Introduction to Torah 101

Welcome!

Welcome to Torah 101!  Torah 101 is Mechon Mamre’s online encyclopedia of Torah observance, covering Jewish beliefs, people, places, things, language, scripture, holidays, practices, and customs.  Our goal is to make freely available a wide variety of basic general information about Torah observance, written from the perspective of Jews who live by Mishneh Torah, in plain English.

The inspiration for this part of Mechon Mamre’s site is, of course, Tracey Rich’s well-known Judaism 101 site, as it was back in 1998.  There she so very graciously said:  "Everything in this web site is free to use or distribute in any way, with two conditions:  1) if you use text, graphics or sound from this site, please credit this site; 2) do not redistribute this information for profit."  So here is our free encyclopedia based on it.

You may be wondering:  well, what is the difference between Torah and Judaism.

  • Torah is what people are supposed to do (Jews according to the covenant with Israel and Gentiles according to the covenant with Noah)
  • On the other hand, Judaism is what Jews who see themselves as observant actually do in the name of God (or Jewish culture in the liberal movements), which can differ from what they ought to do, and in fact often does (especially in the liberal movements, but not only in them)

Here is a simple example showing the difference:

  • According to Torah, the first thing a Jew is supposed to do immediately when he wakes up in the morning is to say "elohay, hannashamah shennattatah bi Tehorah. . ." (God [literally, God-of-mine], the soul that Thou hast put within me is pure . . .); he is to do this on his bed, even before opening his eyes.
  • According to even Orthodox Judaism, on the other hand, he actually says "modeh ani lefanekhah . . ." (I give thanks before Thee . . .) without mentioning God at all, let alone saying one of His holy names the first thing on waking.  What is supposed to be said immediately on waking is delayed until after going to the bathroom and doing a ritual hand washing.

The excuse for Judaism’s new custom in disregard of Jewish law is a supposed prohibition to mention God’s names before a ritual hand washing, which contradicts not only our ancient holy texts but also an express provision in the Shulchan `Arukh Code (o"H 4,23), which is often said to be the guide for Orthodox Judaism today.  In short, instead of mentioning God first as required, one mentions oneself first(perhaps as an unintentional expression of the very modern non-Torah thought that the individual person, the "ego", is more important than God).

The differences between Judaism and Torah are the expression of customs that many Jews think override the Torah’s requirements, whether the customs are more strict, or less strict, or simply different.  Jews of the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and other movements differ only in the specific content of their customary refusals to live by the Torah’s requirements.  The basic attitude to Torah in them is the same:  We need not observe Torah as it is (as given by God in writing and orally, as written down over a thousand years ago), but as we are accustomed; some go so far as to say that the customs of the living Jewish community are the only Torah, regardless of what is written in the ancient holy books.  We at Mechon Mamre disagree, saying that the Torah itself must be observed; and there is no other comprehensive summary of the Torah as it really is other than Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah (or "the Complete Restatement of the Oral Law", in our translation), which is why we put Mishneh Torah at the center of this site.

At this point, the differences between our site and the Judaism 101 site are not as great as they should be, because we are "under construction"; but they will grow with time.  It is important to emphasize, however, that the difference in practical daily life between Torah according to the Mishneh Torah Code and Orthodox Judaism is fairly small, though significant for one who wants to be exact in doing God’s will.  You may find it informative to compare the approaches in the two versions of this encyclopedia, and see which approach seems best for you.

The material in this "site within a site" (as just one branch of the more general site of Mechon Mamre), as opposed to the original Judaism 101 site, is copyrighted and may be used only with the written permission of Mechon Mamre.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  If you print from these pages for reading away from your computer, please remember that even where no names of God appear, whatever discusses matters of Torah is forbidden for a Jew to treat with disrespect or to throw away.  So either save what you print, or turn it over for burial as required for all holy writings that are no longer needed (or even better, pass it on to a friend to read).

About the Authors

The original Judaism 101 site was created, written, and maintained by Tracey Rich, who does not claim to be a rabbi or an expert on Judaism, but just a traditional observant Jew who has put in a lot of research.  But our impression is that most of what she says would be acceptable to most of the Orthodox Ashkenazic rabbis in the USA.

We, on the other hand, are experts in Jewish Law in general and Mishneh Torah in particular, as the editors of the most exact version of the Mishneh Torah Code ever made generally available to the Torah-learning public (all of which is available online here in Hebrew, and the start of which is available online here in English).

Where to Start

There are over sixty web pages in this English language Torah 101 site within a site (not to mention over 6000 Hebrew web pages totaling over 80 Megabytes in other parts of the whole site, in case you read Hebrew), comprising many pages of text (about 700 Kilobytes of HTML here), a virtual book of basic information on Torah.  That is a lot of information!  Where should you start?  That depends on what you are looking for:

Just browsing?
If you are not sure what you are looking for, and you just want to see what is available on this site, look through the Table of Contents(or see our home page for a more general list).
Looking for something specific?
If you are looking for something specific, you might want to search this site with our Freefind.com search service (there is a search box near the top of the Table of Contents, too).  Or you might (especially if browsing off line) want to go to our Glossary of Jewish Terminology and search for specific words using your browser’s Find command (usually located on the Edit menu).  The glossary gives quick definitions of Jewish terms and concepts, and has links to the pages where these concepts are discussed in depth.
Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced?
This site within a site was originally created as an introduction to Torah for people with little or no knowledge.  But like the Passoverseder, it now includes information for the wise son, who wants to know the details; the simple son, who asks simple questions; and the son who does not know what to ask (we hope that the wicked son will pay particular attention to what is written here, and take it to heart, as well).  Pages in the Table of Contents are labeled appropriately:
Basic:  Things that everyone should know, that require no prior knowledge
Intermediate:  Beyond the basics
Advanced:  More sophisticated concepts

 

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What Do Jews Believe?

Level:  Basic

This is a far more difficult question than you might expect.  Torah has no dogma, no formal set of beliefs that one must hold to be a Jew.  In Torah, actions are far more important than beliefs, although there is certainly a place for belief within Torah.

The closest that anyone has ever come to creating a widely-accepted list of Jewish beliefs is Maimonides’ thirteen principles of faith.  Maimonides’ thirteen principles of faith, which he thought were the minimum requirements of Jewish belief, are:

  1. God exists
  2. God is one and unique
  3. God is incorporeal
  4. God is eternal
  5. Prayer is to be directed to God alone and to no other
  6. The words of the prophets are true
  7. Moses’ prophecy is better than any other prophet’s
  8. The Written Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) and Oral Torah (teachings all recorded in the Talmud and other ancient writings, all summarized in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah) were given to Moses
  9. There will be no other Torah
  10. God knows the thoughts and deeds of men
  11. God will reward the good and punish the wicked
  12. The Mashiach will come
  13. The dead will be resurrected

As you can see, these are very basic and general principles.  Yet as basic as these principles are, the necessity of believing each one of these has been disputed at one time or another, and the liberal movements of Judaism dispute many of these principles.

Unlike many religions, Torah does not focus much on abstract cosmological concepts.  Although Jews have certainly considered the nature of God, man, the universe, life, and the afterlife at great length, there is no mandated, official, definitive belief on these subjects, outside of very general concepts such as the thirteen listed above.  There is substantial room for personal opinion on all of these matters, because as said before, Torah is more concerned about actions than beliefs.

Torah focuses on relationships:

  • the relationship between God and mankind (both as individuals and as groups)
  • between human beings (whether Jews, or Gentiles, or both)
  • between God and the Jewish nation
  • between the Jewish nation and the Land of Israel

Our scriptures tell the story of the development of these relationships, from the time of creation

  • through the creation of the relationship between God and Noah (relevant even today to Gentiles in the Seven Laws of Noah)
  • through the creation of the relationship between God and Abraham (relevant today mostly to Jews, but also to Arabs who circumcise)
  • to the creation of the special relationship between God and the Jewish people in the full set of 613 commandments of the Torah (binding on Jews, but also recommended to Gentiles who wish to gain extra rewards from God)

The scriptures also specify the mutual obligations created by these relationships, although various movements of Judaism disagree about the nature of these obligations.  Some say they are absolute, unchanging laws from God (Orthodox); some say they are laws from God that change and evolve over time (Conservative); some say that they are guidelines that you can choose whether or not to follow (Reform, Reconstructionist).  For more on these distinctions, see Movements of Judaism.

Maimonides’ position in Mishneh Torah is that while the core of the Law is fixed for all time, there is room for rabbinical legislation and interpretation.  This is rather like seeing the God-given Written Law and Oral Law as a constitutional framework for legislation; in this case, the constitution is fixed for all time without amendments, unlike a man-made constitution, but its understanding and application are not inflexible, when a Supreme Rabbinical Court (or Sanhedrin) exists.  Only this position fully fits the evidence in the ancient Oral-Law literature, in our opinion.  Unfortunately, we have not had a Sanhedrin for about 1500 years, so that as a practical matter, the Law is not given to change today.

So, what are these actions that Torah is so concerned about?  These actions include the 613 commandments given by God in the Written Torah as well as laws instituted by the rabbis.  These actions are discussed in some depth on the page regarding Halakhah (Jewish Law) and the pages following it.

 

The Nature of God

Level:  Intermediate

The nature of God is one of the few areas of abstract Jewish belief where there are a number of clear-cut ideas about which there is little dispute or disagreement.

God Exists

The fact of God’s existence is accepted almost without question.  Proof is not needed, and is rarely offered.  The Torah begins by stating "In the beginning, God created . . .".  It does not tell who God is or how He was created.

In general, Judaism views the existence of God as a necessary prerequisite for the existence of the universe.  The existence of the universe is sufficient proof of the existence of God.

God is One

One of the primary expressions of Jewish faith, recited twice daily in prayer, is the Shema, which begins "Hear, Israel:  the LORD is our God, the LORD is one".  This simple statement encompasses several different ideas:

  • There is only one God.
  • No other being participated in the work of creation.
  • God is a unity.  He is a single, whole, complete indivisible entity.  He cannot be divided into parts or described by attributes.
  • Any attempt to ascribe attributes to God is merely man’s imperfect attempt to understand the infinite.
  • God is the only being to whom we should offer praise.  The Shema can also be translated as "the LORD is our God, the LORD alone", meaning that no other is our God, and we should not pray to any other.
God is the Creator of Everything

Everything in the universe was created by God, and only by God.  Judaism completely rejects the dualistic notion that evil was created by Satan or some other deity.  All comes from God.  As Isaiah said, "I am the LORD, and there is none else.  I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil.  I am the LORD, that does all these things" (Isaiah 45,6-7).

God is Incorporeal

Although many places in scripture and Talmud speak of various parts of God’s body (the Hand of God, God’s wings, etc.) or speak of God in anthropomorphic terms (God walking in the garden of Eden, God laying tefillin, etc.), Judaism firmly maintains that God has no body.  Any reference to God’s body is simply a figure of speech, a means of making God’s actions more comprehensible to beings living in a material world.  Much of Maimonides‘ Guide for the Perplexed is devoted to explaining each of these anthropomorphic references and proving that they should be understood figuratively.

We are forbidden to represent God in a physical form.  That is considered idolatry.  The sin of the Golden Calf incident was not that the people chose another deity, but that they tried to represent God in a physical form.

God is Neither Male nor Female

This followed directly from the idea that God has no physical form.  God has, of course, no body; therefore, the very idea that God is male or female is patently absurd.  We refer to God using masculine terms simply for convenience’s sake, because Hebrew has no neutral gender; God is no more male than a table is.

Although we usually speak of God in masculine terms, there are times when we refer to God using feminine terms.  The Shechinah, the manifestation of God’s presence that fills the universe, is conceived of in feminine terms, and the word Shechinah is a feminine word.

God is Omnipresent

God is in all places at all times.  He fills the universe and exceeds its scope.  He is always near for us to call upon in need, and He sees all that we do.  Closely tied in with this idea is the idea that God is universal.  He is not just the God of the Jews; He is the God of all nations.

God is Omnipotent

God can do anything.  It is said that the only thing that is beyond His power is the fear of Him; that is, we have free will, and He cannot compel us to do His will.  This belief in God’s omnipotence has been sorely tested during the many persecutions of Jews, but we have always maintained that God has a reason for allowing these things, even if we in our limited perception and understanding cannot see the reason.

God is Omniscient

God knows all things, past, present, and future.  He knows our thoughts.

God is Eternal

God transcends time.  He has no beginning and no end.  He will always be there to fulfill his promises.  When Moses asked for God’s name, He replied, "Ehyeh asher ehyeh".  That phrase is generally translated as, "I am that I am", but the word "ehyeh" can be present or future tense, meaning "I am what I will be" or "I will be what I will be".  The ambiguity of the phrase is often interpreted as a reference to God’s eternal nature.

God is Both Just and Merciful

We have often heard Christians speak of Judaism as the religion of the strict Law, which no human being is good enough to fulfill (hence the need for the so-called sacrifice of Jesus).  This is a gross mischaracterization of Jewish belief.  Judaism has always maintained that God’s justice is tempered by mercy, the two qualities perfectly balanced.  Of the two Names of God most commonly used in scripture, one refers to his quality of justice and the other to his quality of mercy.  The two names were used together in the story of Creation, showing that the world was created with both justice and mercy.

God is Holy and Perfect

One of the most common names applied to God in the post-Biblical period is "Ha-Kadosh, Barukh Hu", The Holy One, Blessed be He.

God is our Father

Christianity maintains that God has one son; Judaism maintains that God has billions of sons and daughters.  We are all God’s children.  The Talmud teaches that there are three participants in the formation of every human being:  the mother and father, who provide the physical form, and God, who provides the soul, the personality, and the intelligence.  It is said that one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity is the knowledge that we are His children and created in His image.

