Broadly speaking one could trace the history of Judaism back to the early religion of Israel, the religion that produced the Hebrew Scriptures that are known to Christians as the Old Testament. Here, however, we take Judaism to refer to the religion that was known to Jesus and his contemporaries, and that was later developed and formulated by the Rabbis. A key date in the development of Judaism was 70 C. E. the year in which the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Romans.
Judaism of the pre-70 period is known to us from the New Testament and from other sources. It was a Judaism in which the Temple and its elaborate sacrificial system held a central place. Pilgrims from all over the Jewish world converged on the Temple on the occasion of the great Jewish festivals (see Exod. 23: 14-17; Acts 2: 1-11).
Judaism of the first century C. E.
included several groups that were often antagonistic to each other. Some of those groups, such as the Pharisees, the Sadducee’s and the Scribes, are known to us from the New Testament, while other documents reveal the existence of other groups. The Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, have detailed information on the Qumran sect. Rabbis After the destruction of Jerusalem which brought the Temple worship to an end, the Rabbis began to develop a Judaism that suited the changed circumstances.
‘Rabbi’ is a term which in Hebrew and Aramaic (the language of Jesus) means ‘my teacher’. The rabbis were teachers who studied the Scriptures and the religious traditions that had developed over the centuries (see Mark 7: 5. 8. 13).
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They formulated norms which governed every aspect of Jewish life. The Judaism they taught became known as Rabbinic Judaism, and all forms of contemporary Jewish religion are ultimately derived from the Judaism of the Rabbis.
A basic principle of their religious system was that God revealed a twofold Torah (the Hebrew word ‘Torah’ is usually translated as ‘Law’), the written Torah, i. e. the Scriptures, and the Oral Torah, i. e. laws that had been revealed at Sinai and handed on faithfully in an unbroken chain of tradition from the time of Moses to the days of the Rabbis. The Rabbis taught that ‘Moses revealed 613 commandments: 365 prohibitions according to the number of days in a solar year, and 248 positive precepts corresponding to the parts of the human body’.
The Mishnah and Talmuds The teaching of the Rabbis was formulated in the Mishnah, a collection of legal opinions which was written about 200 C. E. The Mishnah contains regulations for all areas of Jewish life. It has, for example, sections on prayer, on the manner of observing religious Festivals, on marriage and divorce, and on matters relating to civil and criminal law. After its publication the rabbis in Palestine and in Babylon (where there was a large colony of Jews) wrote commentaries on the Mishnah. These commentaries were written down as the Talmuds, the Jerusalem or Palestinian Talmud which was written down about 400, and the Babylonian Talmud, which was put to writing about a hundred years later.
The Mishnah and the Talmud became the foundation documents of rabbinic Judaism, and they are still diligently studied today by observant Jews. Besides the Mishnah and the Talmud the rabbis produced other bodies of literature, especially biblical commentaries (Midrash) which applied the Scriptures to the daily lives of ordinary Jews. Very often these commentaries included parables and fictional narratives that communicated religious and ethical teaching in an interesting and often entertaining way. Christians have often claimed that Judaism was a religion of legalism and external observance.
It is true that Jews were meticulous in their observance of the many regulations that governed their lives. But they observed these regulations in the spirit of the biblical precept which commanded them to love the Lord with all their heart and all their soul (see Deut. 6: 5).
... 40-45% of those Jews who affiliate. Conservative Judaism accepts the idea that Jewish law is binding upon Jews. Conservative Jews have an obligation to obey ... kosher. Conservative Jews believe that Jewish law is capable of evolution as humans learn more about interpreting the Torah. Therefore, Conservative Jews have changed some ...
They regarded the Law as God’s greatest gift to them, as the clearest proof of his love, and they saw their own obedience to the Law as a proof of their love for God. They did not observe the Law out of fear or for the sake of a reward.
A well-known text from the Mishnah reads: ‘Be not like servants who serve the master in order to receive a reward, but be like servants who serve the master not in order to receive a reward’. Worship and Prayer Worship and Prayer have always had an important place in Jewish life. The Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday evening, is not only a day of rest but a day of prayer and study of the Torah. Observant Jews attend the synagogue services on Friday evening and on the Sabbath itself. Traditionally, Jewish men spend much time in the synagogue on the Sabbath studying and discussing religious matters. Daily prayers were said in the morning, afternoon and evening.
The best known Jewish prayer is the Shema, which consists of Deut. 6: 1-4, and which is recited daily in the morning and in the evening. The great Festivals of the Jewish Year, e. g. Passover (Exod.
12: 1-13; Lev. 23: 4-8), the Feast of weeks, or Pentecost (Lev. 23: 9-22; Acts 2: 1-11), Tabernacles (Lev. 23: 33-43; John 7: 2), the Day of Atonement (Lev.
23: 26-32) are occasions of solemn liturgical ceremonies and communal celebration. The Seder meal at Passover is the high point of the Jewish year. It is a joyful celebration which takes place in Jewish homes, and it is an occasion when family members and friends rejoice together. Branches of Judaism Several branches can be distinguished in contemporary Judaism. Orthodox Jews can be described as traditional Jews who observe the Torah, written and oral, in its fullness. They usually retain the traditional liturgy, and they insist on separate seating for men and women in the synagogue.
They are sometimes in conflict with other Jews, because they refuse to recognise marriages and divorces performed by non-Orthodox rabbis. Reform Judaism originated in Germany in the nineteenth century. The promoters of reform wanted to adapt traditional laws to the realities of modern life. Reform Jews today are less strict than the Orthodox in their observance of the Torah; they develop modern liturgies and they accept women rabbis. Conservative Judaism also began Germany, but it developed in America in the twentieth century. Conservative Jews are open to change, but are not as liberal as Reform Jews.
... the poor and even the poorest Jew was treated with respect because of what the Jewish law said. Though their living conditions ... were not the best, the Jews all worked, studied, celebrated, ... -Jewish riots or pogroms broke out, it involved looting, property damage, and personal injury. In 1882, under the May Laws, Jews could ...
They have no central authority, but they manage to maintain unity amidst great diversity. The Jewish religion has its roots in the book, or collection of books, which Christians traditionally called the Old Testament. Nowadays many people prefer to use the term ‘the Hebrew Scriptures’ or ‘the Hebrew Bible,’ since the term ‘Old Testament’ might seem pejorative, implying that the Hebrew Scriptures, are antiquated and outmoded. The Jews distinguish three different sections in their Bible: . The Law (Torah in Hebrew), the first five books of the Bible which were traditionally attributed to Moses… The Prophets, which include the books from Joshua to 2 Kings inclusive, and the b.
The Writings include Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and 1-2 Chronicles. The first division of the Bible, which Jews always refer to as the Torah, held a much more prominent place in Judaism, and had greater authority for Jews, than the other two sections. Jews believed that the Torah was directly revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This belief is based on texts like Exod.
19: 1 – 24: 18 which describes the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses, and Deut. 4: 44 which refers to ‘the law (Torah) that Moses set before the Israelites.’ See also Deut. 33: 4. A number of books which form part of the Roman Catholic Old Testament are not found in the Hebrew scriptures. Examples of such books are the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, which is also known as Sirach, and 1-2 Maccabees. Oral Torah Besides the written word of the Bible the Jews also cherished the ‘Oral Torah.’ The Oral Torah clarifies and complements the written Torah that is to be found in the Bible.
