28. What are some of the items that Jewish people use as a part of their religion?
On the doorposts of traditional Jewish homes, you will find a small case like the one pictured. This case is commonly known as a mezuzah (Heb: doorpost), because it is placed upon the doorposts of the house. The mezuzah is not, as some suppose, a good-luck charm, nor does it have any connection with the lamb’s blood placed on the doorposts in Egypt, when God miraculously delivered them from slavery. Rather, it is a constant reminder of God’s presence and God’s commandments.
The commandment to place mezuzot on the doorposts of houses of Jewish people is derived from Deut. 6:4-9, a passage commonly known as the Shema (Hear, from the first word of the passage).
Deut. 6:4-9 – “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. “And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. “And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. “And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
In this passage, God commands them to keep His words constantly in their minds and in their hearts, by writing them on the doorposts of their house. The words of the Shema are written on a tiny scroll of parchment, along with the words of a companion passage, Deut. 11:13. On the back of the scroll, a name of God is written. The scroll is then rolled up and placed in the case, so that the first letter of the Name (the letter Shin) is visible (or, more commonly, the letter Shin is written on the outside of the case).
The scroll must be handwritten in a special style of writing and must be placed in the case to fulfill the commandment. The case and scroll are then nailed or affixed to the right side doorpost on an angle, with a small ceremony called Chanukkat Ha-Bayit (dedication of the house – yes, this is the same word as Chanukkah, the holiday celebrating the rededication of the Temple after the Maccabean revolt). A brief blessing is recited.
Why is the mezuzah affixed at an angle? The rabbis could not decide whether it should be placed horizontally or vertically, so they compromised!
Every time you pass through a door with a mezuzah on it, you are supposed to touch the mezuzah and then kiss the fingers that touched it, expressing love and respect for God and his commandments and reminding yourself of the commandments contained within them. Usually it is those who are more religious who do this. It is proper to remove a mezuzah when you move. If you leave it in place, the subsequent owner may treat it with disrespect, and this would be a grave sin.
The Shema also commands them to bind the words to their hands and between their eyes. See Deuteronomy 6:4-9 just previously quoted.
They do this by laying tefillin, that is, by binding to their arms and foreheads a leather pouch containing scrolls of Torah passages. The word “tefillin” is usually translated “phylacteries.” The word “tefillin” is etymologically related to the word “tefilah” (prayer) and the root Pe-Lamed-Lamed (judgment).
Like the mezuzah, tefillin are meant to remind them of God’s commandments. At weekday morning services, one case is tied to the arm, with the scrolls at the biceps and leather straps extending down the arm to the hand, then another case is tied to the head, with the case on the forehead and the straps hanging down over the shoulders. Appropriate blessings are recited during this process. The tefillin are removed at the conclusion of the morning services.
Tzitzit and Tallit
The Torah also commands them to wear tzitzit (fringes) at the corners of our garments as a reminder of the commandments, Numbers 15:37-41.
Num. 15:37-41 – The Lord also spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. “And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, in order that you may remember to do all My commandments, and be holy to your God. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the Lord your God.”
This commandment only applies to four-cornered garments, which were common in biblical times but are not common anymore. Observant Jewish men commonly wear a special four-cornered garment, similar to a poncho, called a tallit katan, so that they will have the opportunity to fulfill this important commandment. The tallit katan is worn under the shirt, with the tzitzit hanging out so they can be seen. A four-cornered prayer shawl called a tallit (pictured) is worn by adult men during morning services, along with the tefillin. There is a complex procedure for tying the knots of the tzitzit, filled with religious and numerological significance.
One of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith is the menorah, a seven-branched candelabra used in the Temple. The kohanim (the Priests) lit the menorah in the Sanctuary every evening and cleaned it out every morning, replacing the wicks and putting fresh olive oil into the cups. The picture is based on instructions for construction of the menorah found in Ex. 25:31-40.
“Then you shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand and its base and its shaft are to be made of hammered work; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. “And six branches shall go out from its sides; three branches of the lampstand from its one side, and three branches of the lampstand from its other side. “Three cups shall be shaped like almond blossoms in the one branch, a bulb and a flower, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms in the other branch, a bulb and a flower– so for six branches going out from the lampstand; and in the lampstand four cups shaped like almond blossoms, its bulbs and its flowers. “And a bulb shall be under the first pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the second pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the third pair of branches coming out of it, for the six branches coming out of the lampstand. “Their bulbs and their branches shall be of one piece with it; all of it shall be one piece of hammered work of pure gold. “Then you shall make its lamps seven in number; and they shall mount its lamps so as to shed light on the space in front of it. “And its snuffers and their trays shall be of pure gold. “It shall be made from a talent of pure gold, with all these utensils. “And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.
It has been said that the menorah is a symbol of the nation of Israel and our mission to be “a light unto the nations.” (Isaiah 42:6). The sages emphasize that light is not a violent force; Israel is to accomplish its mission by setting an example, not by using force. This idea is highlighted in the vision in Zechariah 4:1-6. Zechariah sees a menorah, and God explains: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit.”