 

Human Nature

Level:  Advanced

On the question of human nature, as in most areas of abstract belief in Judaism, there is a lot of room for personal opinion.  There is no dogma on the subject, no required belief about the nature of humanity.  There are a variety of contrary opinions expressed on the subject, and one is no less a Jew (and no less a good Jew) for disagreeing with any or all of these opinions.  Nevertheless, there are certain ideas that seem to reflect the majority opinion in Jewish thought that are worth discussing.

In the Image of God

The Bible states that humanity was created in the image of God, but what does it mean to be created in the image of God?

Clearly, we are not created in the physical image of God, because Judaism steadfastly maintains that God is incorporeal and has no physical appearance.  Maimonides points out that the Hebrew words translated as "image" and "likeness" in Genesis 1,27 do not refer to the physical form of a thing.  The word for "image" in Genesis 1,27 is "tzelem", which refers to the nature or essence of a thing, as in Psalms 73,20, "you will despise their image (tzel’mam)".  You despise a person’s nature and not a person’s physical appearance.  The word for physical form, Maimonides explains, is "to’ar", as in Genesis 39,6, "and Joseph was beautiful of form (to’ar) and fair to look upon".  Similarly, the word used for "likeness" is "demut", which is used to indicate a simile, not identity of form.  For example, "He is like (dimyono) a lion" in Psalms 17,12 refers not to similar appearance, but to similar nature.

What is it in our nature that is God-like?  Rashi explains that we are like God in that we have the ability to understand and discern. Maimonides elaborates that by using our intellect, we are able to perceive things without the use of our physical senses, an ability that makes us like God, who perceives without having physical senses.

The Dual Nature

In Genesis 2,7, the Bible states that God formed (vayyitzer) man.  The spelling of this word is unusual:  it uses two consecutive Yods instead of the one you would expect.  The rabbis inferred that these Yods stand for the word "yetzer", which means impulse, and the existence of two Yods here indicates that humanity was formed with two impulses:  a good impulse (the yetzer tov) and an evil impulse (the yetzer ra).

The yetzer tov is the moral conscience, the inner voice that reminds you of God’s law when you consider doing something that is forbidden.  According to some views, it does not enter a person until his 13th birthday, when he becomes responsible for following the commandments.  See Bar Mitzvah.

The yetzer ra is more difficult to define, because there are many different ideas about it.  It is not a desire to do evil in the way we normally think of it in Western society:  a desire to cause senseless harm.  Rather, it is usually conceived as the selfish nature, the desire to satisfy personal needs (food, shelter, sex, etc.) without regard for the moral consequences of fulfilling those desires.

The yetzer ra is not a bad thing.  It was created by God, and all things created by God are good.  The Talmud notes that without the yetzer ra (the desire to satisfy personal needs), man would not build a house, marry a wife, beget children, or conduct business affairs.  But the yetzer ra can lead to wrongdoing when it is not controlled by the yetzer tov.  There is nothing inherently wrong with hunger, but it can lead you to steal food.  There is nothing inherently wrong with sexual desire, but it can lead you to commit rape, adultery, incest, or other sexual perversion.

The yetzer ra is generally seen as something internal to a person, not as an external force acting on a person.  The idea that "the devil made me do it" is not in line with the majority of thought in Judaism.  Although it has been said that Satan and the yetzer ra are one and the same, this is more often understood as meaning that Satan is merely a personification of our own selfish desires, rather than that our selfish desires are caused by some external force.

People have the ability to choose which impulse to follow:  the yetzer tov or the yetzer ra.  That is the heart of the Jewish understanding of free will.  The Talmud notes that all people are descended from Adam, so no one can blame his own wickedness on his ancestry.  On the contrary, we all have the ability to make our own choices, and we will all be held responsible for the choices we make.

 

Mashiach:  The Messiah

Level:  Intermediate

I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the mashiach, and though he may tarry, still I await him every day.
–a popular paraphrase of Principle 12 of Maimonides13 Principles of Faith

The Messianic Idea in Torah

Belief in the eventual coming of the mashiach is a basic and fundamental part of traditional Judaism.  It is part of Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith, the minimum requirements of Jewish belief, commonly recited daily as brought above.  In the Shemoneh Esrei prayer, recited three times daily, we pray for all of the elements of the coming of the mashiach:  ingathering of the exiles, restoration of the Torah-based system of justice, an end to the apostates and heretics, reward for the righteous, rebuilding of Jerusalem, restoration of the kingdom of the descendants of King David, and restoration of Temple service.

Many modern scholars suggest that the messianic concept was introduced far after the beginning of the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, during the age of the prophets.  They note that the messianic concept is not clearly mentioned anywhere in the Written Torah (the first five books of the Bible).

However, traditional Judaism maintains that the messianic idea has always been a part of the Torah.  The mashiach is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, because the Torah was written in terms that all the people could then understand, and the abstract concept of a distant future reward was then beyond the comprehension of many of the people.  However, the Torah contains several references to "the Latter Days" (acharit ha-yamim), which is considered the time of the mashiach; thus, the concept of mashiach was known in the most ancient times.

The term "mashiach" literally means the anointed one, and refers to the ancient practice of anointing kings with oil when they took the throne.  The mashiach is the one who will be anointed as king in the Latter Days.  He will be the very real king of a very real Torah government in the Land of Israel:  not some "spiritual" or "symbolic" king in Israel, as some have mistakenly thought (especially Christians), and certainly not some gifted Jewish spiritual leader outside the Land of Israel, as others have mistakenly thought (including thousands of Jews in our generation as well as the followers of earlier false Jewish "mashiachs" in generations past).  It should be mentioned that while it is not forbidden to foolishly believe that one is the mashiach despite that he is not, it is certainly not the sign of a good grasp of the Torah to be mislead as to his nature and role, described more fully below.

The word "mashiach" does not mean "savior".  The notion of an innocent, semi-divine (let alone fully divine) human being who will sacrifice himself to save us from the consequences of our own sins is a purely Christian concept that has no basis in normal Jewish thought, though it seems to have been invented or adopted by Jewish apostates in the early Church.  Unfortunately, this Christian concept has become so deeply ingrained in the English word "messiah" that this English word should probably no longer be used to refer to the Jewish concept.  Thus, we prefer to use the less familiar word "mashiach" throughout this page.

The Mashiach

The mashiach will be a great political leader descended by a pure male line from King David (Jeremiah 23,5).  The mashiach is often referred to as "mashiach ben David" (The Mashiach, son of David).  He will be well-versed in Jewish law, and observant of its commandments (Isaiah 11,2-5).  He will be a charismatic leader, inspiring others to follow his example.  He will be a great military figure who will win battles for Israel, freeing the Jews of foreign domination and establishing a Torah-based kingdom in Israel.  He will be a great judge, who makes righteous decisions (Jeremiah 33,15).  But above all, he will be a fully normal human being, not a god, demi-god, or other supernatural being.

It has been said that in every generation, a person is born with the potential to be the mashiach.  If the time is right for the messianic age within that person’s lifetime, then that person will be the mashiach.  But if that person dies before he completes the mission of the mashiach, then that person is not the mashiach; thus, even if one could say that some historial Jewish figure was worthy of being the mashiach, since he did not reestablish a Torah kingdom in Israel, he could not possibly have been the real mashiach we wait for.

When Will the Mashiach Come?

There is a wide variety of opinions on the subject of when the mashiach will come.  Some of the Jews’ greatest minds have cursed those who try to predict the time of the mashiach’s coming, because errors in such predictions could cause people to lose faith in the messianic idea or in the Torah itself.  This actually happened in the 17th century, when Shabbtai Tzvi claimed to be the mashiach; when Tzvi converted to Islam under threat of death, many Jews converted with him.  Nevertheless, this "prohibition" has not stopped anybody from speculating about the time when the mashiach will come (including some who themselves spoke harshly of those who engaged in such vain efforts!).

Although some scholars believed that God has set aside a specific date for the coming of the mashiach, most authorities suggest that the conduct of mankind will determine the time of the mashiach’s coming.  In general, it is believed that the mashiach will come in a time when he is most needed (because the world is so evil), or in a time when he is most deserved (because the world is so good).  For example, each of the following has been suggested as the time when the mashiach will come:

  • when all Israel repent a single day
  • when all Israel observe a single sabbath properly
  • when all Israel observe two sabbaths in a row properly
  • in a generation that is totally innocent, or totally guilty
  • in a generation that loses hope
  • in a generation where children are totally disrespectful towards their parents and elders (commonly thought to be "our generation", in every generation!)
What Will the Mashiach Do?

Before the time of the mashiach, there will be war and great suffering (Ezekiel 38,16).  Then the mashiach will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing all Jews outside Israel back to Israel, and restoring Jerusalem (Isaiah 11,11-12;Jeremiah 23,8; 30,3; Hosea 3,4-5).  He will establish a Torah government in Israel that will be the center of all world government, both for Jews and Gentiles (Isaiah 2,2-4; 11,10; 42,1).  He will rebuild the Temple and reestablish its worship (Jeremiah 33,18).  He will restore the religious court system of Israel, if it had not already been reestablished before him, and establish the Torah as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33,15).

The Messianic Age

The messianic age will be characterized by the peaceful co-existence of all people (Isaiah 2,4).  Hatred, intolerance, and war will cease to exist.  Some authorities suggest that the laws of nature will change, so that predatory beasts will no longer seek prey and agriculture will bring forth supernatural abundance (Isaiah 11,6-9); others like Maimonides, however, say that these statements are merely an allegory for peace and prosperity.  What is agreed on by all is a very optimistic picture of what real people can be like in this real world, the like of which has never been seen before.

All of the Jewish people will return from their exile among the nations to their home in Israel (Isaiah 11,11-12; Jeremiah 23,8; 30,3; Hosea 3,4-5), and the law of the Jubilee as well as the rest of the special agricultural laws in the Torah will be reinstated.

In the messianic age, the whole world will recognize YHWH, the LORD God of Israel, as the only true God, and the Torah will be seen as the only true religion (Isaiah 2,3; 11,10; Micah 4,2-3; Zechariah 14,9).  There will be no more murder, robbery, competition, or jealousy.

What About Jesus?

Jews know that Jesus could not possibly have been the mashiach.  Assuming that he existed, and assuming that the Christian scriptures are accurate in describing him (both of which are debatable), he simply did not fulfill the mission of the mashiach as Jews have always understood it.  Jesus neither did any of the things described above, nor did he bring about the anticipated messianic age.

On the contrary, another Jew born about a century later came far closer to fulfilling the messianic ideal than Jesus did.  His name was Shimeon ben Kosiba, known as Bar Kochba (son of a star), and he was a charismatic, brilliant, and harsh military figure.  Among others,Rabbi Akiba, one of the greatest scholars in Jewish history, believed that Bar Kochba was the mashiach.  Bar Kochba fought a war against the Roman Empire, catching the Tenth Legion by surprise and retaking Jerusalem.  He resumed sacrifices at the site of the Temple and made plans to rebuild the Temple.  He established a provisional government and began to issue coins in its name.  This is what the Jewish people were looking for in a mashiach; Jesus clearly does not fit into this mold, of course.  Ultimately, however, the Roman Empire crushed his revolt and killed Bar Kochba.  After his death, all acknowledged that he was not the mashiach (as Jesus’ followers should have done with their pretender to be mashiach).

Throughout Jewish history, there have been many people who have claimed to be the mashiach, or whose followers have claimed that they were the mashiach:  Shimeon Bar Kochba, Shabbtai Tzvi, Jesus, and many others too numerous to name.  Leo Rosten reports some very entertaining accounts under the heading False Messiahs in his book, The Joys of Yiddish.  But all of these people died without fulfilling the mission of the mashiach; therefore, none of them was the mashiach.  Thus, the mashiach and the messianic age lie in our age or in a future age, not in the past.

In our generation, thousands of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s followers claim that their brilliant Rebbe was the mashiach.  But his more sensible students have now, after his death, expressed disappointment that it turned out that the Rebbe just did not fulfill the expectations described above in his lifetime, and admit that we are still waiting for the real mashiach to come.

May the Real Mashiach come soon!

 

Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism

Level:  Advanced

Mysticism in Judaism

When non-Jews ask about Judaism, they commonly ask questions like:  Do you believe in heaven and hell?  In angels or the devil?  What happens to the soul after death?  What is the nature of God and the universe?  The answers to questions like these define most religions; in fact, some people say that the purpose of religion is to answer these kinds of questions.  Yet from a Torah viewpoint, most of these cosmological issues are wide open to personal opinion.  The areas of Jewish thought that most extensively discuss these issues, Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism, were traditionally not even taught to people until the age of 40, when they had completed their education in Written Torah and Oral Torah (in other words, in Bible and practical Law).

Mysticism and mystical experiences have been a part of Judaism since the earliest days.  The Bible contains many stories of mystical experiences, from visitations by angels to prophetic dreams and visions.  The Talmud considers the existence of the soul and when it becomes attached to the body.  Jewish tradition tells that the souls of all Jews were in existence at the time of the Giving of the Torah and were present at the time and agreed to the Covenant.  There are many stories of places similar to the Gentiles’ heaven and hell.  The Talmud contains vague hints of a mystical school of thought that was taught only to the most advanced students and was not committed to writing.  There are several references in ancient sources to ma’aseh bereishit (the work of creation) and ma’aseh merkavah (the work of the chariot [of Ezekiel’s vision]), the two primary subjects of mystical thought at the time.