For example, the written Torah stipulates that Jews must keep the Sabbath holy (see Exod. 20: 8), but is the Oral Torah which specifies how one must observe the Sabbath, what work, for example, is allowed or forbidden on that day. Exod. 12: 1-14 describes how the Israelites celebrated the first Passover in Egypt, but it is the Oral Torah that established the ritual to be observed by later generations of Jews in their annual celebration of Passover.
... was the Torah, which aided the ... authorities. The Torah (religion) was the common bond all Jews had; it was the Torah, which was the basis for all Jewish law. It ... of universal Judaism. The Torah, along with the Talmud (Rabbinical interpretation of Torah) are what help guide the Jewish people to practising good ...
Jews believe that the Oral Torah, like the written Torah, was revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. But much of it, they say, was forgotten, and only later rediscovered by the Jewish scholars known as rabbis. When new situations required new legislation or new regulations the learned rabbis made the appropriate rulings. In doing so they claimed that they were drawing from the treasury of traditions that had been orally revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Rabbinic rulings of this kind are referred to in Mark’s Gospel as ‘the tradition of the elders,’ ‘the tradition of men,’ ‘your tradition which you hand on’ (see Mark 7: 3, 8, 13).
What the rabbis wished to assert when they claimed that the laws which they formulated had been revealed to Moses was that these laws, the oral Torah, faithfully interpreted the Written Law, and that the Law of Moses and the laws of the rabbis formed one Law that obliged all Jews. Jews can understand the word ‘Torah’ in three different ways: 1. Torah = the first five books of the Bible. 2. Torah = the whole Bible.
3. Torah = the Oral Torah. The Mishnah By New Testament times a large body of oral law had developed within Judaism, and from about that time it began to be put to writing. About 200 CE a learned rabbi called Judah the Prince collected and arranged the laws that were in circulation, in writing or orally, in his day, and published them in a book called the Mishnah. This work was to become the fundamental legal document of Judaism, and all later Jewish legal texts were based on it. The word ‘Mishnah’ comes from the Hebrew verb shan ah, which has the basic meaning of ‘repeat.’ But because learning in Judaism at that time was by rote, that is, by repeated recitation, the word mishnah, came to mean ‘learning’ and ‘teaching.’ So the Mishnah is that book which contains the body of legal teaching that became authoritative in Judaism.
The Mishnah is divided into six divisions or ‘Orders’ which formulate legal opinions on almost all aspects of Jewish life. Since the economy of the Land of Israel at the time of Judah the Prince was mainly agricultural the Mishnah’s first ‘Order’ deals mainly with agricultural matters. The second ‘Order’ deals with the Sabbath and with Israel’s annual festivals (e. g. Passover, New Year), and the third treats of matters of family law such as marriage and divorce. Civil and criminal cases form the subject matter of the fourth ‘Order’.
... more efficient. Yet, in this day and age, and with self-service technology sprouting up in areas we ... scan and bag your own items. Automated voice messaging services, or answering machines, have been around for some ... . Bills can be paid and answers to general service questions can be found. You can buy movie ... another in even some of the most basic day-to-day activities becoming a lost art? I guess ...
The fifth ‘Order’ deals with the Temple and its sacrifices, while the focus of the sixth is ‘ritual impurity,’ e. g. becoming impure or unclean through contact with a leper (see Lev. 13-14, esp.
13: 45-46; Match. 8: 1-4).
The Tosefta ‘Tosefta’ is an Aramaic word meaning ‘addition,’ ‘supplement.’ (Aramaic was the language spoken by Jesus. ) The Jewish book known as the ‘Tosefta’ is in reality an addition or supplement to the Mishnah. It was produced about the year 300, so about 100 years after the Mishnah. It is a collection of legal rulings and discussions arranged in the same six ‘Orders’ as the Mishnah.
Although it contains much material that is very similar to parts of the Mishnah it also deals with many topics that are not discussed in that work. The editor or compiler is unknown. The Talmud After the publication of the Mishnah successive generations of Jewish scholars studied it and commented on it. Study of this fundamental document took place not only in the Land of Israel, but also in Babylonia where there was a large Jewish population. The text of the Mishnah together with the comments and interpretations of many rabbis that were added to it became known as the Talmud. [Put briefly, Mishnah plus commentary = Talmud.
] Two versions of the Talmud developed, one in each of the centres just mentioned. The Talmud of the Land of Israel, also known as the Jerusalem Talmud, was completed around the year 400, while the Babylonian Talmud did not reach its final stage of development until the late sixth or early seventh century. The Babylonian version was destined to receive wider dissemination and to become more authoritative in Jewish communities. Jews do not claim that the Mishnah, the Tosefta and the Talmud are inspired by God. They regard them as the product of the sharp intellects of rabbis who over the centuries tried to discover the will of God for his people. The Mishnah and the Talmud, and to a lesser extent the Tosefta, continue to be diligently studied by religious Jews to this day.
... required to perform one year of community or government service is a bad idea. The concept of forcing people into these types of ... of indentured servitude. People working in those capacities would certainly receive a paycheck at the end of the day, and could go ... home to their families, but until their year of service is up, they have ...
Midrash Besides the Mishnah, the Tosefta and the Talmud, which are legal documents, Jewish scholars also produced commentaries on the Bible. The word for commentary in Hebrew is midrash, which is derived from a verb dash, which means ‘search,’ ‘examine.’ The rabbis ‘examined’ the scriptures, that is, they studied them carefully, and produced commentaries on them that were intended to nourish the faith and devotion of the Jewish community. One commentary, or Midrash, could be mainly legalistic, while another could be primarily homiletic or devotional. Thus, for example, the commentary on Exod. 12: 1 – 23: 19, a section of the Bible which contains much legal material, is mainly legalistic. This particular Midrash dates from before 300 CE.
The commentary on Genesis, which was written in the fifth century, consists mainly of edifying narratives. Midrash im (plur. of ‘midrash’), or commentaries on biblical books continued to be written until the 11 th or 12 th centuries. Many of these commentaries would have originated as actual homilies, and preachers in the synagogue continue to borrow stories and examples from them even today The Day of Atonement, which occurs on the tenth of Tishri (Sept. – Oct. ), that is ten days after the New Year, is, without doubt, the holiest day of the Jewish year, a day of utmost solemnity.
It is usually referred to, even in modern languages, by its Hebrew name, Yom Kippur. There is no reference to this feast in any biblical text that pre-dates the Exile (598 BCE), but the basic elements of the feast may have been in existence before that time. Chapter 16 of the Book of Leviticus lays down the rituals that are to be performed on that day. Only on the Day of Atonement is the High Priest – referred to in this chapter as Aaron – allowed to enter the Holy of Holies (v. 2).
Dressed in linen clothes (v. 4), and not in his usual elaborate vestments, he offers sacrifices to make expiation for his own sins and those of the priestly house (vv. 6, 11, 17), and for the sins of all the people (vv. 15-19).
