do; the seventh he keeps holy. On that day he remembers why he works, he recollects who he is, and he concentrates upon the Creator who made him and all that is, in order that he may be made holy. Thus made new, refreshed, and strengthened, he returns to the duties of the week.
It has been said that More than Israel has kept the Sabbath, it is the Sabbath that has kept Israel, and this statement is hardly an exaggeration, because the Sabbath has received so much emphasis through the centuries that all other days find their meaning in this one day. The poets personified the Sabbath and referred to it as a lovely bride, charming princess, and gracious queen. By tradition the home is especially tidied and everyone bathed and dressed in his finest clothes to welcome her.
The Sabbath officially starts at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. Normally, the mother lights two candles shortly before the beginning of the Sabbath, concluding with the blessing: Blessed art Thou, 0 Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Sabbath light. She then usually adds another prayer for the members of her household.
When the father - with or without his family - returns from the synagogue, the evening meal is ready to begin. The father blesses the wine, the two loaves of twisted white bread called hallah which are invariably a part of the meal, and the children. There is a meal after the synagogue service on Saturday morning and an important meal to bring the Sabbath to a close. At the latter there is not only a benediction of the wine but a blessing of spices kept in a special box for the occasion. Often a special twisted candle is lit at the conclusion of the Sabbath, as a farewell to the princess until the next week.
The outsider frequently thinks of Sabbath observance as a grim experience, but its four notes are holiness, joy, honor, and rest. Thirty-nine types of work are forbidden in the Bible, but the amplification of these is legion. An Orthodox Jew does not carry money, a fountain pen or pencil, nor any, other reminders of his daily pursuits. He avoids all contact with tools, fuel, or matches. He is limited in the distance he walks and is forbidden to travel unless he is on a long sea voyage. However, all the regulations pertaining to the Sabbath must be disregarded if a human life is at stake.
In Reform Judaism the Sabbath meal generally precedes the evening service, which begins not at sundown but later in the evening. Certain elements of the family service at home have become a part of the temple worship, including the lighting of the Sabbath candles and the blessing of the cup of wine. The Sabbath restrictions are not considered binding, so a Reform Jew may drive to the service or carry money in his pockets.
A visitor to an Orthodox home will see a case with a tube enclosed nailed to the right doorpost as he enters, and he will find the same sort of case in the same position as he goes from room to room. It is the mezuzah and contains the Shema, which begins with the words, Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. The words of the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-20) are written by hand on parchment in Hebrew. On the back of the parchment is written the word in Hebrew which means Almighty. It can be seen through a small opening in the case. Many, people touch the mezuzah when passing it and then place their fingers to their lips, signifying a kiss. The use of the mezuzah is justified by the words: . . . You shall write them [the commandments] on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deut. 6: 9).
The man, in Orthodox Judaism, wears a prayer shawl and phylacteries when he recites prescribed prayers each morning. The threads and knots of the shawl tassels symbolically number 613, the number of commandments to be found in the Pentateuch (Num. 15:38-41). The phylacteries are little leather boxes which contain four sections of scripture. One is worn on the left hand, the other on the forehead, in compliance with the command, And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes (Deut. 6:8).
Orthodox Jews follow literally the 613 commandments found in the Pentateuch. In Reform Judaism there is not so much interest in adhering to the letter of the Law. The shawl is seldom used except in formal worship; the use of the phylacteries has been abandoned; and the mezuzah is found less frequently than in Orthodox homes.
The woman, in Orthodox Judaism, is not required to say the traditional prayers in the traditional manner and at the traditional times. Her religious activities are supplemental to those of the man. It is her responsibility to hallow the home. The ancient sages recognized her vast spiritual influence and in various ways inculcated a deep respect for her role. For example, the husband is admonished, Love thy wife as thyself, and honor her more than thyself.