In the middle ages, many of these mystical teachings were committed to writing in books like the Zohar.  Many of these writings were asserted to be secret ancient writings or compilations of secret ancient writings, and some probably are.  It is important to remember, however, that such secret writings that are not the results of public debate in authorative rabbinical courts must never be understood (actually misunderstood) as contradicting the laws that were openly discussed and properly enacted.  All too many Jews as a practial matter have rejected the law and have prefered to practice their misunderstandings of Kabbalistic books or their rabbis’ misunderstandings of them.  This is simply inexcusable:  The proper subject for such writings is why we do what we do when we observe the Torah, not what we need to do to observe the Torah.

Like most subjects of Jewish belief, the area of mysticism is wide open to personal interpretation.  Some traditional Jews take mysticism very seriously.  Mysticism is an integral part of Chasidic Judaism, for example, and passages from kabbalistic sources are routinely included in traditional prayer books.  Other traditional Jews take mysticism with a grain of salt.  One prominent Orthodox Jew, when introducing a speaker on the subject of Jewish mysticism, said basically, "it’s nonsense, but it’s Jewish nonsense, and the study of anything Jewish, even nonsense, is worthwhile".  While we do not say that Kabbalah is nonsense, many things said in its name are clearly nonsense.

The mystical school of thought came to be known as Kabbalah, from the Hebrew root Qof-Bet-Lamed, meaning to receive, to accept.  The word is usually translated as "tradition".  In Hebrew, the word does not have any of the dark, sinister, evil connotations that it has developed in English.  For example, the English word "cabal" (a secret group of conspirators) is derived from the Hebrew word Kabbalah, but neither the Hebrew word nor the mystical doctrines have any evil implications to Jews.

Kabbalah:  The Misunderstood Doctrine

Kabbalah is one of the most grossly misunderstood parts of Judaism.  Some non-Jews (and even some Jews) describe Kabbalah as "the dark side of Judaism".  Many of these misunderstandings arose largely from distortions of the teachings of Kabbalah by non-Jewish mystics and occultists.  Kabbalah was popular among Christian intellectuals during the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods, who reinterpreted its doctrines to fit into their Christian dogma.  For example, one such source (the Kabbalah Denudata, commonly available in new age bookstores) states that the Ten Sefirot have something to do with the Christian Trinity because they are sometimes divided up into groups of three, despite that the Sefirot are divided up into many groups of varying numbers, that these groupings overlap, that the grouping he refers to is not comprised of a father, son, and spirit, but of a male, a female, and neutral, and so forth.  Others have wrenched kabbalistic symbolism out of context for use in tarot card readings and other forms of divination and magic that were never a part of the original Jewish teachings.

We do not mean to suggest that magic is not a part of Kabbalah.  The most hidden, secretive part of Kabbalah, commonly known as "practical Kabbalah", involves use of hidden knowledge to affect the world in ways that could be described as magic.  The Talmud and other sources ascribe supernatural activities to many great rabbis.  Some rabbis pronounced a name of God and ascended into heaven to consult with the God and the angels on issues of great public concern.  One scholar is said to have created an artificial man by reciting various names of God.  Much later stories tell of a rabbi who created a man out of clay and brought it to life by putting in its mouth a piece of paper with a name of God on it.  Some of these stories are no doubt untrue, at least as understood literally; but some are true.  However, this area of Kabbalah is known by very few, and practiced by even fewer.  One great rabbi has said that these practices should be totally avoided, except when the Temple stands; that seems very sound advice to us.

Ein Sof and the Ten Sefirot

To give you an idea of the nature of Kabbalah, we will briefly tell about one of the better known, fundamental concepts of kabbalistic thought:  the concept of God as Ein Sof and the Ten Sefirot.  This explanation is, at best, a gross oversimplification.

The true essence of God is so transcendent that it cannot be described, except with reference to what it is not.  This true essence of God is known in Kabbalah as "Ein Sof", which literally means without end, which encompasses the idea of His lack of boundaries in both time and space.  In this truest form, the Ein Sof is so transcendent that it cannot have any direct interaction with the universe.  The Ein Sof is said to interact with the created universe through ten emanations from this essence, known as the Ten Sefirot.

The Sefirot are not deities, as some think by taking this too literally.  They are God’s separate created mechanisms for dealing with the world, and they are in contact with the universe in a way that the Ein Sof is not.  The Sefirot connect with everything in the universe, including humanity.  We would say that the point of the Sefirot is to give an explanation of how God really is ultimately in control of the world, sees all, and rewards and punishes as He sees fit; but he does this by way of these mechanisms, not directly.  And do not make the mistake of worshiping them or praying to them or by way of them, as all too many have, as that is idolatry punishable by death, exclusion from the Jewish people, and exclusion from the World to Come.

Suggested Reading

Readings in this area should be undertaken with extreme caution.  There is entirely too much literature out there under the name "Kabbalah" that has little or nothing to do with the true Jewish teachings on this subject.  Any book on the subject of practical Kabbalah should be disregarded immediately; no legitimate source would ever make such teachings available to a faceless mass audience.

Unless you are an expert in both the whole of the Hebrew Bible and the whole of the Law as summarized in the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah (both in the original Hebrew, not in English translation), you should not even bother about learning Kabbalah.

If you are really serious about Kabbalah, once you have properly qualified yourself by learning Bible and the Law, you must get yourself a teacher that you can work with one-on-one, in person.  But be very careful about choosing a teacher, as some will teach you to worship idols in the name of our Holy Torah, as we have witnessed with our own eyes and heard with our own ears!  It is distasteful for us to mention this, but we would be irresponsible if we did not warn you.

 

Who is a Jew?

Level:  Basic

A Jew is any person whose mother was a Jew or any person who has gone through the formal process of conversion in full compliance with Jewish law.

It is important to note that being a Jew has nothing to do with what you believe or what you do.  A person born to non-Jewish parents who believes everything that Orthodox Jews believe and observes every law and custom of the Jews is still a non-Jew, even in the eyes of the most liberal movements of Judaism, and a person born to a Jewish mother who is an atheist and never practices the Jewish religion is still a Jew, even in the eyes of the ultra-Orthodox.  In this sense, being a Jew is more like a nationality than like other religions; it is like a citizenship.

Although all Jewish movements agree on these general principles, there are occasional disputes as to whether a particular individual is a Jew.  Most of these disputes fall into one of two categories.

First, traditional Judaism maintains that a person is a Jew if his mother is a Jew, regardless of who his father is.  The liberal movements, on the other hand, consider a person to be Jewish if either of his parents was Jewish.  Thus, the child of a Jewish father and a Christian mother is a Jew according to the Reform movement, but not according to the Orthodox movement.  The matter becomes even more complicated, because the status of that child’s children also comes into question.

Second, the more traditional movements do not always acknowledge the validity of conversions by the more liberal movements.  The more modern movements do not always follow the procedures required by the more traditional movements, thereby invalidating the conversion.  In addition, Orthodoxy does not accept the authority of Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist rabbis to perform conversions, and the Conservative movement has debated whether to accept the authority of Reform rabbis.

About the Agudath Ha-Rabonim Statement

In March, 1997, the Agudath Ha-Rabonim issued a statement declaring that the Conservative and Reform movements are "outside of Torah and outside of Judaism".  This statement has been widely publicized and widely misunderstood, and requires some response.  Three points are particularly worth discussing:  1) the statement does not challenge the Jewish status of Reform and Conservative Jews; 2) the statement is not an official statement of a unified Orthodox opinion; 3) the statement was made with the intention of bringing people into Jewish belief, not with the intention of excluding them from it.

First of all, the Agudath Ha-Rabonim statement does not say that Reform and Conservative Jews are not Jews.  Their statement does not say anything about Jewish status.  As the discussion above explains, status as a Jew has nothing to do with what you believe; it is simply a matter of who your parents are.  Reform and Conservative Jews are Jews, as they have always been, and even the Agudath Ha-Rabonim would agree on that point.  The debate over who is a Jew is the same as it has always been, the same as was discussed above:  the Reform recognition of patrilineal decent, and the validity of conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis.

Second, the Agudath Ha-Rabonim is not the official voice of mainstream Orthodoxy.  Their statement does not represent the unified position of Orthodox Judaism in the US.  In fact, the Rabbinical Council of America (the rabbinic arm of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America) immediately issued a strong statement disassociating themselves from this "hurtful public pronouncement [which] flies in the face of Jewish peoplehood".

Finally, before one can denounce a statement like this, one should make an attempt to understand the position of those making the statement.  According to Orthodoxy, the Torah is the heart of Judaism.  All of what our people are revolves around the unchanging, eternal, mutually binding covenant between God and our people.  That is the definition of Jewish belief, according to Orthodoxy, and all Jewish belief is measured against that yardstick.  You may dispute the validity of the yardstick, but you cannot deny that Conservative and Reform Judaism do not measure up on that yardstick.  Reform Judaism does not believe in the binding nature of Torah, and Conservative Judaism believes that the law can be changed quite flexibly.

The Agudath Ha-Rabonim did not intend to cut Reform and Conservative Jews off from their heritage.  On the contrary, their intention was to bring Reform and Conservative Jews back to what they consider to be the only true Judaism.  The statement encouraged Reform and Conservative Jews to leave their synagogues and "join an Orthodox synagogue, where they will be warmly welcomed".  Some Orthodox and Chasidic Jews believe that if there were no Reform or Conservative synagogues, everyone would be Orthodox.  It seems more likely, however, that if there were no such movements, most of these people would be lost to Judaism entirely.

 

Movements of Judaism

Level:  Basic

The different sects or denominations of Judaism are generally referred to as movements.  The differences between Jewish movements are not nearly as great as the differences between Christian denominations.  The differences between Orthodoxy and Reform Judaism are not much greater than the differences between the liberal and fundamentalist wings of the Baptist denomination of Christianity.

In general, when speaking of "movements" in this site, we are mostly referring to movements in the United States in the 20th century.

Movements Before the 20th Century

All Jewish movements that exist today are derived from one movement, identified in the Christian scriptures as the Pharisees.  At the dawn of Christianity, there were several different competing schools of thought:  the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots.  The Pharisaic school of thought is the only one that survived the destruction of the Temple.  The Pharisees believed that God gave the Jews both a written Torah and an oral Torah, both of which were equally binding and both of which were open to reinterpretation by therabbis, people with sufficient education to make such decisions.  The Pharisees were devoted to study of the Torah and education for all.  Today, this school of thought is known as Rabbinical Judaism.

From the time of the destruction of the Temple until the middle of the 1700s, there was no large-scale organized difference of opinion within Judaism.  Judaism was Judaism, and it was basically Orthodox Judaism.  There were some differences in practices and customsbetween the Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe and the Sephardic Jews of Spain and the Middle East, but these differences were not significant.  See Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews.

In the 1700s, the first of the modern movements developed in Eastern Europe.  This movement, known as Chasidism, was founded by Israel ben Eliezer, more commonly known as the Baal Shem Tov or the Besht.  Before Chasidism, Judaism emphasized education as the way to get closer to God.  Chasidism emphasized other, more personal experiences and mysticism as alternative routes to God.  Chasidism was considered a radical movement at the time it was founded.  There was strong opposition from those who held to the pre-existing view of Judaism.  Those who opposed Chasidism became known as mitnagdim (opponents).  Today, the Chasidim and the mitnagdim are relatively unified in their opposition to the liberal modern movements.

Movements in 20th Century United States

Approximately 5 million of the world’s 13 million Jews live in the United States.  There are three major movements in the U.S.  today:  Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox.  Some people also include a fourth movement, the Reconstructionist movement, although that movement is substantially smaller than the other three.  Orthodox and sometimes Conservative are described as "traditional" movements.  Reform, Reconstructionist, and sometimes Conservative are described as "liberal" or "modern" movements.

Orthodoxy is actually made up of several different groups.  It includes the modern Orthodox, who have largely integrated into modern society while maintaining observance of halakhah (Jewish Law), the Chasidim, who live separately and dress distinctively (commonly referred to in the media as the "ultra-Orthodox"), and the Yeshivish Orthodox, who are neither Chasidic nor modern.  The Orthodox movements are all very similar in belief, and the differences are difficult for anyone who is not Orthodox to understand.  They all believe that God gave Moses the whole Torah at Mount Sinai.  The "whole Torah" includes both the Written Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and the Oral Torah, an oral tradition interpreting and explaining the Written Torah.  They believe that the Torah is true, that it has come down to us intact and unchanged.  They believe that the Torah contains 613 mitzvot binding upon Jews but not upon non-Jews.  The Judaism 101 web site (the starting point of this "site within a site") was written primarily from the Orthodox point of view.  It has been estimated that there are 1200 Orthodox synagogues in the US today with a total of approximately 1 million members.

Reform Judaism does not believe that the Torah was written by God.  The movement accepts the critical theory of Biblical authorship:  that the Bible was written by separate sources and redacted together.  Reform Jews do not believe in observance of commandments as such, but they retain much of the values and ethics of Judaism, along with some of the practices and the culture.  The original, basic tenets of Reform Judaism in the USA were set down in the Pittsburgh Platform.  Many non-observant, nominal, and/or agnostic Jews identify themselves as Reform simply because Reform is the most liberal movement, but that is not really a fair reflection on the movement as a whole.  There are about 800 Reform synagogues in the US with approximately 2 million members.  For more information about Reform Judaism, see The Union of American Hebrew Congregations .