He sends the scapegoat, bearing the sins of the whole nation, into the wilderness (vv. 20-22).
On this day all the people must ‘deny themselves,’ and they must do no work (v. 29).
This is the day on which atonement is made for all their sins (v. 30).
This is an annual ritual which takes place on the tenth of the seventh month, which is Tishri (v. 29).
According to Num. 29: 8-11 the day was marked by the offering of special sacrifices. The Mishnah tractate Yoma, ‘the Day [of Atonement],’ gives detailed instructions for the carrying out of the various rituals of the day. Yom Kippur in the Synagogue Before the Fall of Jerusalem (70 CE) the Day of Atonement was mainly a Temple ceremony. While the Temple stood the observance of this day was a matter of carrying out certain rituals and offering prescribed sacrifices. But when the Temple was destroyed, and when its sacrificial and ritual systems had come to an end, a new importance was given to the role of the people, to their confession of sin, to their repentance and to their desire for forgiveness.
Kol Nidre The celebration of the day begins with a festive meal on the evening of the 9 th of Tishri. After the meal the people go to the synagogue where the prayers begin with a solemn proclamation known as Kol Nidre, ‘All Vows,’ which is a declaration that all vows made rashly to God during the past year are annulled. This proclamation, which is one of the most characteristic elements of the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement, is sung to a moving traditional air, and it has been popular in Judaism since about the year 900 CE. The Kol Nidre is followed by an elaborate formula of confession of sins.
A similar formula is repeated at four services on the Day of Atonement. ‘You Shall Deny Yourselves’ From the beginning of this evening service until the end of the Day of Atonement, that is, for a period of about twenty-four hours, ‘eating, drinking, washing, anointing, putting on shoes, and marital intercourse are forbidden.’ The basis for the imposition of these forms of self-denial is the command ‘you shall deny yourselves’ (Lev. 23: 27; Num. 29: 7).
Instead of ‘putting on shoes (of leather) ‘ people sometimes wear such things as cloth slippers or gym shoes. Thi prescription regarding footwear is often ignored in non-Orthodox congregations.
When Luke refers to ‘the Fast’ in Acts 27: 9 he has the fast of the Day of Atonement in mind. In the course of the long service on the morning of the day of the feast a confession of sins, like that of the is repeated, traditional hymns are sung, and Lev. 16 (a description of the Day of Atonement; see above), Num. 29: 7-11 (a list of the sacrifices to be offered on the feast), and Isa. 57: 14 – 58: 14 (which includes statements about the nature of true fasting) are read. Avodah The second service of the day, the so-called ‘Additional Service,’ contains a lengthy account of the ritual that was carried out in the Temple before its destruction.
The account, known as the Avodah, ‘The Order of the Temple Service,’ was originally rather brief, but was extended by many poets over the centuries. Different versions, some as late as 1000, exist. The reading of the Avodah is regarded by many as the most solemn element of the Atonement service. The final part of the Avodah is a poem which celebrates the splendour of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, who having put aside the humble linen garments he had earlier worn, put on his splendid priestly vestments (see Lev. 16: 23-34).
Part of this is based on Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 50: 5-21.
The theme of the Avodah – the ancient Temple and its worship – is very emotional for Jews, and the plaintive melodies to which the text is set add to its attractiveness. The service continues with a series of prayers for forgiveness known as Selihot. The Book of Jonah The main feature of the afternoon service, the third service of the day, is the reading of the Book of Jonah. The phrase which makes the book particularly appropriate for the Day of Atonement occurs in 3: 10: ‘When God saw… how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamities that he had said he would bring upon them (the people of Nineveh).’ If God forgave the repentant Ninivites he would surely forgive his repentant people. Micah 7: 18-20, a passage which praises God as one who pardons iniquity and delights in mercy, is also read.
Neilah The fourth and final service of the day, known as Neilah, ‘Closing,’ begins about an hour before sundown. The term Neilah originally referred to the ceremony of closing the Temple doors in the evening. Like the other services of the day Neilah contains confessions of sin and urgent appeals for forgiveness. These lead up to a dramatic moment when the leader cries out ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One’ (Deut.
All present proclaim three times ‘Blessed be his glorious, sovereign Name forever and ever,’ the response which the people made when the High Priest pronounced the divine name in the Temple on the Day of Atonement (Yoma 6, 20).
Then the leader and all present repeat seven times ‘The Lord he is King’ (1 Kings 18: 39), beginning with a whisper and gradually raising their voices. After this impressive ritual a final prayer, the Kaddish, is recited, and the shofar is sounded to announce the end of the solemn day of repentance. Immediately the usual evening prayer is said and a new day begins. Some Customs and Beliefs As at New Year, it was customary to wear a long white robe on the Day of Atonement, and only white hangings and drapes were used in the synagogue on that day.
The purpose of this practice was to symbolism the purity which the people wished to acquire (cf. Isa. 1: 18) by means of the day’s observances. A custom which is known from about 900 CE, and which was popular among Orthodox Jews in many places until recent times, was that of taking a cock (for a male) or a hen (for a female) on the eve of the feast and swinging it three times over one’s head while reciting the formula: ‘This is my substitute, my vicarious offering, my atonement; this cock (or hen) shall meet death but I shall find a long and pleasant life.’ The fowl, which, it was believed, would then bear any misfortune that might result from one’s sins, was then killed and given to the poor. It was believed that Satan, who could bring accusations against Israel before God on all other days of the year, could not do so on Yom Kippur. On this day judgment is passed on those who are neither completely righteous nor completely wicked, and whose fate was left undecided at the New Year (see New Year).
If they repented during the ten days since New Year they are now inscribed in the book of the righteous; if not they are inscribed with the wicked. The Jew’s conviction that his or her sins were forgiven on the Day of Atonement is expressed in these words which occur toward the end of the concluding service of the day: ‘Blessed art thou, O Lord, thou king who pardon est and forgives t our iniquities and the iniquities of thy people the house of Israel, and who makes our trespasses to pass away year by year: King over all the earth, who sanctifies t the Day of Atonement.’ However, the fruits of the day were available only to those who truly repented of their sins. The Mishnah states that ‘If a man said, “I will sin and the Day of Atonement will effect atonement,” then the Day of Atonement effects no atonement.’ It has been said that the catechism of the Jews was their religious calendar. Their annual cycle of feasts and liturgical celebrations commemorated the historical events that formed them as the people of God, and their liturgical texts gave expression to their religious beliefs and convictions.
The yearly celebration of the feasts introduced children to the religious heritage and to the traditions of the Jewish people, and at the same time nourished the faith of adults and strengthened their sense of Jewish identity. Judah Ha levi (d. 1141), a famous Jewish poet and philosopher, stated that the festivals were the main factor that helped the Jews to survive as a people among the Gentiles. In the Jewish calendar one can distinguish between feasts that are mentioned in the Pentateuch and those that were added later. Feasts mentioned in the Pentateuch are: . Passover and Unleavened Bread, which are treated in Judaism as on festival, Weeks and Tabernacles.