The lamp stand in today’s synagogues, called the ner tamid (lit. the continual lamp; usually translated as the eternal flame), symbolizes the menorah.
The nine-branched menorah used on Chanukkah is commonly patterned after this menorah. Chanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple after the Jewish people got it back from Antiochus Epiphanes.
The most commonly known and recognized piece of Jewish garb is actually the one with the least religious significance. The word yarmulke (usually pronounced yammica) is Yiddish. According to Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish, it comes from a Tartar word meaning skullcap. The Hebrew word for this head covering is kippah (pronounced key-pah).
It is an ancient practice for Jewish people to cover their heads during prayer. This probably derives from the fact that in Eastern cultures, it is a sign of respect to cover the head (the custom in Western cultures is the opposite: it is a sign of respect to remove one’s hat). Thus, by covering the head during prayer, one showed respect for God. In addition, in ancient Rome, servants were required to cover their heads while free men did not; thus, Jewish people covered their heads to show that they were servants of God. Whatever the reason given, however, covering the head has always been regarded more as a custom rather than a commandment.
Magen David Or Star Of David
The Magen David (shield of David, or as it is more commonly known, the Star of David) is the symbol most commonly associated with Judaism today, but it is actually a relatively new Jewish symbol. It is supposed to represent the shape of King David’s shield (or perhaps the emblem on it), but there is really no support for that claim in any early rabbinic literature. In fact, the symbol is so rare in early Jewish literature and artwork that art dealers suspect forgery if they find the symbol in early works.
Scholars such as Franz Rosenzweig have attributed deep theological significance to the symbol. For example, some note that the top triangle strives upward, toward God, while the lower triangle strives downward, toward the real world. Some note that the intertwining makes the triangles inseparable, like the Jewish people. Some say that the three sides represent the three types of Jews: Kohanim, Levites and Israel. While these theories are theologically interesting, they have little basis in historical fact.
The symbol of intertwined equilateral triangles is a common one in the Middle East and North Africa, and is thought to bring good luck. It appears occasionally in early Jewish artwork, but never as an exclusively Jewish symbol. The nearest thing to an “official” Jewish symbol at the time was the menorah.
In the middle ages, Jews often were required to wear badges to identify themselves as Jews, much as they were in Nazi Germany, but these Jewish badges were not always the familiar Magen David. For example, a fifteenth century painting by Nuno Goncalves features a rabbi wearing a six-pointed badge that looks more or less like an asterisk.
In the 17th century, it became a popular practice to put Magen Davids on the outside of synagogues, to identify them as Jewish houses of worship in much the same way that a cross identified a Christian house of worship; however, I have never seen any explanation of why this symbol was chosen, rather than some other symbol.
The Magen David gained popularity as a symbol of Judaism when it was adopted as the emblem of the Zionist movement in 1897, but the symbol continued to be controversial for many years afterward. When the modern state of Israel was founded, there was much debate over whether this symbol should be used on the flag.
Today, the Magen David is a universally recognized symbol of Jewry. It appears on the flag of the state of Israel, and the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross is known as the Red Magen David.
This symbol, commonly seen on necklaces and other jewelry and ornaments, is simply the Hebrew word Chai (living), with the two Hebrew letters Chet and Yod attached to each other. Some say it refers to the Living God. Judaism as a religion is very focused on life, and the word chai has great significance. The typical Jewish toast is l’chayim (to life). Gifts to charity are routinely given in multiples of 18 (the numeric value of the word Chai).
The hamesh hand or hamsa hand is a popular motif in Jewish jewelry. Go into any Jewish gift shop and you will find necklaces and bracelets bearing this inverted hand with thumb and pinky pointing outward. The design commonly has an eye in the center of the hand or various Jewish letters in the middle.
There is nothing exclusively Jewish about the hamesh hand. Arab cultures often refer to it as the Hand of Fatima, which represents the Hand of G-d. Similar designs are common in many cultures. Why has it become such a popular symbol among Jews? I haven’t been able to find an adequate explanation anywhere. My best guess: in many cultures, this hand pattern represents a protection against the evil eye, and the evil eye has historically been a popular superstition among Jews.
The portion of the synagogue where prayer services are performed is commonly called the sanctuary. Synagogues in the United States are generally designed so that the front of the sanctuary is on the side towards Jerusalem, which is the direction that we are supposed to face when reciting certain prayers.
Probably the most important feature of the sanctuary is the Ark. The name “Ark” is an acrostic of the Hebrew words “Aron Kodesh,” which means “holy cabinet.” The word has no relation to Noah’s Ark, which is the word “teyvat” in Hebrew. The Ark is a cabinet or recession in the wall, which holds the Torah scrolls. The Ark is generally placed in the front of the room; that is, on the side towards Jerusalem. The Ark has doors as well as an inner curtain called a parokhet. This curtain is in imitation of the curtain in the Sanctuary in The Temple, and is named for it. During certain prayers, the doors and/or curtain of the Ark may be opened or closed. Opening or closing the doors or curtain is performed by a member of the congregation, and is considered an honor.