Conservative Judaism grew out of the tension between Orthodoxy and Reform.  It was formally organized as the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism by Dr. Solomon Schechter in 1913, although its roots in the Jewish Theological Seminary of America stretch back into the 1880s.  Conservative Judaism generally accepts the binding nature of halakhah, but believes that the Law should change and adapt, absorbing aspects of the predominant culture while remaining true to Judaism’s values.  In our experience, there is a great deal of variation among Conservative synagogues.  Some are indistinguishable from Reform, except that they use more Hebrew; others are practically Orthodox, except that men and women sit together.  Most are very traditional in substance, if not always in form.  There are an estimated 800 Conservative synagogues in the US today with approximately 1.3 million members.

Reconstructionist Judaism is theoretically an outgrowth of Conservative, but it does not fit neatly into the traditional/liberal, observant/non-observant continuum that most people use to classify movements of Judaism.  Reconstructionists believe that Judaism is an "evolving religious civilization".  They do not believe in a personified deity that is active in history, and they do not believe that God chose the Jewish people.  From this, you might assume that Reconstructionism is to the left of Reform; yet Reconstructionism lays a much greater stress on Jewish observance than Reform Judaism.  Reconstructionists observe the halakhah if they choose to, not because it is a binding Law from God, but because it is a valuable cultural remnant.  Reconstructionism is a very small movement but seems to get a disproportionate amount of attention, probably because there are a disproportionate number of Reconstructionists serving as rabbis to Jewish college student organizations and Jewish Community Centers.  Many seem to have had a Reconstructionist rabbi at college or in a community center, yet there are only about 60,000 Reconstructionists in the US.

Though most Jews do not have any theological objections to praying in the synagogues of other movements, liberal services are not "religious" enough or "Jewish" enough for traditional Jews, and traditional services are largely incomprehensible to liberal Jews (because traditional services are primarily, if not exclusively, in Hebrew), too long, and too conservative.  Some Orthodox will not attend liberal services because of the mixed seating arrangements and because the liberal prayer book cuts many required prayers.

We have been to services in Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox synagogues, and have found that while there are substantial differences in length, language, and choice of reading materials, the overall structure is surprisingly similar.  See Jewish Liturgy for more information about prayer services.

Movements in 20th Century Israel

Approximately 5 million Jews live in Israel.  Orthodoxy is the only movement that is formally and legally recognized in Israel.  Until very recently, only Orthodox Jews could serve on religious councils.  The Orthodox rabbinate in Israel controls matters of personal status, such as marriage, conversion, and divorce.

The other US movements have some degree of presence in Israel, but for the most part, Israelis do not formally identify themselves with a movement.  Most Israelis describe themselves more generally in terms of their degree of observance, rather than in terms of membership in an organized movement.

More than half of all Israelis describe themselves as hiloni (secular).  About 15-20 percent describe themselves as haredi (ultra-Orthodox) or dati (Orthodox).  The rest describe themselves as masorti (traditionally observant, but not as dogmatic as the Orthodox).  It is important to remember, however, that the masorti and hiloni of Israel tend to be more observant than their counterparts in the US.  For example, the hiloni of Israel often observe some traditional practices in a limited way, such as lighting Sabbath candles, limiting their activities on the Sabbath, or keeping kosher to some extent, all of which are rare among US Reform Jews, and unheard of among US Jews who describe themselves as secular.

Movements in 20th Century United Kingdom

There are an estimated 350,000 Jews in the UK.  Of those, approximately 20% are Reform or Liberal, which are two separate movements.  There is also a small but active Conservative movement called the Masoreti.  The Lubavitcher Chasidim are also active and growing in the UK.

The liberal movements in the UK are generally more traditional than the Reform movement in the United States.  For example, the British Reform movement does not accept patrilineal descent (although the Liberal movement does).  See Who Is a Jew.

 

Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews

Level:  Basic

The pages in this site were originally written from an Ashkenazic Jewish perspective, but they are currently being rewritten from a more universal Torah viewpoint.  Ashkenazic Jews are the Jews of France, Germany, and Eastern Europe.  Sephardic Jews are the Jews of Spain, Portugal, North Africa, and the Middle East.  The word "Ashkenazic" is derived from the Hebrew word for Germany.  The word "Sephardic" is derived from the Hebrew word for Spain.

Most Jews in the US today are Ashkenazic, descended from Jews who emigrated from Germany and Eastern Europe in the mid-1800s, although most of the early Jewish settlers of this country were Sephardic.  The first Jewish congregation in the city of Philadelphia,Congregation Mikveh Israel, was a Sephardic one (it is still active).

The beliefs of Sephardic Judaism are basically in accord with those of Orthodox Judaism, though Sephardic interpretations of halakhah (Jewish Law) are somewhat different from Ashkenazic ones.  Although some individual Sephardic Jews are less observant than others, and some individuals do not agree with all of the beliefs of traditional Judaism, there is no formal, organized differentiation into movements as there is in Ashkenazic Judaism.

Historically, Sephardic Jews have been more integrated into the local non-Jewish culture than Ashkenazic Jews.  In the Christian lands where Ashkenazic Judaism flourished, the tension between Christians and Jews was great, and Jews tended to be isolated from their non-Jewish neighbors, either voluntarily or involuntarily.  In the Islamic lands where Sephardic Judaism developed, no such segregation existed.  Sephardic Jewish thought and culture was strongly influenced by Arabic and Greek philosophy and science.

Sephardic Jews have a different pronunciation of a few Hebrew vowels and one Hebrew consonant, though most Ashkenazim are adopting Sephardic pronunciation now because it is the pronunciation used in Israel.  See Hebrew Alphabet.  Their prayer services are somewhat different from Ashkenazic ones, and they use different melodies in their services.  Sephardic Jews also have different holiday customs and different traditional foods.

The Yiddish language, which many people think of as the international language of Judaism, is really the language of Ashkenazic Jews.  Sephardic Jews have their own international language:  Ladino, which was based on Spanish and Hebrew in the same way that Yiddish was based on German and Hebrew.

There are some Jews who do not fit into this Ashkenazic/Sephardic distinction.  Yemenite Jews (including people on Mechon Mamre’s staff), Ethiopian Jews (also known as Beta Israel and sometimes called Falashas), and Oriental Jews also have some distinct customs and traditions.  These groups, however, are relatively small and almost unknown in the West.

 

 

Gentiles

Level:  Basic

The Torah maintains that the righteous Gentiles of all nations (those observing the Seven Laws of Noah, listed below) have a place in the World to Come.  But not all religious Gentiles earn eternal life by virtue of observing their religion:

  • While it is recognized that Moslems worship the same God that we do (though calling him Allah, He is the same God of Israel), even those who follow the tenets of their religion cannot be considered righteous in the eyes of God, because they do not accept that the Written Torah in the hands of the Jews today is the original Torah handed down by God and they do not accept the Seven Laws of Noah as binding on them.
  • While the Christians do generally accept the Hebrew Bible as truly from God, many of them (those who accept the so-called divinity of Jesus) are idolaters according to the Torah, punishable by death, and certainly will not enjoy the World to Come.  But it is not just being a member of a denomination in which the majority are believers in the Trinity that is idolatry, but personal idolatrous practice, whatever the individual’s affiliation.

Contrary to popular belief, the Torah does not maintain that Jews are necessarily better than other people simply because they are Jews.  Although we are God’s chosen people, we do not believe that God chose the Jews because of any inherent superiority.  According to a story in the Talmud, God offered the Torah to all the nations of the earth, and the Jews were the only ones who accepted it.  According to another story, the Jews were offered the Torah last, and accepted it only because God held a mountain over their heads!  Another traditional story suggests that God chose the Jews because they were the lowliest of nations, and their success would be attributed to God’s might rather than their own ability.  Clearly, these are not the ideas of a people who think they are inherently better than other nations.

Because of our acceptance of Torah, Jews have a special status in the eyes of God, but we lose that special status when we abandon Torah.  Furthermore, the blessings that we received from God by accepting the Torah come with a high price:  Jews have a greater responsibility than non-Jews.  While non-Jews are only obligated to obey the seven commandments given to Noah, Jews are responsible for fulfilling the 613 mitzvot in the Torah, thus God will punish Jews for doing many things that would not be a sin for non-Jews.

The Seven Laws of Noah

According to Torah tradition, God gave Noah and his family seven commandments to observe when he saved them from the flood.  These commandments, referred to as the Noahic or Noahide commandments, are learned by tradition but also suggested in Genesis Chapter 9, and are as follows:

  1. not to commit idolatry
  2. not to commit blasphemy
  3. not to commit murder
  4. not to have forbidden sexual relations
  5. not to commit theft
  6. not to eat flesh cut from a living animal
  7. to establish courts of justice to punish violators of the other six laws.

These commandments may seem fairly simple and straightforward, and most of them are recognized by most of the world as sound moral principles.  But according to the Torah only those Gentiles who observe these laws because God commanded them in His Torah will enjoy life in the World to Come:  If they observe them just because they seem reasonable or because they think that God commanded them in some way other than in the Torah, they might as well not obey them so far as a part in the World to Come is concerned.

The Noahic commandments are binding on all people, because all people are descended from Noah and his family.  The 613 mitzvot of the Torah, on the other hand, are only binding on the descendants of those who accepted the commandments at Sinai and upon those who take on the yoke of the commandments voluntarily (by conversion).  Some say that the Noahic commandments are applied more leniently to non-Jews than the corresponding commandments are to Jews, because non-Jews do not have the benefit of Oral Torah to guide them in interpreting the laws.  Some European rabbis (presumably because of fear of reprisal from their Christian neighbors, famous for their violence to Jews) have gone so far as to say that worshipping God in the form of a man constitutes idolatry for a Jew punishable by death, but the Trinitarian Christian worship of Jesus does not constitute idolatry.  In truth, any idolatry for which a Jew is punishable by death is also punishable by death for non-Jews, including the worship of a man as a god.

We plan to provide on this site a full exposition of Seven Laws, including many details that could not be guessed from the listing above.

Terms Used for Gentiles

It appears that some Gentiles prefer the more neutral term non-Jew, but few today are insulted by Gentile, the classical term for them appearing often in Bible translations.  When we use it here, we certainly intend no offence and hope that none is taken; we would not be writing much of this, if we were lacking in respect and affection for Gentiles.

The most commonly used Hebrew or Yiddish word for a non-Jew is goy.  The word "goy" means nation, and refers to the fact that goyim are members of other nations, that is, nations other than the Children of Israel.  There is nothing inherently insulting about the word "goy".  In fact, the Bible occasionally refers to the Jewish people using the term "goy".  Most notably, in Exodus 19,6, God says that the Children of Israel will be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation", that is, a goy kadosh.  Because Jews have had so many bad experiences with anti-Semitic non-Jews over the centuries, the term "goy" has taken on some negative connotations, but in general the term is no more insulting than the word "Gentile".

The more insulting terms for non-Jews are shiksa (feminine) and shkutz or sheketz (masculine).  It may be gathered that these words are derived from the Hebrew root Shin-Qof-Tzade, meaning loathsome or abomination.  The word shiksa is most commonly used to refer to a non-Jewish woman who is dating or married to a Jewish man, which should give some indication of how strongly Jews are opposed to the idea of intermarriage.  The term shkutz or sheketz is most commonly used to refer to an anti-Semitic man.  Both terms can be used in a less serious, more joking way, but in general they should be used with caution, if at all; in fact, we personally only use these terms to refer to apostate Jews whose behavior is disgusting.

Interfaith Marriages

The Torah does not permit or even recognize marriages between Jews and Gentiles, if performed despite the prohibition.  The punishment for Jews for such marriages is being cut off from the Jewish people and any part in the World to Come, whether the couple formally marries according to secular law or they just live together.

The Written Torah states that the children of such marriages would be lost to the Jewish people (Deuteronomy 7,3-4), and experience has shown the truth of this passage all too well:  Children of intermarriage are rarely raised Jewish; they are normally raised in the faith of the non-Jewish partner or non-religious.  This may reflect that Jews who intermarry are not deeply committed to their religion in the first place (if they were, why would they marry someone who did not share it?), but the statistics are sufficiently alarming to be a matter of great concern to the Jewish community.

Some Orthodox Jews go so far as to state that intermarriage is accomplishing what Hitler could not:  the destruction of the Jewish people.  That may seem an extreme view, but it vividly illustrates how seriously many Jews take the issue of intermarriage.  Nonetheless, currently most Jews outside the Land of Israel are taking non-Jewish marital partners.

If the non-Jewish spouse truly shares the same values as the Jewish spouse, then the non-Jew is welcome to convert, and if the non-Jew does not share the same values, then the couple should not be marrying in the first place.  While conversion just to allow a Gentile to marry a Jew is not legitimate, many a Gentile initially considered conversion after finding a Jewish potential marital partner, and then in the end became a sincere convert before the marriage.

Conversion

In general, Jews do not try to convert non-Jews to Judaism.  In fact, according to halakhah (Jewish Law), rabbis are supposed to make three vigorous attempts to dissuade a person who wants to convert to Judaism.

As the discussion above explained, Jews have a lot of responsibilities that non-Jews do not have.  To be considered a good and righteous person in the eyes of God, a non-Jew need only follow the seven Noahic commandments, whereas a Jew has to follow all 613 commandments given in the Torah.  If the potential convert is not going to follow those extra rules, it is better for him or her to stay a Gentile, and since we as Jews are all responsible for each other, it is better for us too if that person stayed a Gentile.  The rabbinically mandated attempt to dissuade a convert is intended to make sure that the prospective convert is serious and willing to take on all this extra responsibility.

Once a person has decided to convert, the proselyte must begin to learn Jewish law and customs, and begin to observe them.  This teaching process generally takes at least one year, because the prospective convert is encouraged to experience each of the Jewish holidays; however, the actual amount of study required will vary from person to person (a convert who was raised as a Jew might not need any further education, for example, while another person might need several years).