These are known as the ‘Pilgrim Festivals.’ . New Year and the Day of Atonement. These two form a pair, in the sense that New Year begins a ten-day period of repentance which finishes at the end of the Day of Atonement. These two feasts are often referred to in English as the High Holidays. The more important of the later festivals are: . Purim, which celebrates events mentioned in the Book of Esther…
Hanukkah, which commemorates the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees (see 1 Maccabees 4: 36-59)… Simhat Torah, ‘Rejoicing in the Law.’ . The Ninth of Ab, which is a commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem, is an important day of mourning and penance. Pilgrim Festivals The ‘Pilgrim Festivals,’ mentioned above, get their name from such passages as Exod. 23: 14-17 and Deut. 16: 16 which specify that on three great feasts all males must ‘appear before the Lord,’ that is to say, on these days they must present themselves at his sanctuary.
Until the end of the seventh century BCE this obligation could be fulfilled at local sanctuaries, but after that time all had to go to Jerusalem. The Pilgrim Festivals were the three most important feasts of the year, and they were closely connected with the agricultural year. Passover – Unleavened Bread took place at the time of the barley harvest, Weeks at the time of the wheat harvest, and Tabernacles at the fruit harvest. But in Israel these agricultural feasts were ‘,’ that is, they were interpreted as memorials of events in the history of Israel (see Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Weeks, Tabernacles).
The High Holidays New Year’s Day (Rosh Hashanah) (see New Year) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) (see Day of Atonement) became known in rabbinic tradition as the ‘Days of Awe,’ and in modern times they are often referred to in English as the High Holidays. They are undoubtedly the most solemn festivals of the Jewish religious calendar. The days from New Year (1 st Tishri [Sept. – Oct. ]) to the Day of Atonement (10 th Tishri) are known as the ‘Ten Days of Repentance.’ According to rabbinic teaching these ten days provide the sinner with the best opportunity for repentance. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are much more synagogue-centred than the other major festivals.
The liturgies are much longer, and even Jews whose links with the synagogue and its liturgy are tenuous attend the services on these days. Minor Festivals The feast of Purim is celebrated on the 14 th of Adar (Feb. – March) as a celebration of the victory of Esther, a beautiful Jewish woman, over Haman, the wicked prime minister of the King of Persia, who had decided to exterminate the Jews. Scholars today agree that the story of Esther, which is recorded in the biblical Book of Esther, is fictional. The feast of Purim has always been, and still is, more a folk festival than a religious celebration. If Purim is associated with the legendary exploits of Esther, Hanukkah, as noted above, commemorates a historical event, the victory of the Jews over the Greeks and the rededication of the Temple which took place in 164 BCE.
It is an eight-day festival, beginning on the 25 th Kislev (December) (1 Macc. 4: 36-59).
Since the Books of the Maccabees were not included in the canon of the Hebrew scriptures it is not surprising that the rabbis do not seem to have considered Hanukkah an important feast. It is mentioned only in passing in the Mishnah. By the Middle Ages it had become a popular festival, and in modern times, especially in Israel, it has become a symbol of the courage of the Jews in the face of hostile powers.
Since Hanukkah occurs in December it has taken on some of the festive spirit of Christmas, especially among Reform Jews. The feast of ‘Rejoicing in the Torah,’ Simhat Torah, falls on the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles, that is, on the 23 rd of the month of Tishri (Sept – Oct. ).
According to Lev.
23: 36 and Num. 29: 35 this is to be a day of ‘solemn assembly,’ and no work is to be done on it. But no special reason is given for the celebration. Sometime after 600 CE the day became known as Simhat Torah, a joyful celebration in honour of the Torah. The custom of reading the whole Pentateuch in the synagogue in the course of a year was well established by then, and the annual reading was completed on this day. The occasion was marked in the synagogue by a cheerful ceremony of ‘Rejoicing in the Torah.’ Day of Mourning According to the Mishnah ‘the Temple was destroyed the first and the second time’ on the 9 th Ab (July-August).
The reference is, of course, to the destructions of 587 BCE and 70 CE. To this day the tragic loss of the Temple is commemorated on the 9 th Ab by a fast lasting from sunset to sunset. Other penitential practices are also observed on this day, and other signs of grief are displayed. It is forbidden to wear leather shoes (as on the Day of Atonement), and one should not wash or anoint oneself.
In the synagogue only minimal lighting, enough to enable one to read the prescribed texts, is allowed. Texts read during the service are the Book of Lamentations, which laments the destruction of Jerusalem, passages from Job, and lamentations from the Middle Ages which were composed on the occasion of some persecution to which the Jews were subjected. However, the day of mourning was not one of total despair, as we gather from the following prayer for the day which looked forward to the rebuilding of Jerusalem: ‘Comfort, O Lord our God, the mourners of Zion, and the mourners of Jerusalem, and the city that is in mourning, laid waste, despised and desolate… Legions have devoured her, worshippers of strange gods have possessed her… Therefore let Zion weep bitterly… For thou, O Lord, didst consume her with fire; and with fire thou wilt in future restore her…
Blessed art thou, O Lord, who comfort est Zion and rebuild est Jerusalem.’ ‘You Shall Rejoice’ The major feast days were occasions of great rejoicing and celebration. The Bible states explicitly that people must rejoice at the Feast of Weeks (Deut. 16: 11. 14), at the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev.
23: 40) and at the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ezra 6: 22).
Nehemiah 8: 17 shows that Tabernacles was celebrated with rejoicing after the return from the Exile in 538 BCE, as were Passover – Unleavened Bread (see Ezra 6: 22) and ‘the first day of the seventh month,’ that is, the New Year (see Nehemiah 8: 2. 9-12).
The rabbis declared that ‘Rejoicing on a Festival is a religious duty,’ and they explained that one can fulfil this duty by devoting half of the day to eating and drinking, and the other half to the study of the sacred texts. The general principle was that one must ‘honour the Festivals and delight in them just as one honours and delights in the Sabbath.’ So one should cut one’s hair ‘in order not to inaugurate the Festival with an untidy appearance.’ One should bathe in warm water, comb one’s hair and pare one’s nails. One should bake hallah for the Festival, just as one does for the Sabbath (see Sabbath).
One should give presents to one’s family and dependants. On feast days when one celebrates with one’s family one should also provide food for the needy. The Bible (Nehemiah 8: 9-12) attests to this custom of showing practical concern for the poor. Jewish Feasts in Brief FEAST DATE BIBLICAL BASIS New Year (Rosh Hashanah) 1 st of Tishri (Sept. -Oct. ) Lev.
23: 24-25 Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) 10 th of Tishri (Sept. -Oct. ) Lev. 23: 26-32 Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth) 15 th of Tishri (Sept. -Oct. ) Lev.
23: 33-43’Rejoicing in the Torah’ (Simhat Torah) 23 rd Tishri (Sept. -Oct. ) ( = 8 th day of Tabernacles) See Num. 29: 35 Hanukkah 25 th Kislev (December) 1 Maccabees 4: 36-59 Purim 14 th of Adar (Feb. -March) Book of Esther Passover (Pesach) – Unleavened Bread (Matzoth) 14 th Nisan (March-April) – 21 st Nisan Exod. 12: 1-27 Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) 6 th Sivan (May-June).