The mistress of the house must keep her home fit and proper, for that is what kosher means. All plant products are kosher and so, too, are all four-legged animals with cloven hoofs that chew the cud, as well as the most common fowls and the fish that possess fins and scales. Birds of prey, like eagles or buzzards; creeping creatures, like snails, lobsters, and crabs; shell fish, like oysters-these and foods in some other categories are forbidden (Lev. 11:3,9,41). Even proper meat and fowl must be killed according to a ritual and the housewife must use salt and water to prepare either, unless she uses a broiler (Deut. 12:23).
An important dietary law observed in Orthodox homes is the restriction against mixing meat and milk foods, based on the biblical injunction, repeated three time, You shall not boil a kid in its mothers milk (Exod. 23:19; 34:23; Deut. 14:21). The Rabbis interpreted this to mean that dairy products and those of meat should not be eaten at the same meal. Many conscientious wives keep two sets of dishes, silverware, and cooking utensils to avoid any unintentional mixing of the foods. Customarily, chicken fat is used for meat dishes and butter for dairy dishes. Vegetable shortening would be proper for both, but cooking customs do not change rapidly.
In addition to protecting her family through keeping a kosher home, the woman has many responsibilities in regard to her personal hygiene. An entire tractate in the Talmud is devoted to the amplification of the rules found in the Bible (Lev. 15:19-24; 18:19; 20:18).
In Reform Judaism the dietary laws have been discarded as rigid requirements, on the assumption that they were originally of an hygienic nature, or expressed simple humitarian principles, or had reference to animals that were associated with the totemism of neighboring tribes, but were subsequently unduly and arbitrarily elaborated by overly zealous rabbis concerned with building a hedge around the Torah. However, some Reform rabbis, and even laymen, do observe the dietary laws in a token fashion. In Conservative Judaism the observance is far more common; the reasons given are in terms of identification with the past, the emphasis being upon the continuity of Judaism, not upon religious necessity, for it is not believed that a disregard for the ancient laws is tantamount to an expression of contempt for God.
So far as the rules pertaining to the periodic impurity of women and the rites for their purification are concerned, they are rejected in Reform Judaism and, to a large extent, by the women in Conservative groups.
The Temple rites were built around a sacrificial system with an hereditary priesthood, while the synagogues were established for worship, study, and fellowship and are essentially democratic, with no priesthood required. In Reform Judaism a synagogue is referred to as a temple, indicating no more than that it is the primary place for worship. In Orthodox Judaism there is every reminder that the two are not to be confused. There is even a yearning for the time when the Temple can be rebuilt in Jerusalem, a hope seldom expressed in Reform groups. And vet Orthodox Judaism has incorporated as many symbols from the Temple as Reform Judaism, even though the symbols differ.
On the right hand doorpost of the synagogue entrance there is the familiar mezuzah. Inside, the focal point is the Ark, generally placed against the eastern wall - just as the altar in a traditional church is oriented, that is, placed in such a way that the congregation, in looking toward it, is facing east. The Ark is covered by a handsome embroidered and colored curtain, just as it was in the Temple (Exod. 26:31-34). Above the Ark is found, almost invariably, a representation of the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Hanging in front of the Ark and elevated is the eternal light, symbolizing, as it did in the Temple, the perpetual presence of God (Exod. 27:20-31). It inevitably reminds a Christian of the sanctuary lamp kept burning in Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic churches, or of the eternal light in Protestant churches.
There is a stand in front of the Ark, on which the scrolls are placed to be read and which may serve as a pulpit for sermons; in some synagogues the stand is in the middle, or may even be on the west wall. Below the platform is a dais where the cantor stands, facing the Ark, when he is leading the service. In some synagogues there is no provision for this dais.
On either or both sides of the Ark, or located in a position of prominence, are candle stands. The most common candleholder in Reform Judaism has seven branches, just as in the Temple (Exod. 25:37; 37:23). The handsome pair of menorah in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City duplicates the pair in New Yorks Temple Emanu-El and was given by a distinguished member of the latter congregation in order that worshippers in the Cathedral might remember their indebtedness to Judaism. However, the menorah in Orthodox synagogues never has seven branches, because the Talmud specifically forbids any duplication of the Temple design.