After the teaching is complete, the proselyte is brought before a Beit Din (rabbinical court) which examines the proselyte and determines whether he or she is ready to become a Jew.  If the proselyte passes this oral examination, the rituals of conversion are performed.  If the convert is male, he is circumcised (or, if he was already circumcised, a pinprick of blood is drawn for a symbolic circumcision).  Both male and female converts are immersed in the mikveh (a ritual bath used for spiritual purification).  The convert is given a Jewish name and is then introduced into the Jewish community.

In theory, once the conversion procedure is complete, the convert is as much a Jew as anyone who is born to the religion.  In practice, the convert is often treated with caution, because we have had a lot of bad experiences with converts who later return to their former faith in whole or in part.

For more information about conversion, see The Conversion to Judaism Home Page.  The information provided by Professor Epstein at that site is written from a Conservative perspective, but is valuable to anyone considering conversion.

 

 

The Role of Women

Level:  Intermediate

The role of women in traditional Judaism has been grossly misrepresented and misunderstood.  The position of women is not nearly as lowly as many modern people think; in fact, the position of women in halakhah (Jewish Law) that dates back to the biblical period is in many ways better than the position of women under US civil law as recently as a century ago.  Many of the important feminist leaders of the 20th century (Gloria Steinem, for example) are Jewish women, and some commentators have suggested that this is no coincidence:  the respect accorded to women in Jewish tradition was a part of their ethnic culture.

In traditional Judaism, women’s obligations and responsibilities are different from men’s, but no less important (in fact, in some ways, women’s responsibilities are considered more important, as we shall see).

The equality of men and women begins at the highest possible level:  God.  In Judaism, unlike Christianity, God has never been viewed as exclusively male or masculine.  Judaism has always maintained that God has both masculine and feminine qualities.  God has, of course, no body; therefore, the very idea that God is male or female is patently absurd.  We refer to God using masculine terms simply for convenience’s sake, because Hebrew has no neutral gender; God is no more male than a table or chair (both "masculine" nouns in Hebrew).

Both man and woman were created in the image of God.  According to many Jewish scholars, "man" was created "male and female" (Genesis 1,27) with dual gender, and was later separated into male and female.

According to traditional Judaism, women are endowed with a greater degree of "binah" (intuition, understanding, intelligence) than men.  The rabbis inferred this from the idea that woman was "built" (Genesis 2,22) rather than "formed" (Genesis 2,7), and the Hebrew root of "build" has the same consonants as the word "binah".  It has been said that the matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah) were superior to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) in prophecy.  It has also been said that women did not participate in the idolatry regarding the golden calf.  Some traditional sources suggest that women are closer to God’s ideal than men.

Women have held positions of respect in Judaism since biblical times.  Miriam is considered one of the liberators of the people of Israel, along with her brothers Moses and Aaron.  One of the Judges (Deborah) was a woman.  Seven of the 55 prophets of the Bible were women.

The Ten Commandments require respect for both mother and father.  Note that the father comes first in Exodus 20,11, but the mother comes first in Leviticus 19,3.

There were many learned women of note.  The Talmud and later rabbinical writings speak of the wisdom of Berurya, the wife of Rabbi Meir.  In several instances, her opinions on halakhah (Jewish Law) were accepted over those of her male contemporaries.  In the ketubah (marriage contract) of Rabbi Akiba‘s son, the wife is obligated to teach the husband Torah!  Many rabbis over the centuries have been known to consult their wives on matters of Jewish law relating to the woman’s role, such as laws of kashrut and women’s periods.  The wife of a rabbi is referred to as a rebbetzin, practically a title of her own, which should give some idea of her significance in Jewish life.

There can be no doubt, however, that the Talmud also has many negative things to say about women.  Various rabbis at various times describe women as lazy, jealous, vain and gluttonous, prone to gossip and particularly prone to the occult and witchcraft.  Men are repeatedly advised against associating with women, although that is as much because of man’s lust as it is because of any shortcoming in women.  Women are discouraged from pursuing higher education or religious pursuits, but this seems to be primarily because women who engage in such pursuits might neglect their primary duties as wives and mothers.  The rabbis are not concerned that women are not spiritual enough, but rather are concerned that women might become too spiritually devoted.

The rights of women in traditional Judaism are much greater than they were in the rest of Western civilization until this century.  Women had the right to buy, sell, and own property, and make their own contracts, rights which women in Christian countries (including the USA) did not have until about 100 years ago.  In fact, Proverbs 31,10-31, which is read at Jewish weddings, speaks repeatedly of business acumen as a trait to be prized in women (v.  11, 13, 16, and 18 especially).

Women have the right to be consulted with regard to their marriage.  Marital sex is regarded as the woman’s right, and not the man’s.  Men do not have the right to beat or mistreat their wives, a right that was recognized by law in many Christian countries until a few hundred years ago.  In cases of rape, a woman is generally presumed not to have consented to the intercourse, even if she enjoyed it, even if she consented after the sexual act began and declined a rescue!  This is in sharp contrast to Western society, where even today rape victims often have to overcome public suspicion that they "asked for it" or "wanted it".  Traditional Judaism recognizes that forced sexual relations within the context of marriage are rape and are not permitted; in many states in the West, rape within marriage is still not a criminal act.

There is no question that in traditional Judaism, the primary role of a woman is as wife and mother, keeper of the household.  However, Judaism has great respect for the importance of that role.  The Talmud says that when a pious man marries a wicked woman, the man becomes wicked, but when a wicked man marries a pious woman, the man becomes pious.  Women are exempted from all positive commandments ("thou shalts" as opposed to "thou shalt nots") that are time-related (that is, commandments that must be performed at a specific time of the day or year), because the woman’s duties as wife and mother are so important that they cannot be postponed to fulfill a commandment.  After all, a woman cannot be expected to just drop a crying baby when the time comes to perform a commandment.

It is this exemption from certain commandments that has led to the greatest misunderstanding of the role of women in Judaism.  First, many people make the mistake of thinking that this exemption is a prohibition.  On the contrary, although women are not obligated to perform time-based positive commandments, they are generally permitted to observe such commandments if they choose.  Second, because this exemption diminishes the role of women in the synagogue, many people perceive that women have no role in Jewish religious life.  This misconception derives from the mistaken assumption that Jewish religious life revolves around the synagogue.  It does not; it revolves around the home, where the woman’s role is every bit as important as the man’s.

The Role of Women in the Synagogue

To understand the limited role of women in synagogue life, it is important to understand the nature of commandments in Judaism and the separation of men and women.

Judaism recognizes that it is mankind’s nature to rebel against authority; thus, one who does something because he is commanded to is regarded with greater merit than one who does something because he chooses to.  The person who refrains from pork because it is a commandment has more merit than the person who refrains from pork because he does not like the taste.  In addition, the commandments, burdens, and obligations that were given to the Jewish people are regarded as a privilege, and the more commandments one is obliged to observe, the more privileged one is.

Because women are not obligated to perform certain commandments, their observance of those commandments does not "count" for group purposes.  While a woman must pray the silent standing prayer just as a man does, she need not pray the full prayer service of the synagoue that a man prays.  Thus, a woman’s voluntary attendance at daily worship services does not count toward a minyan (the 10 people necessary to recite certain prayers), a woman’s voluntary recitation of certain prayers does not count on behalf of the group (thus women cannot lead services), and a woman’s voluntary reading from the Torah does not count towards the community’s obligation to read from the Torah.

In addition, because women are not obligated to perform as many commandments as men are, women are regarded as less privileged.  It is in this light that one must understand the man’s blessing thanking God for "not making me a woman".  The prayer does not indicate that it is bad to be a woman, but only that men feel fortunate to be privileged to have more obligations.

 Another thing that must be understood is the separation of men and women during prayer.  According to Jewish Law, men and women must be separated during prayer, usually by a wall or curtain called a mechitzah or by placing women in a second floor balcony.  There are two reasons for this:  first, your mind is supposed to be on prayer, not on the pretty girl praying near you.  Second, many pagan religious ceremonies at the time the Torah was given on Sinai involved sexual activity and orgies, and the separation prevents or at least discourages even thinking about such things.  A separation like that in today’s synagogue was also made long ago in the Temple.

The combination of the exemption from certain commandments and this separation results in some women feeling that they have an inferior place in the synagogue.  Because of these problems, many Orthodox women rarely attend services.

But as said before, this restriction on participation in synagogue life does not mean that women are excluded from Jewish religious life, because the Jewish religion is not something that happens in synagogue.  Judaism is something that permeates every aspect of your life, everything that you do, from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to bed, from what you eat and how you dress to how you conduct business.  Prayer services are only a small, though important, part of the Jewish religion.

 

Rabbis, Priests, and Other Functionaries

Level:  Intermediate

Rabbi

A rabbi is not a priest, neither in the Jewish sense of the term nor in the Christian sense of the term.  In the Christian sense of the term, a priest is a person with special authority to perform certain sacred rituals.  A rabbi, on the other hand, has no more authority to perform rituals than any other adult male member of the Jewish community.  In the Jewish sense of the term, a priest (kohein) is a descendant of Aaron, charged with performing various rites in the Temple in connection with religious rituals and sacrifices.  Although a kohein can be a rabbi, a rabbi is not required to be a kohein.

A rabbi is simply a teacher, a person sufficiently educated in halakhah (Jewish law) and tradition to instruct the community and to answer questions and resolve disputes regarding halakhah.  When a person has completed the necessary course of study, he is given a written document known as a semikhah, which confirms his authority to make such decisions.

When we speak generally of things that were said or decided by "the rabbis" or "the sages", we are speaking of matters that have been generally agreed upon by authoritative Jewish scholars over the centuries.  When we speak of rabbinical literature, we speak of the writings of the great rabbis on a wide variety of subjects.

Since the destruction of the Temple, the role of the kohanim has diminished, and rabbis have taken over the spiritual leadership of the Jewish community.  In this sense, the rabbi has much the same role as a Protestant minister, ministering to the community, leading community religious services, and dealing with many of the administrative matters related to the synagogue.

However, it is important to note that the rabbi’s status as rabbi does not give him any special authority to conduct religious services.  Any Jew sufficiently educated to know what he is doing can lead a religious service, and a service led by such a Jew is every bit as valid as a service led by a rabbi.  It is not unusual for a community to be without a rabbi, or for Jewish services to be conducted without a rabbi.

Chazzan

A chazzan (cantor) is the person who leads the congregation in prayer.  A professional chazzan is generally a person with a well-trained and pleasing voice, because much of the Jewish religious service is sung, but the primary qualifications for the job are good moral character and thorough knowledge of the prayers and melodies.  Larger congregations may hire a professional chazzan.  In smaller congregations, the rabbi frequently acts as chazzan, but any person can fill the role.

Kohein

The kohanim are the descendants of Aaron, chosen by God at the time of the incident with the Golden Calf to perform certain sacred work, particularly in connection with the animal sacrifices and the rituals related to the Temple.  After the destruction of the Temple, the role of the kohanim diminished significantly in favor of the rabbis; however, we continue to keep track of kohein lineage.

Kohanim are customarily given the first aliyah (i.e., opportunity to recite a blessing over the Torah reading and read from it) on the Sabbath and other days when the Torah is read in public, which is considered an honor.  They are also required to recite a special blessing (Numbers 6,24-26) over the congregation in every morning prayer and in additional prayers.

The term "Kohein" is the source of the common Jewish surname "Cohen", but not every Cohen is a Kohein and not every Kohein is named Cohen.

Levi

The entire tribe of Levi was set aside to perform certain duties in connection with the Temple.  As with the Kohanim, their importance was drastically diminished with the destruction of the Temple, but we continue to keep track of their lineage.  Levites are given the secondaliyah on the Sabbath (i.e., the second opportunity to recite a blessing over the Torah reading), which is considered an honor.

Tzaddik

Chasidic communities are led by a leader with special, mystical power called a "tzaddik" (literally, righteous one).  A tzaddik is also called a rebbi, which is sometimes translated "grand rabbi".  The position is usually hereditary.  A tzaddik has the final word over every decision in a chasid’s life.

 

 

Sages and Scholars

Level:  Intermediate

Hillel and Shammai

These two great scholars who born a generation or two before the beginning of the Common Era are usually discussed together and contrasted with each other, because they were contemporaries and the leaders of two opposing schools of thought (known as "houses").  TheTalmud records over 300 differences of opinion between Beit Hillel (the House of Hillel) and Beit Shammai (the House of Shammai).  In almost every one of these disputes, Hillel’s view prevailed.

Rabbi Hillel was born to a wealthy family in Babylonia, but came to Jerusalem without the financial support of his family and supported himself as a woodcutter.  It is said that he lived in such great poverty that he was sometimes unable to pay the admission fee to study Torah, and because of him that fee was abolished.  He was known for his kindness, his gentleness, and his concern for humanity.  One of his most famous sayings, recorded in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers, a tractate of the Mishnah), is "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?  And if I am only for myself, then what am I?  And if not now, when?"  The Hillel organization, a network of Jewish college student organizations, is named for him.

Rabbi Shammai was an engineer, known for the strictness of his views.  He was reputed to be dour, quick-tempered, and impatient.  For example, the Talmud tells that a Gentile came to Shammai saying that he would convert to Judaism if Shammai could teach him the wholeTorah in the time that he could stand on one foot.  Shammai drove him away with a builder’s measuring stick!  Hillel, on the other hand, converted the Gentile by telling him, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.  That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary.  Go and study it!"

Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph (50-135 C.E.)

A poor, semi-literate shepherd, Akiba became one of Judaism’s greatest scholars.  He developed the exegetical method of the Mishnah, linking each traditional practice to a basis in the biblical text, and systematized the material that later became the Mishnah.