Seven weeks after Passover Lev. 23: 15-16 Ninth of Ab 9 th Ab (July-August) The Feast of Unleavened Bread Michael Maher The Feast of Unleavened Bread, matzoth in Hebrew, begins with the Passover meal (see Passover and Seder), at which unleavened bread is eaten, and continues for a period of seven days (Lev. 23: 5-6).
It seems that the feast had its roots in a pre-Israelite agricultural festival, and that it celebrated the beginning of the grain harvest, that is to say, the barley harvest. It is mentioned as an independent seven-day feast in Exod. 23: 15 and again, in very similar terms, in 34: 18.
According to these texts it was celebrated in the month of Abib (March-April), a month which was later known in the Jewish calendar as Nisan. But no specific date in Abib is given for the feast, probably because the date depended on the time of the ripening of the harvest. The feast was, as we learn from Exod. 23: 14-15, one of the ‘Pilgrim Festivals’ (see Jewish Festivals).
Several texts mention the Feast of Unleavened Bread in association with Passover. Some of these, e.
g. Lev. 23: 4-8 and Num. 28: 16-25, still treat the celebrations as distinct festivals. Others combine the two celebrations and treat them as one. Deut.
16: 1-8, for example, merges the two feasts, and treats Passover as a pilgrim feast that must be celebrated in Jerusalem, which is referred to as ‘the place that the Lord your God will choose’ (vv. 2. 5-7).
It is not altogether clear how and when Passover, which was originally a family celebration (see Exod. 12: 3. 21-23), and which involved only the offering of a sacrifice and the sharing of one solemn evening meal, was combined with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was one of the Pilgrim Feasts, and which lasted seven days.
The fact that both feasts took place in the month of Nisan, and that the eating of unleavened bread was a feature of both celebrations, would have facilitated the merger. But whatever may be said of the history of the two feasts, the New Testament shows that by the beginning of the Christian era they were regarded by many as constituting one festival (see, e. g. , Lk. 22: 1).
Observing the Feast In Jewish communities Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are regarded as one celebration.
According to biblical tradition both feasts commemorated Israel’s liberation from Egypt. Exod. 12: 17 explicitly states that the Feast of Unleavened Bread is a memorial of the Exodus. The eating of unleavened bread during the festive period of Passover – Unleavened Bread is a reminder of the fact that in their hurry to leave Egypt the Israelites ‘took their dough before it was leavened’ (Exod. 12: 34).
The characteristic feature of the feast is the exclusion of anything leavened from people’s diet during the seven days of the feast (Exod.
The only bread that is allowed is unleavened bread (), that is, bread that had been baked without yeast. The positive duty of eating unleavened bread applies only to the Passover meal. On the seven days of the feast one must abstain from eating leaven, but one is not obliged to eat unleavened bread.
Unleavened bread may be eaten all during the year, but it has become customary not to eat it for the month preceding Passover so that its novelty may be appreciated during the feast. In biblical times the unleavened bread was made of flour from the new grain. Consequently it symbolized a new beginning and a fresh start in one’s moral and religious life. For the rabbis ‘the yeast in the dough’ was seen as a symbol of the tendency to evil that is within human beings, a tendency that prevents people from doing the will of God. The same idea is found in the New Testament reference to ‘the leaven of malice and evil’ (1 Cor.
Within Judaism, the abstention from leaven during the period of Passover – Unleavened Bread became a symbol of the moral integrity to which the Jew should strive. The first day and the last day of the feast are holy days (Exod. 12: 16), and all work is prohibited.
On the ‘Intermediate Days,’ the days between the first day and last day, only essential work, e. g. , preparing meals and caring for the sick, should be performed. Regulations governing what may or may not be done on these days are laid down in the Mishnah tractate Moved Qat an, a term which means ‘Lesser Feast.’ On the ‘Intermediate Days’s special readings are added at the morning prayer in the synagogue. On the first of these days, for example, Exod. 13: 1-16, which deals with the institution of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, is read.
Feast of Weeks Michael Maher The Feast of Weeks is the second of the Pilgrim Festivals (see Jewish Festivals).
Its name, which occurs in Exod. 34: 22, derives from the fact that it was celebrated seven weeks after Passover (see Lev. 23: 15-16; Deut. 16: 9-10).
It was actually celebrated on the day after the seventh week, that is, on the fiftieth day (Lev.
This explains how it became known in Greek as Pentecost, a word which means ‘fiftieth (day).’ The feast is mentioned under this Greek name in the New Testament in Acts 2: 1; 20: 16; 1 Cor. 16: 8. The characteristic feature of the Feast of Weeks in ancient times was the offering of new grain to the Lord (Lev. 23: 16-17; Num.
In Exod. 34: 22 it is called the festival of ‘the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the festival of ingathering at the year’s end.’ It is clear, then, that the Feast of Weeks was originally an agricultural festival. It marked the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. Jews still retain this agricultural aspect of the feast by decorating their synagogues with plants, greenery and flowers for the festival. The Bible does not link the Feast of Weeks with any historical event in the history of Israel as it does for the other ‘pilgrim festivals,’ Passover and Tabernacles (see Passover and Pentecost).
Post-Biblical Times In post-biblical times the Feast of Weeks underwent a radical transformation. The Mishnah (c. 200 CE) still regarded it as an agricultural celebration, and it described how the people from the different towns of Israel brought offerings of fresh figs and grapes in joyful procession to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival. This, however, refers back to a time before the destruction of the Temple (70 CE) when people came from many lands to celebrate the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) in Jerusalem (see Acts 2: 1-13).
But when the first-fruits of the harvest could no longer be offered in the Temple the agricultural aspect of the feast faded into the background. The rabbis then gave a new meaning to the feast and celebrated it as a memorial of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The Talmud states that one must rejoice on the Feast of Weeks because it is the day on which the Torah was given. The feast became known in Jewish tradition as ‘the season of the giving of our Law.’ The Bible does not tell us on what day the Torah was given on Sinai, but the rabbis, who believed that the Exodus took place on the 15 th Nisan, calculated that the revelation of Sinai took place on the 6 th day of the Jewish month of Sivan, which corresponds to May/June in our calendar.
Consequently the Feast of Weeks is celebrated on that date. Traditional Customs Unlike the feasts of Passover and Tabernacles, the Feast of Weeks has very few rituals associated with it. As noted above, synagogues are decorated with greenery and flowers on the occasion of the feast, and people adorn their homes in a similar manner. It is customary to partake of milk or milk products, or foods prepared with milk, and also to taste some honey, since the Torah, it is said, may be compared to honey (see Ps. 19: 10).
In traditional communities some people spend the whole night of the vigil in the synagogue or in the study-hall studying Israel’s sacred texts.
Among other texts read during this study session are the 613 commandments, which, according to Jewish tradition, are to be found in the Pentateuch. In modern times Reform Jews introduced the ceremony of Confirmation on the Feast of Weeks. In this ceremony boys and girls of sixteen or seventeen, who have followed a programme of religious instruction, commit themselves anew to Israel’s Torah. Some Conservative and Orthodox communities have adopted this ceremony. Since the Feast of Weeks celebrates the giving of the Law it is not surprising that the biblical account of the giving of the Torah (Exod. 19: 1 – 20: 26) is read in the synagogue service for the feast day.