Far more important than anything heretofore mentioned are the contents of the Ark, the Torah scrolls.
On parchment prepared from the skins of kosher animals, with the sections sewed together with animal tendons, the words of the Pentateuch are inscribed by hand with the greatest exactness. There are standards for the margins, the number of letters to a line, and the length of the lines, so that the scrolls are as nearly alike as it is humanly possible to make them. The scribes who copy the scrolls count every letter to be sure that none is ever missing. In fact, if anyone reading the Torah discovers even a portion of a letter obliterated or defaced, the scroll can no longer be used until the fault is corrected. For this reason there are scribes whose primary function is to travel from synagogue to synagogue examining the scrolls in every detail, letter by letter, resewing, reinking faded letters, and making whatever repairs are necessary.
The scrolls are wound on two hand rollers. Covering them is a crown with tinkling bells. Before the scrolls can be unwound, a breastplate-reminiscent of the breastplate of judgment worn by the high priest when he was officiating at the Temple (Exod. 28:1521)-must be removed. Under the breastplate is a mantle that covers the scrolls like a robe. When the Torah is being read, the reader uses a pointer shaped like a hand with the index finger extended. He moves it from letter to letter so that none will be missed. In Orthodox synagogues the Torah is chanted to traditional melodies.
The Bible does not prescribe the order for the services in the synagogues, and there is no authoritative body to speak for all of Judaism, so there are no hard and fast rules pertaining to the service. Collections of prayers and hymns were made in the early centuries of the Christian era, until finally a prayer book was compiled in the ninth century and had wide acceptance. The liturgy was not really stable, however, until the invention of printing, when copies could be produced in volume and widely distributed.
Certain of the prayers are almost as old as the synagogue itself. For hundreds of years a series of benedictions has been used, each beginning with the words, Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe. Although there is room for private devotions, the formal prayers are we prayers and inclusive in nature. The following is an example of such a prayer: Let the beauty of Thy Holiness shine into our hearts, that we may grow more steadfast in our faith and in our love of Thee and of our fellow men.
The order of service in synagogues was constantly being embellished by the addition of new prayers, hymns, and poems for hundreds of years, making the service longer and more cumbersome, until the process was slowed down and finally came to a stop. The ghetto experience strengthened a static concept of history - a belief that all forms had always existed and that there had never been any changes, even in the forms of worship.
Reform Judaism, influenced first by rationalism and later by historical criticism and a progressive concept of history, recognized that the prayer book, like Topsy in Uncle Toms Cabin, had just growed, and therefore revised the prayers that were no longer consistent with scientific knowledge, translated many parts of the service into the spoken language of the country, and deleted many portions of the service for the sake of simplicity.
In the Temple there was a separate section for the women, but their presence was never required. Similarly, they were never required to attend a service at a synagogue. They could not represent their households in worship nor constitute a part of the required quorum. Although at one time women had been considered qualified to serve as judges or prophets, by the time the synagogue developed, their role was played exclusively in the home. However, since women are interested in the affairs of men, provision was made for them: although not permitted to meet with the men, nor to be seen or heard, they were permitted to sit in an adjoining room separated only by a screen, or in a balcony.
The Reform movement has tended to bring the home into the synagogue. Families are encouraged to sit together and to participate as a family unit. With men and women sitting together, there is justification for a mixed choir. The use of the organ is common. In contrast, choirs are uncommon in Orthodox groups and never include womens voices when they do exist. Nor is instrumental music permitted; instruments were used in the Temple, so their absence makes the differentiation between synagogue and Temple more pronounced. In Reform Judaism, where every synagogue is a little temple, there is no such distinction.
In Orthodox synagogues there are services every morning and evening throughout the year, although attendance at the daily services is frequently small, hardly more than enough to constitute the minyan. In Reform temples the emphasis is upon larger attendance at fewer services. Conservative groups still tend to have daily services, but there is more concern with family participation.