Rabbi Akiba was active in the Bar Kokhba rebellion against Rome, 132-135 C.E..  He believed that Bar Kokhba was the Mashiach, though some other rabbis openly ridiculed him for that belief (the Talmud records another rabbi as saying, "Akiba, grass will grow in your cheeks and still the son of David will not have come".) When the Bar Kokhba rebellion failed, Rabbi Akiba was taken by the Roman authorities and tortured to death.

Judah Ha-Nasi (Judah the Prince) (135-219 C.E.)

The Patriarch of the Jewish community, Judah Ha-Nasi was well-educated in Greek thought as well as Jewish thought.  He organized and compiled the Mishnah, building upon Rabbi Akiba’s work.

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) (1040-1105 C.E.)

A grape grower living in Northern France, Rashi wrote the definitive commentaries on the Babylonian Talmud and the Bible.  Rashi pulled together materials from a wide variety of sources, wrote them down in the order of the Talmud and the Bible for easy reference, and wrote them in such clear, concise, and plain language that it can be appreciated by beginners and experts alike.  Almost every edition of the Talmud printed since the invention of the printing press has included the text of Rashi’s commentary side-by-side with the Talmudic text.  Many traditional Jews will not study the Bible without a Rashi commentary beside it.

Maimonides (Rambam; Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) (1135-1204 C.E.)

A physician born in Moorish Cordoba, Maimonides lived in a variety of places throughout the Moorish lands of Spain, the Middle East, and North Africa, often fleeing persecution.  He was a leader of the Jewish community in Cairo.  He was conversant in Arab and Greek sciences and philosopy, particularly of the school of Aristotle.

Maimonides was the author of the Mishneh Torah code, the first and (so far) only complete code of Jewish law, fully covering every conceivable topic of Jewish law in subject matter order and providing a simple statement of the prevailing view in plain language for anyone who knows Hebrew.  In his own time, he was condemned because he claimed that Mishneh Torah was a substitute for studying the Talmud; but today, almost everyone who learns Talmud learns it with the help of Mishneh Torah.

Maimonides is also responsible for several important theological works.  He developed the 13 Principles of Faith, the most widely accepted list of Jewish beliefs.  He also wrote the Guide for the Perplexed, for those who have reached perfection in knowledge and observance of the Torah on the one hand, and have learned the sciences and philosophy on the other, and find it difficult to resolve the seeming conflicts between them (not really for the masses, Jewish or Gentile!).

 

 

Prophets and Prophecy

Level:  Intermediate

What is a Prophet?

Many people today think of a prophet as any person who sees the future.  While the gift of prophecy certainly includes the ability to see the future, a prophet is far more than just a person with that ability.

A prophet is basically a spokesman for God, a person chosen by God to speak to people on God’s behalf and convey a message or teaching.  Prophets were role models of holiness, scholarship, and closeness to God.  They set the standards for the entire community.

The Hebrew word for a prophet, navi (Nun-Bet-Yod-Alef) comes from the term "niv sefatayim" meaning fruit of the lips, which emphasizes the prophet’s role as a speaker.

The Talmud teaches that there were hundreds of thousands of prophets:  twice as many as the number of people who left Egypt, which was 600,000.  But most of the prophets conveyed messages that were intended solely for their own generation and were not reported inscripture.  Scripture identifies only 55 prophets of Israel.

A prophet is not necessarily a man.  Scripture records the stories of seven female prophets, listed below, and the Talmud reports that Sarah’s prophetic ability was superior to Abraham’s.

A prophet is not necessarily a Jew.  The Talmud reports that there were prophets among the Gentiles (most notably Balaam, whose story is told in Numbers 22-24), although they were not as elevated as the prophets of Israel (as the story of Balaam demonstrates).  And some of the prophets, such as Jonah, were sent on missions to speak to the Gentiles.

According to some views, prophecy is not a gift that is arbitrarily conferred upon people; rather, it is the culmination of a person’s spiritual and ethical development.  When a person reaches a sufficient level of spiritual and ethical achievement, the Shechinah (Divine Spirit) comes to rest upon him or her.  Likewise, the gift of prophecy leaves the person if that person lapses from his or her spiritual and ethical perfection.

The greatest of the prophets was Moses.  It is said that Moses saw all that all of the other prophets combined saw, and more.  Moses saw the whole of the Torah, including the Prophets, and the Writings that were written hundreds of years later.  All subsequent prophecy was merely an expression of what Moses had already seen.  Thus, it is taught that nothing in the Prophets or the Writings can be in conflict with Moses’ writings, because Moses saw it all in advance.

The Talmud states that the writings of the prophets will not be necessary in the World to Come, because in that day, all people will be mentally, spiritually, and ethically perfect, and all will have the gift of prophecy.

Who are the Prophets of the Jewish Scriptures?

The following list of prophets is based on the Talmud and Rashi.

Abraham
Genesis 11,26 – 25,10

Isaac
Genesis 21,1 – 35,29

Jacob
Genesis 25,21 – 49,33

Moses
Exodus 2,1 – Deuteronomy 34,5

Aaron
Exodus 4,14 – Numbers 33,39

Joshua
Exodus 17,9 – 14, 24,13, 32,17 – 18, 33,11; Numbers 11,28 – 29, 13,4 – 14,38; 27,18 – 27,23, Deuteronomy 1,38, 3,28, 31,3, 31,7-Joshua 24,29

Pinchas
Exodus 6,25; Numbers 25,7-25,11; Numbers 31,6; Joshua 22,13 – Joshua 24,33; Judges 20,28

Elkanah
I Samuel 1,1 – 2,20

Eli
I Samuel 1,9 – 4,18

Samuel
I Samuel 1,1 – I Samuel 25,1

Gad
I Samuel 22,5; II Samuel 24,11-19; I Chronicles 21,9-21,19, 29,29

Nathan
II Samuel 7,2 – 17; 12,1 – 25.

David
I Samuel 16,1 – I Kings 2,11

Solomon
II Samuel 12,24; 1 Kings 1,10 – 11,43

Iddo
II Chronicles 9,29, 12,15, 13,22

Michaiah son of Imlah
I Kings 22,8-28; II Chronicles 18,7-27

Obadiah
I Kings 18; Obadiah

Ahiyah the Shilonite
I Kings 11,29-30; 12,15; 14,2-18; 15,29

Jehu son of Hanani
I Kings 16,1 – 7; II Chronicles 19,2; 20,34

Azariah son of Oded
II Chronicles 15

Jahaziel the Levite
II Chronicles 20,14

Eliezer son of Dodavahu
II Chronicles 20,37

Hosea
Hosea

Amos
Amos

Micah the Morashtite
Micah

Amoz
(the father of Isaiah)

Elijah
I Kings 17,1 – 21,29; II Kings 1,10-2,15, 9,36-37, 10,10, 10,17

Elisha
I Kings 19,16-19; II Kings 2,1-13,21

Jonah ben Amittai
Jonah

Isaiah
Isaiah

Joel
Joel

Nahum
Nahum

Habakkuk
Habakkuk

Zephaniah
Zephaniah

Uriah
Jeremiah 26,20-23

Jeremiah
Jeremiah

Ezekiel
Ezekiel

Shemaiah
I Kings 12,22-24; II Chronicles 11,2-4, 12,5-15

Barukh
Jeremiah 32, 36, 43, 45

Neriah
(father of Barukh)

Seraiah
Jeremiah 51,61-64

Mehseiah
(father of Neriah)

Haggai
Haggai

Zechariah
Zechariah

Malachi
Malachi

Mordecai Bilshan

Oded
(father of Azariah)

Hanani
(father of Jehu)

Sarah
Genesis 11,29 – 23,20

Miriam
Exodus 15,20-21; Num.  12,1-12,15, 20,1

Deborah
Judges 4,1 – 5,31

Hannah
I Samuel 1,1 – 2,21

Abigail
I Samuel 25,1 – 25,42

Huldah
II Kings 22,14-20

Esther
Esther

Why is Daniel Not a Prophet?

It is often asked why the Book of Daniel is included in the Writings section of the Tanakh instead of the Prophets section.  Wasn’t Daniel a prophet?  Weren’t his visions of the future true?

According to Judaism, Daniel is not one of the 55 prophets.  His writings include visions of the future, which we believe to be true; however, his mission was not that of a prophet.  His visions of the future were never intended to be proclaimed to the people; they were designed to be written down for future generations.  Thus, they are Writings, not Prophecies, and are classified accordingly.

 

 

Synagogues, Shuls, and Temples

Level:  Intermediate

Throughout this site, we have used the word "synagogue" to refer to the Jewish equivalent of a church.  There are actually several different terms for a Jewish house of worship, and you can tell a lot about people by the terms they use.

The Orthodox and Chasidim typically use the word "shul", which is Yiddish.  The Hebrew term for it is "beit kenesset" which means house of assembly.

Conservative Jews usually use the word "synagogue", which comes from a Greek word meaning place of assembly (it is related to the word "synod").

Reform Jews use the word "temple", because they consider every one of their meeting places to be equivalent to the Temple.

For reasons that will become clear below, the use of the word "temple" to describe modern houses of prayer offends some traditional Jews.  The word "shul", on the other hand, is unfamiliar to many modern Jews.  When in doubt, the word "synagogue" is the best bet, because everyone knows what it means, and we have never known anyone to be offended by it.

The synagogue is the center of Jewish religious life.  At a minimum, it is the place where Jews come together for community prayer.  In addition, it is usually the place where children receive their religious education.  Most synagogues have a social hall for religious and non-religious functions.  Many synagogues also have a Beit Midrash (house of study), a library of sacred Jewish texts for members of the community to study.

The Temple

When we speak of The Temple, we speak of the place in Jerusalem that was the center of Jewish religion from the time of Solomon to its destruction by the Romans in 70 C.E. This was the one and only place where sacrifices and certain other religious rituals were performed.  It was partially destroyed at the time of the Babylonian Exile and rebuilt.  The rebuilt temple was known as the Second Temple.  The famous Wailing Wall is the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, and is as close to the site of the original Sanctuary as Jews can go today.  The site of The Temple is currently occupied by a Moslem Mosque.

Traditional Jews believe that The Temple will be rebuilt when the Mashiach comes.  They eagerly await that day and pray for it continually.

"Modern" Jews, on the other hand, reject the idea of rebuilding the Temple and resuming sacrifices.  They call their houses of prayer "temples", believing that such houses of worship are the only temples we need, the only temples we will ever have, and are equivalent to the Temple in Jerusalem.  This idea is very offensive to some traditional Jews, which is why you should be very careful when using the word Temple to describe a Jewish place of worship.

 

 

Signs and Symbols

Level:  Basic

Mezuzah

 On the doorposts of traditional Jewish homes (and many not-so-traditional homes!), you will find a small case like the one pictured at right.  This case is known as a mezuzah ("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.  Rather, it is a constant reminder of God’s presence and God’s commandments.

The commandment to place mezuzot on the doorposts of our houses is derived from Deuteronomy 6,9, at the end of the paragraph of the passage commonly known as the Shema ("Hear", from the first word of the passage).  In that passage, God commands us to keep His words constantly in our minds and in our hearts, by (among other things) writing them on the doorposts of our house.  The words of the Shema are written on a tiny scroll of parchment, along with the words of a companion passage, Deuteronomy 11,13.  On the back of the scroll, a name of God "Shaddai" is customarily written.  The scroll is then rolled up placed in the case.

The scroll must be handwritten and must be placed in the case to fulfill the commandment.  It is commonplace for gift shops to sell cases without scrolls, or with mechanically printed scrolls, because a proper scroll generally costs more than even an elaborately decorated case.  Mechanically printed scrolls do not fulfill the mitzvah of the mezuzah, nor does an empty case.

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 against Greece).  A brief blessing is recited.

Why do some affix mezuzah at an angle as shown above and some straight up and down?  The question was not decided in the Talmud whether it should be placed horizontally, vertically, or somewhere in between; so customs differ (and it appears that either way is just fine).

Every time you pass through a door with a mezuzah on it, you are reminded of the commandments contained within the mezuzah and of God who commanded you to observe them.

It is proper to remove a mezuzah when you move, if the next residents are not to be observant Jews; and in fact, it is recommended.  If you leave it in place, the subsequent owner may treat it with disrespect or even distroy it.

Tefillin

 The Shema also commands us to bind the words to our hands and between our eyes.  We do this by laying tefillin, that is, by binding to our arms and foreheads a leather pouch containing scrolls of Torah passages.

The word "tefillin" is usually translated "phylacteries", although we do not much care for that term, partly because it is not very enlightening if you do not already know what tefillin are, and partly because it means amulet, and suggests that tefillin are some kind of protective charm, which they clearly are not.  On the contrary, the word "tefillin" is etymologically related to the word "tefillah" (prayer) and the root Pe-Lamed-Lamed (judgment).

Like the mezuzah, tefillin are meant to remind us 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 customarily removed at the conclusion of the morning services, though they should be worn all day long.

Tzitzit and Tallit

 The Torah also commands us to wear tzitzit (fringes) at the corners of our garments as a reminder of the commandments (Numbers 15,37-41).  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 typically worn under the shirt, with the tzitzit hanging out so they can be seen.  A larger four-cornered shawl called a tallit (pictured above) is worn by men during morning services, along with the tefillin, though they should be worn in all prayer services at the very least.  There are several complex customs for tying the knots of the tzitzit, each filled with religious and numerological significance.

Menorah

 One of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith is the menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum used in the Temple.  The kohanim lit the menorah in the Sanctuary every evening and cleaned it out every morning, replacing the wicks and putting fresh olive oil into the cups.  The illustration at right is based on instructions for construction of the menorah found in Exodus 25,31-40.