During the reading of the Decalogue in this passage the congregation stands to show their respect for this central statement of Israel’s Torah. The Book of Ruth is also read in the liturgy of the feast. This book is chosen because it treats of the two themes that are characteristic of the Feast of Weeks, namely, the grain harvest and the Torah. The story of Ruth is set against the background of the barley harvest (cf.
Ruth 1: 22; 2: 17. 23 etc. ) and the wheat harvest (Ruth 2: 23), and Ruth is portrayed as one who left her own people and committed herself to the Torah of Israel (Ruth 1: 16).
The Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths (Hebrew Sukkoth), was the third of the ‘Pilgrim Festivals.’ It was a seven-day celebration, beginning on the 15 th day of the seventh month (Lev. 23: 33), the month of Tishri, which corresponds to Sept. -Oct.
in our calendar. In Exod. 23: 16 it is called ‘the festival of ingathering at the end of the year,’ a suitable title for a feast that celebrated the end of the wheat harvest and the harvesting of the produce of the vineyard (Deut. 16: 13).
In other texts (e.
g. , Lev. 23: 34) it is referred to as the ‘feast of booths (or tabernacles),’ a title which points to the particular feature that was to become the central custom of the festival, namely, the practice of living in booths, or tabernacles, during the seven days of the festival (Lev. 23: 42).
Originally a ‘booth’ was a simple shelter made from branches and covered with leaves. It was erected in a vineyard and served as a shelter for a watchman who protected ripening grapes (see Isa. 1: 8; Job 27: 18).
Since the Feast of Tabernacles marked the end of the harvest season it was a particularly joyful celebration (Lev.
23: 40; Deut. 16: 14).
The branches referred to in the first of these verses seem to have been carried and waved in a happy procession of harvest revellers. The feast is referred to in the Jewish liturgy as ‘the season of our rejoicing.’ It was originally purely agricultural, but it was later given a historical significance and regarded as a commemoration of the forty years during which the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and dwelt in tents (Lev. 23: 42-43).
Post-Biblical Times Two biblical commands, ‘You shall live in booths’ (Lev.
23: 42), and ‘you shall take branches’ (Lev. 23: 40), provided the basis for two important features of the celebration of Tabernacles in post-biblical times. In obedience to the command to ‘live in booths’ all males, excluding infants and slaves, are obliged to live in a booth during the seven days of the Festival. The ‘booth’ is a temporary dwelling erected in the open, beside one’s home. The Mishnah lays down detailed rules about its dimensions and the manner of its construction. During the seven days of the feast the booth must be regarded as one’s home, and one must eat and sleep in it.
In cold climates this law is not applied strictly. Lev. 23: 40 commands the Israelites to take branches of different kinds and to rejoice before the Lord. Two trees, the palm and the willow, are mentioned explicitly in this verse, and tradition had identified the other two, ‘the fruit of goodly trees’ and ‘the boughs of leafy trees’ with the citron and the myrtle respectively. Sprigs of the myrtle, the willow and the palm were bound together to form what was known as the lula v.
While the Temple stood the lula v was carried in the right hand, and the citron in the left, as the people went in procession within the sacred precincts during the seven days of the feast. This ritual was regarded as fulfilling Lev. 23: 40, the text mentioned above. When the Temple was destroyed the custom was continued in the synagogue. The lula v is waved in the four directions of the compass, as well as upwards and downwards. This waving ritual is intended to symbolism God’s universal dominion.
Water Libation The Mishnah describes a ritual of ‘water libation’ that was carried out each night during the feast of Tabernacles. Water from Siloam (see John 9: 11) was poured into a golden flagon, which was carried in procession into the Temple accompanied by the blowing of the shofar and by flute-playing. At the altar a priest poured the water from the flagon into a silver bowl. The rite was carried out so that rain might be plenty in the coming year. It is against the background of this ritual that John 7: 37-39 is to be understood. On the occasion of the ‘water libation’ a joyful ceremony of lights took place in the Temple area.
Huge golden candlesticks, with four golden bowls on top of each one of them, were placed in the Court of the Women. The bowls served as oil lamps, and when they were alight ‘there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that did not reflect their light.’ Pious and learned men, with burning torches in their hands, used to dance before the lamps singing songs of praise, while countless Levites played a variety of musical instruments and two priests sounded trumpet blasts. The ritual of the water-libation and the ceremony of lights were carried out in particularly cheerful mood, so that it could be said that anyone who has never experienced this joyful occasion has never seen joy in his / her life. The first day and the last day of the feast are solemn festivals on which no work is allowed. On the days in between, the ‘Intermediate Days’ (see Unleavened Bread), only essential tasks may be performed. The eighth day of the feast was known as Simhat Torah, “Rejoicing in the Torah” (see Jewish festivals) New Year Michael Maher There is no explicit mention of a New Year feast in the Old Testament.
Indeed the whole dating system during the early Old Testament period is unclear. It seems, however, that for most of the period before the Exile (598 BCE) the year began in Autumn. In the post- period it began in Springtime with the month of Nisan (see Exod. 12: 2).
In later Judaism Tishri (Sept. -Oct. ) – the seventh month of the year that began with Nisan – was regarded as the first month. It is sometimes said that Nisan begins the religious year, while Tishri begins the civil year. The Bible describes the first day of Tishri as a feast day to be ‘commemorated with trumpet blasts’ (Lev. 23: 23-25; Num.
This is the day that is regarded by Jews as the beginning of the New Year. In the Mishnah it is called Rosh Hashanah, the name by which it is known today by English speaking Jews. According to the Bible the festival lasts only one day. But because of the difficulty of determining when the new moon (and, therefore, the new month) occurred, two days were observed in order to ensure that the feast would not be desecrated. New Year Observances As noted above, Lev.
23: 24 prescribes that the 1 st of Tishri, the New Year feast, be ‘commemorated with trumpet blasts.’ In obedience to this precept the shofar (a ritual wind instrument made from the horn of an animal, usually that of a ram) is solemnly blown on the feast. The liturgy refers to the New Year as ‘this day of memorial, a day of blowing the horn.’ Although the shofar is blown on many different occasions during the year it is sounded with special solemnity and according to strict rules at the New Year. Maimonides (d. 1204), in a frequently-quoted passage, explains the blowing of the shofar at the New Year as follows: … the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah… has an intimation, as if to say: ‘Arise from your slumber, you who are asleep; wake up from your deep sleep, you who are fast asleep; search your deeds and repent; remember your Creator.
Those of you who forget the truth because of passing vanities, indulging throughout the year in the useless things that cannot profit you nor save you, look into your souls, amend your ways and deeds. Let everyone give up his evil way and his bad purpose.’ Although some Jewish authorities claimed that the world was created in Nisan, the accepted view was that it was created in Tishri, and at the New Year God is celebrated as Creator. He is proclaimed in the liturgy of the day as ‘supreme King of Kings… who stretched forth the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth.’ The feast itself is referred to in a prayer as ‘This day, on which was the beginning of thy work, is a memorial of the first day.’ New Year’s Day is considered as a day of judgement, the day when ‘all that come into the world pass before him [God] like legions of soldiers [to be judged].’ During the sounding of the shofar the Liturgy says ‘this day thou causes t all the creatures of the universe to stand in judgement… .’ It was believed that three books were open on New Year’s day, one for those who are entirely wicked who will then be inscribed into the book of death, one for the wholly righteous whose names will be written into the book of life, and one for those who are in between. Judgement on this latter group will be suspended until the Day of Atonement, which occurs ten days later.