In Orthodox Judaism the men wear a head covering during prayer. Any kind is satisfactory, but in practice a skull cap called a yarmulka is almost standard. Because, in a broad sense, all of life should be an act of prayer, some devout Jews always wear a skull cap, regardless of what they are doing. Reform Judaism suspected that the customary use of hats had probably come into Judaism through the influence of the Arabs and, observing that the uncovering of the head is the conventional sign of respect in the modern Western world, dispensed with it.
In spite of what has been said in regard to the practices of Reform Judaism, in some temples the rabbi and cantor wear hats, often shaped like the birettas used by Christian priests, and they also wear shawls, not because they are deemed necessary but as reminders of the past.
There are many points of similarity between synagogue services and the ordinary non-sacramental services of worship in Christianity. Parts of the service are in an archaic language. In the synagogue, selections from the Law and from either the Prophets or Writings are read; psalms are chanted or said responsively; certain regular prayers are used; and there is a sermon, traditionally based on scripture, but often with a biblical text only as a point of departure. In the Christian service the two lessons would be from the Old and New Testaments, and the psalms would be chanted, said in unison, or recited responsively. Of course, the words of the prayers and the hymns would differ; but even so, there is such a reliance upon the Bible for the style and content of hymns and prayers that the similarities are very great.
The rabbi in a synagogue is the religious leader, but he engages in no priestly activities, has no sacramental offices, and does not offer absolution from sins. The tasks of conducting divine services, preaching, teaching, and other pastoral duties may be assumed by competent laymen. The term rabbi, which means teacher, was not used until the beginning of the Christian era. The early rabbis, like St. Paul, had an occupation for their support and taught only as an avocation. But in the Middle Ages, when the synagogues became the center of all community life and when the Bible, Talmud, and Codes were thought to contain a complete design for living, down to the minutest detail, it was necessary to have rabbis fully engaged so that all of their time might be given to study, teaching, and interpretation.
The cantor, rather than the rabbi, leads the service and for this reason is expected to be able to sing the chants and intone certain of the prayers. By tradition, he is expected to possess a good knowledge of the teachings and beliefs of Judaism. By tradition, he is also expected to be married, for he must be a man of responsibility. In practice, the cantor is often the director of religious education in his congregation, serving under the rabbi. The cantors formal training, therefore, is designed to give him a knowledge of traditional music as well as that of a later vintage, a knowledge of basic Judaism, and a knowledge of the aims, methods, and techniques of religious education.
FROM CRADLE TO GRAVE
In this section we shall describe briefly the ceremonies observed in Orthodox Judaism, ceremonies which are modified somewhat in Conservative Judaism and much more in Reform Judaism. We shall not indicate specifically the nature of the modifications except where a new rite has developed.
Every child born of a Jewish mother is considered a Jew. On the eighth day after his birth a male child is initiated into the House of Israel through circumcision (Gen. 17:10-14; Lev. 12:1-3). Although the responsibility belongs to the father, a mohel (trained circumcisor) generally performs the deed, especially in Orthodox Judaism.
The first-born son of a woman is dedicated to God (Exod. 13:1-2); but there is provision for the redemption or buying back of the child from a priest when he is a month old (Num. 18:16), a custom generally disregarded in Reform Judaism. If the rabbi should not be a priest, a descendant of Aaron (a Cohen), then the child would be offered to a Cohen in the congregation, from whom he could be redeemed. If the father of the child should be a Cohen or Levy (a member of the tribe of Levi but not a descendant of Aaron), he is exempt from the duty of redemption.
In Orthodox Judaism there is emphasis upon bar mitzvah, celebrated when a boy becomes thirteen to mark his becoming a son of the commandment. The boy is expected to be able to read from the Prophets and to chant the benedictions in public. In Conservative Judaism there is often a ceremony for girls, called bath mitzvah, as well as the ceremony for boys. In Reform Judaism bar mitzvah and bath mitzvah are generally supplanted by a confirmation service for boys and girls who are fifteen or sixteen years old, generally celebrated on Shavuoth, the holiday which commemorates the giving of the commandments to Moses.