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" (literally, 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, because Chanukkah commemorates the miracle that a day’s worth of oil for this menorah lasted eight days.

Yarmulke

The most commonly known and recognized piece of Jewish garb is actually the one with the least religious significance.  The word yarmulke (usually, but not really correctly, pronounced yammica) is Yiddish.  According to Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish, it comes from a Tartar word meaning skullcap.  According to some Orthodox and Chasidic rabbis, it comes from the Aramaic words "yerai malka" (fear of or respect for The King).  The Hebrew word for this head covering is kippah (pronounced key-pah).

It is an ancient practice for Jews 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, Jews covered their heads to show that they were servants of God.  In medieval times, Jews covered their heads as a reminder that God is always above them.  Whatever the reason given, covering the head has always been regarded more as a custom rather than a commandment.

There is no special significance to the yarmulke as a specific type of head covering.  Its light weight, compactness, and discreteness make it a convenient choice of head gear.  We are unaware of any connection between the yarmulke and the similar skullcap worn by the Pope, but it might be due to the influence of Jews on the Church, which is not unknown.

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 arabbi 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, we 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.

Chai

 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).

 

 

Jewish Cooking

Level:  Basic

Jewish cooking is a unique synthesis of cooking styles from the many places that Jews have lived throughout the centuries.  Jewish cooking shows the influence of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Spanish, German, and Eastern European styles of cooking, all influenced by the unique dietary constraints of kashrut and other Jewish laws.

Many of the foods that we think of as Jewish are not unique to Jewish culture.  Stuffed cabbage, a traditional Jewish dish, is common in Eastern Europe.  Blintzes and knishes are familiar to all Germans, not just Jewish ones.  Falafel and hummus, increasingly thought of as Israeli-Jewish foods, can be found in any Greek restaurant.  But the combination of these varied foods into one style of cooking, along with our own innovations, is uniquely Jewish.

On this page, we identify and describe several of the better-known, popular Jewish dishes.  Most of these dishes are Ashkenazic, because that is what we know best.  Sephardic Jews have their own distinct cooking traditions.  We will provide recipes for those foods that we know how to cook, and will provide links to other recipes scattered throughout this web site.

One ingredient you will see in many of these recipes is matzah meal.  Matzah meal is crumbs of matzah (unleavened bread).  You can find this in the kosher or ethnic section of your grocery store, if your grocery store has one (it can be found in such remote, "Gentile" places as Athens, Georgia), but if it is not available, you can usually use bread crumbs instead.

Challah

 Any traditional Jewish meal begins with the breaking of bread.  Challah is a special kind of bread used for Sabbaths and holidays.  It is a very sweet, golden, eggy bread.  The taste and texture is somewhat similar to egg twist rolls (those little yellow rolls that look like knots).  The loaf is usually braided, but on certain holidays it may be made in other shapes.  For example, on Rosh Hashanah, it is traditional to serve round challah (the circle symbolizing the cycle of life, the cycle of the years).

A local deli makes French toast with challah.  It is highly recommended.  Challah is also wonderful in sandwiches with roast beef or corned beef.  Traditionally, however, it is simply used as you might use rolls with a holiday dinner.

The word "challah" refers to the portion of dough set aside for the kohein (See the List of Mitzvot, #394); that is, a portion that is taken out of the dough before it is baked.  It is not certain how the term for the removed portion came to be used for the portion that is left over after it is removed.

Bagels and Lox

Is there anybody who does not know what a bagel is?  A bagel is a donut-shaped piece of bread that is boiled before it is baked.  They are often topped with poppy seeds or sesame seeds, or flavored with other ingredients.  The bagel has been a part of Jewish cuisine for at least 400 years.  According to Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish, there are references to it as far back as Poland in 1610.  In the USA, bagels are traditionally served with cream cheese and lox (smoked salmon) or other fish spreads (herring, whitefish, etc.).  They are also quite good with cream cheese and a thick slice of tomato.

Those hockey pucks that you find in your grocer’s freezer bear little resemblance to a real bagel.  A real bagel is soft, warm, and spongy inside, lightly crispy outside.  A fresh bagel does not need to be toasted, and should not be.  Toasting is a sorry attempt to compensate for a sub-standard bagel.

Gefilte Fish

Gefilte fish is a cake or ball of chopped up fish.  It is usually made with white-fleshed freshwater fish, such as carp or pike.  The fish is chopped into small pieces (a food processor is good for this), mixed with onions and some other vegetables (carrot, celery, parsley).  The mixture is held together with eggs and matzah meal.  It is then boiled in broth for a while.  It can be served warm or cold, though it is usually served cold with red horseradish and garnished with carrot shavings.

The word "gefilte" fish comes from German and means stuffed.  Some variations on gefilte fish involve stuffing the fish skin with chopped up fish.

Matzah Ball Soup

This is also known as Jewish penicillin.  Matzah balls are more traditionally known as knaydelach (Yiddish for dumplings).  Matzah ball soup is generally a very thin chicken broth with two or three ping-pong-ball sized matzah balls (or sometimes one very large matzah ball) in it.  Sometimes, a few large pieces of carrot or celery are added.  Matzah balls can be very soft and light or firm and heavy.  The two types may be described "floaters and sinkers".  Matzah ball soup is commonly served at the Passover seder, but is also eaten all year round.

Below is a recipe for matzah ball soup.  The parsley in the matzah balls is not traditional, but it is good that way all the same.

  • 1/2 cup matzah meal
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp.  oil or schmaltz (melted chicken fat)
  • 2 tbsp.  water or chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp.  fresh chopped parsley
  • a little black pepper
  • 2 quarts thin chicken broth or consommé

Beat the eggs, oil, and water together thoroughly.  Add the matzah meal, parsley, and black pepper, and mix until you achieve an even consistency.  Let this sit for a few minutes, so the matzah meal absorbs the other ingredients, and stir again.

Bring the broth to a vigorous boil, then reduce the heat until the broth is just barely boiling.  Wet your hands and make balls of about 1-2 tbsp.  of the batter.  Drop the balls gently into the boiling water.  They will be cooked enough to eat in about 15 minutes; however, you may want to leave it simmering longer to absorb more of the chicken broth flavor.  They are done when they float on top of the broth and look bloated.

For lighter matzah balls, use a little less oil, a little more water, and cook at a lower temperature for a longer time.  For heavier matzah balls, do the reverse.  If you are using this to treat a cold, put extra black pepper into the broth (pepper clears the sinuses).

Knishes

A knish (the k and the n are both pronounced) is a sort of potato and flour dumpling stuffed with various things.  It is baked until browned and a little crisp on the outside.  They are commonly filled with mashed potato and onion, chopped liver, or cheese.  They are good for a snack, an appetizer, or a side dish.  You should be able to find them in any deli.  The word "knish" is Ukrainian for "dumpling".

Blintzes

Blintzes are basically Jewish crepes.  A blintz is a thin, flat pancake rolled around a filling.  It looks a little like an egg roll.  As a main dish or side dish, blintzes can be filled with sweetened cottage cheese or mashed potatoes and onion; as a dessert, they can be filled with fruit, such as apple, cherry, or blueberry.  They are usually fried in oil.  They are generally served with sour cream and/or applesauce.

Cheese blintzes are the traditional meal for the festival of Shavu’ot, when dairy meals are traditionally eaten.  They are also commonly eaten during Chanukkah, because they are cooked in oil.

The word "blintz" comes from a Ukrainian word meaning pancake.

Cholent

Cholent (the "ch" is pronounced as in "chair" — an exception to the usual rules of pronunciation) is a very slowly cooked stew of beans, beef, barley, and sometimes potatoes.  It is the traditional meal for the Sabbath lunch or dinner, because it can be started before the Sabbath begins and left cooking throughout the Sabbath.  A recipe for cholent is on the Sabbath page.

Holishkes

Holishkes are cabbage leaves stuffed with meatballs in a tomato-based sweet-and-sour sauce.  They are known by many different names (galuptzi, praakes, stuffed cabbage), and are made in many different ways, depending on where your grandmother came from.  It is traditionally served during the holiday of Sukkot, although it is not clear why.  Below is the recipe.

  • 8-10 leaves of cabbage
  • Filling:
    • 1 lb.  ground beef
    • 1/2 cup matzah meal
    • 1 large grated onion
    • 2 grated carrots
    • 1/2 tsp.  garlic powder
    • a handful of minced parsley
    • 2 eggs
  • Sauce:
    • 16 oz.  can of tomato sauce
    • 1/4 cup of lemon juice
    • 1/2 cup of brown sugar

Gently remove the cabbage leaves from the head.  You want them to be intact.  It may help to steam the head briefly before attempting this.  Boil the leaves for a minute or two to make them soft enough to roll.

Combine the sauce ingredients in a saucepan and simmer, stirring, until the sugar dissolves (it will dissolve faster if you pour the lemon juice over it).  Pour about 1/4 of the sauce into the bottom of a casserole dish or lasagna pan.

Combine all of the filling ingredients in a bowl.  Make a ball out of a handful of the filling and roll it up in a cabbage leaf, rolling from the soft end to the spiny end.  Put the resulting roll into the casserole dish with the sauce.  Do this until you use up all of the filling, making 8-10 cabbage rolls.  Then pour the remaining sauce over the top.

Bake approximately 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

If you do not like so much refined sugar in your diet, you can substitute about a cup of raisins or prunes for the brown sugar.

Tzimmes

Tzimmes is any kind of sweet stew.  It usually is orange in color, and includes carrots, sweet potatoes and/or prunes.  A wide variety of dishes fall under the heading "tzimmes".  On Passover, for example, some make a tzimmes of carrots and pineapple chunks boiled in pineapple juice.

Tzimmes is commonly eaten on Rosh Hashanah, because it is sweet and symbolizes our hopes for a sweet new year.

The word "tzimmes" is often used in Yiddish to mean making a big fuss about something.

This is a meat-based tzimmes recipe suitable for holiday use:

  • 1 lb.  stewing beef, cut into small chunks
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 3 sweet potatoes
  • 3 white potatoes
  • 5 carrots

Brown the stewing beef lightly in a little oil in a 2 quart saucepan.  Add the water and sugar and bring to a boil, then reduce to a very low simmer.  Peel and dice the potatoes and carrots and add to the pot.  Let it stew covered at very low heat for at least an hour, adding water periodically if necessary.  There should be water, but it should not be soggy.  Once the potatoes are soft, take the cover off and let most of the water boil off.  Mash the whole mixture until the potato part is the consistency of mashed potatoes.  Put the mash into a casserole dish and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

If you do not like so much refined sugar in your diet, you can substitute about a cup of raisins or prunes for the sugar.

Kugel

Kugel is another dish that encompasses several different things, and the relationship between them is hard to define.  The word "kugel" is generally translated as "pudding", although it does not mean pudding in the Jell-O brand dairy dessert sense.  It is pronounced "koo-gel" or "ki-gel", depending on where your grandmother comes from.

Kugel can be either a side dish or a dessert.  As a side dish, it is a casserole of potatoes, eggs, and onions.  As a dessert, it is usually made with noodles and various fruits and nuts in an egg-based pudding.  Kugel made with noodles is called lokshen kugel.  Below is a recipe for a noodle kugel.

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup melted margarine or butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp.  cinnamon
  • 1/2 lb.  wide noodles
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cup chopped apples

Beat the eggs thoroughly in a large mixing bowl.  Add the butter, sugar, and cinnamon; beat until thoroughly blended.  Cook the noodles and rinse them in cold water.  Do not drain them too thoroughly.  Put the noodles into the egg mixture and stir until the noodles are coated with the mixture.  Let them sit in the refrigerator for about 15-30 minutes, so the noodles absorb some of the egg mixture.  Stir again.

Put about half of the egg-noodle mixture into a casserole dish.  Put the raisins, almonds and apples on top.  Put the remaining egg-noodle mixture on top of that.  Bake for about 30-45 minutes at 350 degrees, until the egg part is firm and the noodles on top are crispy.  Can be served warm or cold.

Jewish Apple Cake

Jewish desserts generally do not have any dairy products in them, because of the constraints of kashrut.  Under the kosher laws, dairy products cannot be eaten at the same meal as meat, thus Jewish desserts are usually pareve (neither meat nor dairy).  An example of this kind of cooking is the Jewish apple cake, which may be seen in many grocery stores.  It is not clear if this kind of cake is actually a traditional Jewish dish; we cannot find any recipes for it in any of our Jewish cookbooks.  However, the style of it is very much in accord with Jewish cooking styles.  Jewish apple cake is a light, almost spongy cake with chunks of apples in it.  It has no dairy products; the liquid portion that would usually be milk is replaced with apple juice, making a very sweet cake.

Links to Other Recipes

Elsewhere in this site, you may find recipes for:

Latkes, potato pancakes traditionally served during Chanukkah.

Hamentaschen, filled cookies traditionally served during Purim.

Charoset, a mixture of fruit, nuts, and wine traditionally served during Passover.

 

 

Hebrew Alphabet

Level:  Basic

The Hebrew and Yiddish languages use a different alphabet from English.  The picture below illustrates the Hebrew alphabet, in Hebrew alphabetical order.  Note that Hebrew is written from right to left, rather than left to right as in English, so Alef is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and Tav is the last.  The Hebrew alphabet is often called the "alefbet", because of its first two letters.

Letters of the Alefbet

Hebrew AlefBet

If you are familiar with Greek, you will no doubt notice substantial similarities in letter names and in the order of the alphabet.