The liturgy states that at New Year ‘sentence is pronounced upon countries, which of them is destined to the sword and which to peace… and each separate creature is visited thereon, and recorded for life or for death.’ But this day of judgement is not a mournful day. On the contrary, people dress in white, and the decorations in the synagogue (e. g.
, the covers of the Torah roll, the hanging before the Torah shrine) are white, symbolizing the conviction that God will purify his people. The white clothing and a festive meal express the joy of the festival. Among the special features of the New Year is a series of three benedictions: the first of these celebrates God’s kingship; the second, recalling how God remembered his people in the past, appeals for divine mercy for the present generation; the third mentions events that are linked with the blowing of the shofar, and looks forward to final salvation. In the afternoon of the first day of the feast some Jews go to a place where there is flowing water, and emptying their pockets or shaking their robes, ‘cast’ their sins into the water. The custom (called) is based on Micah 7: 19 (‘You shall cast all our sins into the depths of the sea’).
It seems to have originated in Germany in the 14 th century.
It is a reminder that New Year begins a ten-day period of repentance which ends on the Day of Atonement. Special Blessings Among the special features of the New Year is a series of three benedictions: the first of these celebrates God’s kingship; the second, recalling how God remembered his people in the past, appeals for divine mercy for the present generation; the third mentions events that are linked with the blowing of the shofar, and looks forward to the final redemption of the people: Our God and God of our fathers, sound the great Shofar for our freedom… gather our dispersed from the ends of the earth. Lead us with exultation unto Zion thy city, and unto Jerusalem the place of thy sanctuary with everlasting joy. At the evening meal at the beginning of New Year it is customary to dip a piece of hallah (the kind of white bread that is eaten on the Sabbath) in honey and to say ‘May it be thy will, O Lord our God to renew unto us a happy and pleasant year.’ A piece of apple is also dipped into honey and a similar prayer said. At New Year people greet each other with the words ‘May you be inscribed (in the book of life) for a good year.’ Passover and the Seder Michael Maher The Passover, as we know it from the Bible and from Jewish tradition, has its roots in a springtime festival, which was celebrated by nomadic shepherds before the people of Israel ever came into existence.
As the shepherds prepared to move their flocks from their winter grazing places to summer pastures they sacrificed a young animal to win divine protection for themselves and their flocks. The Israelites adopted this springtime feast and transformed it into a celebration of their own liberation from Egypt. The fullest biblical account of the Israelite celebration of the feast is to be found in Exod. 12: 1-14. This passage refers several times to the lamb that was offered, as well as to unleavened bread and bitter herbs (v. 8), which form essential elements of the feast to this very day.
The month in which Passover is celebrated is called ‘the beginning of months’ (v. 2).
The phrase ‘the beginning of months’ means ‘the most important month,’ and the month’s importance comes from the fact that it was during this month that Israel’s liberation from Egypt took place. It was then that Israel as a people was born. The Feast of Passover celebrates this great event, and it is to take place on ‘the fourteenth day of this month’ (v. 6).
To this day Jews celebrate Passover on the 14 th of Nisan, a month which corresponds to the end of March and early April in our western calendar. This day is for all Jews ‘a day of remembrance’ (v. 14), a day in which they relive the liberation that took place in Egypt long ago. Verses 11-12 (also vv.
26-27) explain that the word ‘Passover’ (Pesah in Hebrew) refers to the fact that the Lord ‘passed over’ the houses of the Israelites and struck the houses of the Egyptians with the tenth plague. A Temple Celebration The Passover sacrifice was originally celebrated by individual families, but we have no way of knowing whether the ritual took place in peoples’ homes or in local shrines. However, we learn from the Book of Deuteronomy that by the seventh century BCE animal sacrifices, including the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, were permitted only in the Temple of Jerusalem. Deut.
16: 1-8 specifies that the Passover must be offered ‘in the place that the Lord will choose as a dwelling for his name’ (v. 2), that is to say, in the Jerusalem Temple. Thus Passover ceased to be a domestic rite and became part of the ritual of the Temple. This explains why Jesus and his parents went to Jerusalem every year to offer the Passover sacrifice and to eat the Passover meal there (see Luke 2: 41).
Pilgrims like the Holy Family had to find a place in Jerusalem where they could eat the Passover meal when their Passover victim was sacrificed in the Temple. Jesus and his disciples were faced with the same problem (see Mark 14: 12-14).
Pilgrims could buy animal victims from traders in the Temple area (see John 2: 13-16).
When the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, sacrifice could no longer be offered in Jerusalem, and people had no reason to make a Passover pilgrimage to the Holy City. Once again, therefore, Passover became a domestic ritual, and individual families celebrated the feast in their own homes. The Passover Ritual We have no direct information about the ritual that surrounded the Passover meal at the time of Jesus, when, of course, the Temple sacrifices were being offered.
From the Gospel accounts which imply that the Last Supper was a Passover meal (see, for example, Mat. 26: 17-30) we gather that eating the Passover lamb and unleavened Bread, drinking wine and singing hymns or psalms formed part of that ritual. ‘Bitter herbs,’ that is, vegetables such as parsley or lettuce, probably dipped in some kind of sauce, would also be part of the meal. This would be in accord with the biblical stipulation (see Exod.
We can be sure that some form of blessing was recited over the Passover lamb, over the bread and over the wine. It is most probable that some instruction about the Exodus and its meaning also took place during the course of the meal. The Bible itself requires that such instruction be given at the Passover celebration (see Exod.
12: 26-27; 13: 8).
The Mishnah, a Jewish law code which lays down regulations that govern almost every aspect of Jewish life, and which dates from about 200 CE, gives some instructions of the way in which the Passover is to be celebrated. It also includes some prayers and other formulae that may form part of the celebration. The ritual which contemporary Jews follow at Passover has its roots in the Mishnah text. But, of course, many changes have been made in the text and many additions have been made to it in the course of centuries. Since the Temple no longer exists, and consequently, since sacrifice is no longer possible, the Passover lamb has no place in the ritual.
The Hebrew word for the ritual order which is followed in the Passover celebration is Seder, and this is the word by which the Passover meal with its prayers and rituals is now popularly known. However, there are no formulae which are everywhere obligatory, and local communities can introduce their own scripture texts, psalms, prayers, narratives and songs etc. A book containing the text which can be followed and the actions which are to be performed during the Passover meal is known as a Haggadah, a Hebrew word which actually means ‘narrative.’ Passover Symbols The Passover table is set as for an elaborate festive meal. The best available table cloth and table ware, candles and flowers set the scene for a joyful celebration. At the place where the leader of the ceremony, the father of a family, for example, is to be seated the most important Passover symbols are placed on an elaborately decorated plate. These include three pieces of unleavened bread (matzoh or matzo).