The marriage ceremony in Orthodox Judaism must be solemnized before a quorum of ten Jews. The bride and groom stand under a canopy, which can be erected anywhere. In fact, weddings generally take place in hotels or public halls which provide a catering service for the reception that follows. As a prelude to the marriage, a contract is signed which specifies both the moral and material obligations of the parties. Divorce is permitted, but it is relatively infrequent.
A persons name is often changed if he is critically ill, a name meaning life or blessed or May God heal being given to him. There is adequate precedent in the Bible, for Abrams name was changed to Abraham, Sarais name to Sarah, Hosheas to Joshua, etc. The prayer for the sick is for the cure of the spirit and cure of the body, based on the Talmudic statements that a sick person does not regain his health until his sins are forgiven and his spirit cured through forgiveness.
Normally, Orthodox Jews are buried on the day of their death. At the grave the mourners rend their garments as a sign of their grief. Sometimes a piece of cloth or ribbon is attached to the clothes to be torn instead of the clothing itself. After the return home there is a period of intense mourning for seven days. For thirty days there is a period of less intense mourning - still with many restrictions, as, for example, the prohibition against getting a haircut. For eleven months after the death of a father or mother a special prayer called the Kaddish is recited in the synagogue, at both the evening and morning services. For twelve months the children are required to abstain from visiting places of amusement and engaging in festivities. The final day of mourning, and one of great significance, is the anniversary of a parents death. The Kaddish is said, as it is on every succeeding anniversary. It is quite ancient and was probably recited by Jesus for Joseph.
THE CALENDAR OF FEASTS AND FASTS
The simplest guide to the beliefs of Judaism is the religious calendar, the round of holy days and seasons, each with its own emphasis and its own treasure of the faith. The calendar is based on the cycles of the moon and has only 354 days. Normally there are twelve months, but an extra month is added seven times in every period of nineteen years to adjust the calendar. The new year begins in either September or October, the date varying each year -for example, the year 5720 began on October 3, 1959, and the year 5722 on September 11, 1961.
Judaism is united in the belief that God is the Lord of nature; that he reveals himself in history, particularly through the history of his holy people; and that man has an obligation to serve God and, in the name of God, to serve his fellow man. It is not surprising, then, that all three of these elements are preserved in the celebration of the holy days that mark the Jewish calendar. Three of the festivals are called pilgrim festivals because, in response to the command, Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God (Exod. 23:17), farmers left their town and villages, if they could, to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. These pilgrim festivals were connected with the Palestinian agricultural year: Passover was at the beginning of the barley harvest; Pentecost came at the end of the various grain harvests and the beginning of the fruit harvest; Tabernacles marked the close of all harvesting and the beginning of the winter.
Each of these festivals also has a special relationship to events in early Jewish history: Passover commemorates the liberation of Israel from the slavery of Egypt; Pentecost celebrates the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai; and Tabernacles recalls the booths in which the Israelites slept in their wanderings through the desert. All three also have references to the inner devotional life and practices expected of a man of faith. What is characteristic of these holidays-the references to nature, history, and mans ensuing obligations-is characteristic, in whole or in part, of the other festivals as well.
One other note needs to be added before we consider the holy days. Acts of loving-kindness are associated with Yom Kippur and almost every major holiday. A man who does not give to charity is considered a man without righteousness. The late Rabbi Wise once said that no two Jews agree on anything except that a third Jew should give to charity. Seriously, however, the constant rehearsal of the afflictions suffered by the Jewish people invokes a feeling of sympathy for those in need, and gratitude to God for preserving his people provides the motivation for giving to others. This probably accounts for the admirable record of philanthropy made by the Jewish people.
Rosh Hashana ushers in the new year with the blowing of the shophar, a rams horn, just as it did in biblical times. It also begins a ten-day period of penitence, which is concluded with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Rosh Hashana is also called the Day of Memorial or the Day of Judgment because, figuratively, the books of heaven are opened, and the deeds of every person are inscribed by the recording angels and signed by the soul of the individual. After the synagogue service on the first night it is customary to extend the greeting, May a good year be inscribed for you.