On every Sabbath two loaves are placed on the Table. The third piece that is added at Passover points to the special importance of that feast. Bitter herbs, usually horse radish, are a reminder of the bitterness of the slavery in Egypt. A vegetable, such as parsley or lettuce, is dipped in salt water in the course of the meal. Fruit pur ” ee, called, made, for example, from apples, walnuts, cinnamon and moistened with red wine, serves as a reminder of the mortar with which the Israelite slaves made bricks for their Egyptian masters. Wine, a symbol of joy, is drunk four times during the Seder.
Salt water, a reminder of the tears which the Israelites shed in Egypt, is placed in little bowls or saucers and the parsley or lettuce is dipped into it in the course of the meal. A bone on the leader’s plate is a reminder of the paschal lamb that was offered in the Temple. A hard boiled egg is seen as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, since in Jewish communities eggs were eaten by mourners. The Cup of Elijah, a specially decorated goblet or glass, is set for the prophet Elijah who is expected to return at Passover to announce the coming of the Messiah. The Shema and its Blessings Michael Maher The liturgical unit known as ‘The Shema and its Blessings’ is composed of three passages from the Pentateuch (Deut.
6: 4-9; 11: 13-21; Num. 15: 37-41) which are surrounded by a number of blessings. In the Hebrew text the opening word of the first of these scripture passages is Shema, which means ‘Hear, [0 Israel],’ and it is this word that has given its name to the whole liturgical formula. The command – which is also contained in the first reading – that the Israelites should keep these words in mind when they lie down and when they rise (Deut.
6: 7) is the basis for the custom of reciting the Shema in the morning and in the evening. In the morning the scripture texts are preceded by two blessings and followed by one, and in the evening they are preceded by two blessings and followed by two. The chart above illustrates this layout. Morning Blessings Theme of Blessings Evening Blessings (1) Creator of Light CREATION – LIGHT (1) Who brings Evening (2) With abounding love REVELATION (2) With everlasting love THE SHEMA Deut.
6: 4-9; 11: 13-21; Num. 15: 37-41 3) Redemption: a blessing in three parts proclaims God’s redemptive acts in the past and his continued saving presence. REDEMPTION 3) Redemption: one blessing celebrating the saving event of the Exodus. (4) Night prayer: ‘Cause us, O Lord our God, to lie down in peace, and raise us up, O our King unto life… .’ ORIGIN OF THE SHEMA According to the Mishnah every day in the Temple (therefore before 70 CE) the priests recited a blessing, the Ten Commandments, the Shema, and they concluded with another blessing. However, since we do not have the wording of this Temple ritual we do not know how closely or otherwise it corresponds to the later synagogue practice.
What we do know is that by the time the Mishnah was edited (c. 200 CE) the custom of reciting the Shema twice a day was well established, and that it consisted of the three scripture texts and the blessings referred to above. A PROFESSION OF FAITH The Shema is not so much a prayer as a profession of faith, and Jewish tradition does not use the phrase ‘praying the Shema,’ but rather ‘reading the Shema.’ The first biblical text in the Shema (Deut. 6: 4-9) is a declaration of Israel’s monotheistic faith and a call to total allegiance to the one God. The second text (Deut.
11: 13-21) contains the promise of a reward for the fulfillment of God’s laws and punishment for their transgression, and it continues with a command to keep the revealed laws always in mind. The third reading (Num. 15: 37-41) treats of the wearing of ritual fringes, or tassels, which remind the wearer of the commandments and of one’s duty to overcome the evil inclinations of the heart. The first of the blessings that precede the biblical texts in the Morning Prayer addresses God as ‘King of the universe,’ and it declares that the ministering spirits, the angels, ‘take upon themselves the yoke of the kingdom of heaven,’ that is, they recognize God as Lord and they obey his will. Jewish tradition states that the person who recites the Shema also proclaims the oneness of God, acknowledges his kingship and takes it upon himself or herself to observe the commandments (see Deut. 6: 4-6).
Consequently the recitation of the Shema is frequently referred to as ‘the acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.’ The first blessing also refers to God as the One ‘who forms light and darkness,’ ‘who prepared and formed the rays of the sun,’ ‘who renews creation every day,’ and ‘who makes the great lights,’ namely, the sun, the moon and the stars (see Gen. 1: 16).
It is obvious that these ideas are very appropriate in a morning prayer. The theme of the second blessing is revelation and the gift of the Law to Israel.
The blessing that follows the biblical text in the morning proclaims God to be the Redeemer who rescued the ancestors from Egypt, and who continues to answer the people’s prayers when they cry out for help. The two blessings that precede the biblical texts in the Evening Prayer and the first one that follows them are similar in content to the corresponding morning blessings. The second blessing that follows the biblical texts in the evening is a prayer for peaceful rest and for safety from all harm during the night. RECITING THE SHEMA In addition to reciting the Shema in the Morning and Evening Prayer pious Jews recite it again before going to bed. One should always give full attention to its recitation, and people often place the right hand over the eyes while reciting the first verse in order to help concentration.
Women are not obliged to recite the Shema, but it is customary for them to do so. It need not be recited in Hebrew, but may be recited in any language. This profession of faith was recited by Jewish martyrs as they faced death, and even today it is often recited by Jews on their deathbed. The Shema is to be recited with reverence.
Pike Both 2, 18 warns that one should ‘be careful in reading the Shema and in prayer.’ . ‘If one was reciting whilst walking [he should] stop in order to accept the kingdom of heaven standing. And what part of the Shema is termed ‘the Kingdom of Heaven’? [The words], The Lord our God, the Lord is one (Deut R. 2, 31 [p. 60]).
After the ‘Amida h the Shema is the second basic component of Jewish prayer (Levine, The Ancient Synagogue 520 ff.
) The Nash Papyrus (c. 150 BCE; one sheet, from Egypt) contains the Decalogue and the Shema with a prayer in between. Josephus seems to refer to the Shema. (Ant.
4, 8, 13 [212-213 ] refers to prayer morning and evening to commemorate the liberation from Egypt; the third scripture reading in the Shema. The liberation from Egypt is mentioned in the third scripture reading of the Shema (Cortes, Los Discursis de Adios 339 f, photo with Shema material. ‘There can be no doubt that Josephus means by this the custom of reciting the Shema’ [Shure r, 2, 455, n. 153]).
According to Deut R. 2, 31 (p. 60) Israel received the Shema at Sinai when Moses said ‘Hear, O Israel… I am the Lord your God’ (Deut. 5: 1, 6) ‘ and the people said ‘The Lord our God, the Lord is one’ (Deut. 6: 4), and Moses said ‘Blessed be the name of his glorious kingdom for ever and ever.’ In Pesah.
56 a it is Jacob who said this; also Gen. R. 98, 3 The Synagogue Michael Maher We do not know when or where the synagogue came into being. Before its destruction in 70 CE the Temple in Jerusalem was the most important institution of Jewish religious life and the synagogue played a secondary role.
After the destruction of the Temple the synagogue acquired great importance and became the centre of the social and religious life of every Jewish community. ‘Synagogue’ is a Greek word, the basic meaning of which is ‘assembly,’ and it is used a few times in the New Testament with this meaning (e. g. Acts 13:.