The penitential season is for the reaffirmation of faith, for self-examination, and for prayers for forgiveness. The theme is echoed in the words of Hosea, Return, O Israel, to the Lord Thy God. Not only is a person to repent his sins with the resolve not to commit the same sins again, but he must make amends wherever possible. The Rabbis say that, although the Lord forgives man his sins against heaven if he is truly penitent, sins against ones fellow men can be atoned for only by actual steps to repair the damage. Therefore every effort must be made to compensate those upon whom injuries have been inflicted, to apologize for slander, and to right all other wrongs in whatever way possible.
Yom Kippur is the climax of the solemn season, the holiest day of the year. Beginning at sundown, as is customary with all observances, there is a period of solemn fast, prayer, and meditation. Some men even spend the night in the synagogue in order that their prayers may not be interrupted. Traditional Jews do not wear leather shoes on this day, and no food or drink is taken for the entire period.
The most essential element is confession, repeated often, where all present ask for pardon for their sins and pray for Gods mercy, not on the assumption that they deserve it, but out of faith that God, in his compassion, is far more eager to forgive than to punish. As part of the biblical justification, there is the following verse: . . . you shall afflict yourselves, and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you; for on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord (Lev. 16:29-30). In the most ancient part of the service the congregation prays that God may hasten the time when ail the people of the earth will be brothers and wickedness will pass away like smoke in the sky.
As a part of the Yom Kippur service, the Kol Nidre is chanted to a haunting melody. The hymn, which is really a prayer asking for absolution from oaths of a religious nature made either hastily or unwillingly, is Talmudic in origin and is related to the legal formula by which oaths might be abrogated under jurisdiction of the court. It received particular importance in medieval times, when some Jews renounced their faith and became titular Christians or Muslims under duress. As a part of the service, there is a memorial for the departed, with the petition that their good examples may be followed. The service is concluded with the blowing of the shofar once again.
Sukkoth is a harvest festival similar to the American Thanksgiving and is called the Festival of Ingathering, but its most popular name is the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles, commemorating the wilderness wanderings when the Israelites followed Moses to the promised land, a time when no more substantial dwellings than booths could be built.
Sukkoth is a very joyful holiday, which begins five days after Yom Kippur and lasts for nine days. A little but or booth is built with an open roof of branches or leaves, within which the family eats its meals and spends as much time as possible. In New York, booths are frequently built on the flat roofs of apartment buildings, but in many instances the family is forced to settle for a community booth built in or alongside a synagogue.
Fall fruits and vegetables, flowers, and branches, are used to decorate the booths to symbolize the season. As a part of the synagogue ceremony, a palm branch is held in one hand, along with sprigs of myrtle and willow, while a citron, a type of lime, is held in the other, in response to the biblical injunction, And you shall take on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days (Lev. 23:40). These symbols are waved in all directions to show that God, who gives the fruits of nature, is found on every side.
The eighth day of the thanksgiving season is marked by a minor festival, during which prayers are said for rain and good crops in the coming year - and although it might be raining torrents at the time, the prayers for rain are said nevertheless, because the reference is especially to the Holy Land, where rain is always important.
This holiday is a reminder that God is the Lord of nature and the Lord of history. Ethically, it suggests that the accumulation of physical possessions is no substitute for a faith in God who provides for men according to their need.
Simhath Torah, which means Rejoicing in the Torah, falls on the last day of Sukkoth. The Torah is read in its entirety every year, the last chapter of Deuteronomy being read on that day, after which the reading of the Torah is begun anew, starting with the story of the creation. The process of concluding the reading and beginning once again suggests both the eternity of Gods revelation in the Torah and the importance of its unceasing study.
The Torah scrolls are carried in a procession, with children carrying banners joining in. It is a time for joyful songs and celebration. Sometimes miniature printed scrolls of paper are given to the children to commemorate the event. Almost invariably they are given candy or other sweets to remind them of the majesty of the Torah and the sweetness of its study.
Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication, like many other festivals, emphasizes the achievement of freedom. Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in 168 B.C.E. by erecting pagan idols there and ordering the Jews to bow down and worship them, a sacrilege that led to the Maccabean revolt and religious independence. At the first opportunity the Temple was cleansed so that services could be resumed. Pure olive oil was needed for the kindling of the lamp that was to burn continuously, but only one vial was found and it contained enough oil for just one day. But miraculously the oil lasted for eight days, until fresh oil could be prepared by the priests.
Hanukkah is celebrated each December, occasionally coinciding with Christmas. On the first day of Hanukkah one candle is lit, and another added each day for the full eight days. The concern with lighting the candles in order until the full candelabra is glowing has lead to the occasions being called also the Feasts of Lights. The emphases of the season are religious freedom and loyalty.
Hanukkah is another holiday in which the children rejoice, and games have been played on this occasion for centuries. Even gambling is permitted, although the prizes are traditionally petty, since gambling for money or high stakes is frowned upon. The dreydel, a four-sided top with Hebrew letters on each side, is used for a traditional game of chance. The letters stand for the Hebrew words which mean a great miracle happened there.
Purim, the Feast of Lots, tells the story of the defeat of a tyrant as it commemorates the familiar biblical story of Esther. Haman, who was powerful in the court of the Persian king, plotted to obliterate the Jews, and he cast lots to determine the most favorable time for the executions-which gives the festival its name. Esther, famous for her beauty, had gained the affection of the king. Through her cousin, Mordecai, she heard of Hamans plot; with great daring she went to see the king and had the tables turned, so that Haman was hanged on the high gallows he had erected for another purpose.
Like Hanukkah, this feast is not required by the Bible. It is a particularly festive time for children. The Book of Esther is read in the synagogue, and when ever Hamans name is mentioned the children are encouraged to hiss, stamp their feet, clap, or use noise-makers to blot out his name. It is a time for carnivals, masquerade parties, dances, and other forms of entertainment. Non-Jewish friends look forward to invitations to participate in the festivities. It is also a time for the exchange of gifts and, as is the case with so many of the festivals, a time to give charity to those in need. The gift of charity has its roots in the biblical tax of one-half shekel which was levied against all Jewish men for the maintenance of the Temple. Now that it can no longer be given to the Temple, it is given to some other worthy cause.
Purim comes in February or March. It might be noted that just before Purim there is a fast to commemorate Esthers three-day fast prior to her appearance before the king. Then, as is usual with Jewish holidays, certain foods are associated with the day itself, the chief one in this instance being the hamantashen, a delicious three-cornered pastry filled with jam or poppy seeds.
Pesah, or Passover, comes in the spring and is of particular interest to Christians because of its association with the Last Supper. It has its roots in a spring agricultural festival, but it also points back to the escape from Egypt. Each family of the Israelites killed a male lamb without blemish and put some of the blood on the doorposts and lintel so that when the last of the plagues, the death of the firstborn, afflicted the Egyptians, the houses of the Israelites would be passed over (Exod. 12:5-13).
he Israelites left Egypt in such a hurry that they could not wait for the bread to rise, so they baked wafers of unleavened bread, or matzoth, to carry with them. Originally the matzoth were round, shaped like a wheel, from which the Christians adapted the conventional communion wafers of unleavened bread; but later, Jews began to bake matzoth in squares. This is the only kind of bread that may be eaten throughout Passover, because no foods made with yeast, baking powder, or baking soda may be eaten at all. In Orthodox homes special dishes and utensils are used throughout the Passover season to avoid possible contamination from food that has been leavened.
Passover begins with a special dinner called a Seder, which means order. The order is found in the Haggadah, a word which means telling, from the biblical injunction: And you shall tell your son on that day, It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt (Exod. 13:8). Near the beginning of the service, the youngest son asks four questions of his father, the first being, Why is this night different from all other nights? The father then relates the story of the hasty departure from Egypt.
The food includes matzoth; unseasoned horse radish, which represents the bitterness of Egyptian slavery; a dish of chopped apples mixed with nuts, cinnamon, and wine, representing the mortar with which Jews were forced to make bricks in Egypt; a shankbone of lamb, as a reminder of the paschal, or Passover, lamb which was offered as a sacrifice in the Temple; a roasted egg, symbolic of the freewill offering that accompanied the sacrifice of the paschal lamb; vegetables such as parsley or radish, to suggest life, hope, and redemption; and salt water (in which to dip the vegetables), symbolic of the tears so often shed.
At the Seder each individual partakes of four cups of wine, two before the meal-which is served halfway through the reading of the Haggadah and two after the meal. They symbolize the four different phrases in which the redemption of Israel is announced in the Book of Exodus.
A special goblet of wine is poured for the prophet Elijah who, according to traditional beliefs, will foretell the coming of the Messiah. During the service the cup is raised, indicating that Elijah is welcome, and the door is opened for a few minutes as a further symbol of the welcome extended to him.
As may have been inferred, the Passover Seder is primarily a family service; but it is also a time of great hospitality, and frequently Gentile friends are invited to participate. In Orthodox Judaism there are two Seders, and often in Conservative Judaism there are two, while in Reform Judaism there is only one and frequently the congregation will conduct a second seder.
Shavuoth, or the Feasts of Weeks, is better known to non-Jews as Pentecost, the Greek word which indicates that it comes on the fiftieth day after Passover. Originally it was a spring harvest celebration, when offerings of the new grain and fruit crops were made in Temple ceremonies; but it gained added significance as the birthday of the Jewish religion, for it is believed that on this date Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Although the Eastern Orthodox churches still set their date for Easter according to the date of the Jewish Passover, the western Christian and Jewish calendars no longer coincide, and the Christian Pentecost is counted from the day of Easter according to the western church calendar.
Shavuoth is now observed in Reform Judaism as a day for holding confirmation ceremonies, when boys and girls renew the promises of their forefathers to obey the Ten Commandments and other teachings of the Jewish religion. Because of the nature of Reform Judaism, much of the emphasis is upon Gods revelation and the importance of making the principles a part of ones life.
The foregoing brief treatment does not cover all the holy days in the Jewish calendar, but it touches upon those that are generally observed by all Jews, although with some ceremonial differences and with varying degrees of emphasis placed upon them. Limited space has prevented the inclusion of many of the deeply moving prayers which give spiritual significance and beauty to each of the holy days and reinforce the meaning of what it is to be a Jew.
Reform Judaism initiated a movement to modify the observances and ceremonies of Judaism, to make them more applicable and better suited to the modern world. The movement has had an influence upon Orthodox Judaism, although modifications were usually made under protest. But the Conservative movement initiated another trend, which is easily recognized: a movement to recover and preserve those elements of the tradition which give unity to the Jewish people. This Conservative trend received added strength when Hitler came to power. Hitler thought and spoke of Judaism in terms of race. A Christian was called a Jew if he had so much as a Jewish grandmother, and then he suffered the consequence.* If people are called Jewish because of their inheritance, what does it mean? What are the things that have given these people their unity and have set them apart through the centuries? It was in answer to these questions that a renewed interest in the customs and traditions of the Jewish people was stimulated among the liberal forces. The result is that there is more traditionalism in Reform groups today than there was thirty years ago, and there is more liberalism in Orthodox groups, with Conservative Judaism standing in between.
* It is apparent that in this work we have virtually ignored the awful massacres of Hitlers Germany. They were the most cruel of all persecutions, because the Jews were not allowed to die for their faith - they died because they were not Gentiles. As much as we may be compelled to remember this heart-rending example of mans inhumanity to man, it is an example of what was done to the Jews, not what the Jews did, and so cannot appropriately be treated here, where we are focusing our attention upon the beliefs and practices of Judaism.