The "Kh" and the "Ch" are pronounced as in German or Scottish, a throat clearing noise, not as the "ch" in "chair".

Note that there are two versions of some letters.  Kaf, Mem, Nun, Pe, and Tzade all are written differently when they appear at the end of a word from when they appear in the beginning or middle of the word.  The version used at the end of a word is referred to as Final Kaf, Final Mem, etc.  The version of the letter on the left is the final version.  In all cases except Final Mem, the final version has a long tail.

Vowels and Points

Like most early Semitic alphabetic writing systems, the alefbet has no vowels.  People who are fluent in the language do not need vowels to read Hebrew, and most things written in Hebrew in Israel are written without vowels.  However, the rabbis realized the need for aids to pronunciation, so they developed a system of dots and dashes known as points.  These dots and dashes are written above, inside, or below the letter, in ways that do not alter the spacing of the line.  Text containing these markings is referred to as "pointed" text.  Below is an example of pointed text.  For emphasis, the points in the illustration are written in blue, and are somewhat larger than they would ordinarily be written.

Pointed TextThe line of text at the right would be pronounced (in Sephardic pronunciation, which is what most people today use):  "V’ahavta l’rayahkhah kamokha" (And you shall love your neighbor as yourself, Leviticus 19,18).

Note that some Hebrew letters have two pronunciations.  Bet, Kaf, and Pe have a "hard" sound (the first sound) and a "soft" sound (the second sound).  In pointed texts, these letters have dots in the center when they are to be pronounced with the hard sound.  See the example of pointed text above.  In Ashkenazic pronunciation (the pronunciation used by many Orthodox Jews and by older Jews), Tav also has a soft sound, and is pronounced as an "s" when it does not have a dot.  Vav, usually a consonant pronounced as a "v", is sometimes a vowel pronounced "oo" or "oh".  When it is pronounced "oo", pointed texts have a dot in the middle.  When it is pronounced "oh", pointed texts have a dot on top.  See the example of pointed text above.  Shin is pronounced "sh" when it has a dot over the right branch and "s" when it has a dot over the left branch.  Other letters do not change pronunciation.

Styles of Writing

The style of writing illustrated above is the one most commonly seen in Hebrew books.  It is referred to as block print or sometimes Assyrian text.

For sacred documents, such as torah scrolls or the scrolls inside tefillin and mezuzot, there is a special writing style with "crowns" (crows-foot-like marks coming up from the upper points) on many of the letters.  This style of writing is known as STA"M (an abbreviation for "Sifrei Torah, Tefillin, and Mezuzot," which is where you will see that style of writing.  For more information about the STA"M alphabet, including illustrations and relevant rules, see Hebrew Alphabet used in writing STA"M.

Modern ScriptThere is another style used for handwriting, in much the same way that cursive is used for the Latin (English) alphabet.  This modern script style is illustrated at the right.  This script style is the most popular today, but some Jews in the Orient use a script that is rather similar to the Rashi script illustrated in the next paragraph.

Rashi ScriptAnother style is used in certain texts to distinguish the body of the text from commentary upon the text.  This style is known as Rashi Script, in honor of Rashi, the most popular commentator on the Torah and the Talmud.  The alefbet at the right is an example of Rashi Script.

Transliteration

The process of writing Hebrew words in the Latin (English) alphabet is known as transliteration.  Transliteration is more an art than a science, and opinions on the correct way to transliterate words vary widely.  This is why the Jewish festival of lights (in Hebrew, Chet-Nun-Kaf-He) is spelled Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hanuka, and many other interesting ways.  Each spelling has a legitimate phonetic and orthographic basis; none is right or wrong from a linguist’s viewpoint, though some are more remote from Hebrew’s early pronunciation.

Numerical Values

Each letter in the alefbet has a numerical value.  These values can be used to write numbers, as the Romans used some of their letters (I, V, X, L, C, M) to represent numbers.  Alef through Yod have the values 1 through 10.  Yod through Qof have the values 10 through 100, counting by 10s.  Qof through Tav have the values 100 through 400, counting by 100s.  Final letters have the same value as their non-final counterparts.  The number 11 would be rendered Yod-Alef, the number 12 would be Yod-Bet, the number 21 would be Kaf-Alef, the word Torah (Tav-Vav-Resh-He) has the numerical value 611, etc.  The only significant oddity in this pattern is the number 15, which if rendered as 10+5 would be a name of God, so it is normally written Tet-Vav (9+6).

Because of this system of assigning numerical values to letters, every word has a numerical value.  There is an entire discipline of Jewish mysticism known as Gematria that is entirely devoted to finding hidden meanings in the numerical values of words.  For example, the number 18 is very significant, because it is the numerical value of the word Chai, meaning life.  Donations to Jewish charities are routinely made in multiples of 18 for that reason.  It may be pointed out that the numerical value of Vav (often transliterated as W) is 6, and therefore WWW has the numerical value of 6+6+6, which is equivalent to life!

 

 

Hebrew Language:  Root Words

Level:  Intermediate

 The vast majority of words in the Hebrew language can be boiled down to a three-consonant root word that contains the essence of the word’s meaning.  For example, the first word of the Torah is "bereishit", meaning in the beginning.  The root is Resh-Alef-Shin, which means head or first.  (See Hebrew Alphabet to learn the letters).  It is the same root as the "Rosh" in "Rosh Hashanah" (first of the year, i.e., Jewish New Year).

 There are surprisingly few root words in biblical Hebrew, but we get a lot of mileage out of the ones we have.  For example, from the root word Qof-Dalet-Shin, meaning holy, sacred, or sanctified, we get kedushah (holiness), kiddush (a prayer over wine sanctifying the Sabbath or a holiday), Kaddish (an important prayer commonly thought of as a mourning prayer), aron kodesh (holy cabinet – the place in synagogue where the Torah scrolls are kept), and kiddushin (betrothal).

 Less obviously, from the root Samech-Dalet-Resh, meaning order, we get siddur (the daily prayer book, which sets for the order of prayers), seder (the Passover family ritual, which must be performed in a specified order) and sidrah (the weekly Torah reading, also called a parashah).

 A substantial amount of rabbinical interpretation of the Bible is derived from the relation between root words.  For example, the rabbis concluded that God created women with greater intuition and understanding than men, because man was "formed" (yeetzer,Genesis 2,7) while woman was "built" (yeeben, Genesis 2,22; our JPS Bible translates "made He a woman" here).  The root of "built", Bet-Nun-Heh, is very similar to the word "binah" (Bet-Yod-Nun-Heh), meaning understanding, insight, or intuition.

If you are interested in Hebrew root words, a good book to look at is Edith Samuel’s Your Jewish Lexicon, which looks at a lot of important Jewish concepts and idioms through their root words.

 

 

The Name of God

Level:  Basic

The Significance of Names

In Jewish thought, a name is not merely an arbitrary designation, a random combination of sounds.  The name conveys the nature and essence of the thing named.  It represents the history and reputation of the being named.

This is not as strange or unfamiliar a concept as it may seem at first glance.  In English, we often refer to a person’s reputation as his "good name".  When a company is sold, one thing that may be sold is the company’s "good will", that is, the right to use the company’s name.  The Hebrew concept of a name is very similar to these ideas.

An example of this usage occurs in Exodux 3,13-22:  Moses asks God what His "name" is.  Moses is not asking "what should I call you"; rather, he is asking "who are you; what are you like; what have you done".  That is clear from God’s response.  God replies that He is eternal, that He is the God of our ancestors, that He has seen our affliction and will redeem us from bondage.

Another example of this usage is the concepts of chillul Ha-Shem and kiddush Ha-Shem.  An act that causes God or Judaism to come into disrespect or a commandment to be disobeyed is often referred to as "chillul Ha-Shem", profanation of The Name.  Clearly, we are not talking about a harm done to a word; we are talking about harm to a reputation.  Likewise, any deed that increases the respect accorded to God or Judaism is referred to as "kiddush Ha-Shem", sanctification of The Name.

Because a name represents the reputation of the thing named, a name should be treated with the same respect as the thing’s reputation.  For this reason, God’s Names, in all of their forms, are treated with enormous respect and reverence in Judaism.

The Names of God

The most important of God’s Names is the four-letter Name represented by the Hebrew letters Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh (YHVH).  It is often referred to as the Ineffable Name, the Unutterable Name or the Distinctive Name.  Linguistically, it is related to the Hebrew root Heh-Yod-Heh (to be), and reflects the idea that God’s existence is eternal.  In scripture, this Name is used when discussing God’s relation with human beings, and when emphasizing his qualities of lovingkindness and mercy.  It is frequently shortened to Yah (Yod-Heh), Yahu or Yeho (Yod-Heh-Vav), especially when used in combination with names or phrases, as in Yehoshua (Joshua, meaning the LORD is Salvation), Eliyahu (Elijah, meaning my God is the LORD), and Halleluyah (praise the LORD).

The first Name used for God in scripture is Elohim.  In form, the word is a masculine plural.  The same word (or, according to Maimonides, a homonym of it) is used to refer to princes, judges, other gods, and other powerful beings.  This Name is used in scripture when emphasizing God’s might, His creative power, and his attributes of justice and rulership.  Variations on this name include El, Eloah, Elohai (my God), and Eloheynu (our God).

God is also known as El Shaddai.  This Name is usually translated as "God Almighty", however, the derivation of the word "Shaddai" is not known.  According to some views, it is derived from the root meaning to heap benefits.  According to a Midrash, it means, "The One who said ‘dai’" ("dai" meaning enough or sufficient) and comes from the idea that when God created the universe, it expanded until He said "DAI!" (perhaps the first recorded theory of an expanding universe?).  The name Shaddai is the one written on the mezuzah scroll.  Some note that Shaddai is an acronym of Shomer Daltot Yisrael, Guardian of the Doors of Israel.

Another significant Name of God is YHVH Tzva’ot.  This Name is normally translated as LORD of Hosts.  The word "tzva’ot" means hosts in the sense of a military grouping or an organized array.  The Name refers to God’s leadership and sovereignty.  Interestingly, this Name is rarely used in scripture.  It never appears in the Torah (i.e., the first five books).  It appears primarily in the prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, as well as many times in the Psalms.

Writing the Name of God

Jews do not casually write any Name of God.  This practice does not come from the commandment not to take the LORD’s Name in vain, as many suppose.  In Torah thought, that commandment refers solely to oath-taking and vain blessings, and is a prohibition against using God’s Name falsely or frivolously (the word normally translated as "in vain" literally means for falsehood).

The Torah does not prohibit writing the Name of God per se; it only prohibits erasing or defacing a Name of God.  However, observant Jews avoid writing any Name of God casually because of the risk that the written Name might later be defaced, obliterated, or destroyed accidentally or by one who does not know better.

The commandment not to erase or deface the name of God comes from Deuteronomy 12,3.  In that passage, the people are commanded that when they take over the promised land, they should destroy all things related to the idolatrous religions of that region, and should utterly destroy the names of the local deities.  Immediately afterwards, we are commanded not to do the same to our God.  From this, the rabbis inferred that we are commanded not to destroy any holy thing, and not to erase or deface a Name of God.

It is worth noting that this prohibition against erasing or defacing Names of God applies only to Names that are written in some kind of permanent form, and recent rabbinical decisions have held that writing on a computer is not a permanent form, thus it is not a violation to type God’s Name into a computer and then backspace over it or cut and paste it, or copy and delete files with God’s Name in them.  However, once you print the document out, it becomes a permanent form.  That is why many observant Jews avoid writing a Name of God on web sites like this one or in newsgroup messages:  because there is a risk that someone else will print it out and deface it.

Normally, Orthodox Jews avoid writing the Name by substituting letters or syllables, for example, writing "G-d" instead of "God".  In addition, the number 15, which would ordinarily be written in Hebrew as Yod-Heh (10-5), is normally written as Tet-Vav (9-6), because Yod-Heh is a Name.  See Hebrew Alphabet for more information about using letters as numerals.  In English letters, there is no need for these stringencies.  On the other hand, especially for those who think that tricky spelling solves their problems, we remind you here of what we say on our introduction page:

IMPORTANT NOTE:  If you print from these pages for reading away from your computer, please remember that even where no names of God appear, whatever discusses matters of Torah is forbidden for a Jew to treat with disrespect or to throw away.  So either save what you print, or turn it over for burial as required for all holy writings that are no longer needed (or even better, pass it on to a friend to read).

Pronouncing the Name of God

Nothing in the Torah prohibits a person from pronouncing the Name of God.  Indeed, it is evident from scripture that God’s Name was pronounced routinely.  Many common Hebrew names contain "Yah" or "Yahu", part of God’s four-letter Name.  The Name was pronounced as part of daily services in the Temple.

The Mishnah confirms that there was no prohibition against pronouncing The Name in ancient times.  In fact, the Mishnah recommends using God’s Name as a routine greeting to a fellow Jew.  Berakhot 9,5.  However, by the time of the Talmud, it was the custom to use substitute Names for God.  Some rabbis asserted that a person who pronounces YHVH according to its letters (instead of using a substitute) has no place in the World to Come, and should be put to death.  Instead of pronouncing the four-letter Name, we usually substitute the Name "Adonai"; but sometimes we substitute "Elohim" when YHVH comes either immediately before or after the name "Adonai" itself.

Although the prohibition on pronunciation applies only to the four-letter Name, Jews customarily do not pronounce any of God’s many Names except in prayer or study.  The usual Orthodox practice is to substitute letters or syllables, so that Adonai becomes Ha-Shem or Adoshem and Eloheynu and Elohim become Elokeynu and Elokim, etc.  This practice is quite unnecessary in the context of learning Torah, and it is especially offensive when whole verses are read from the Bible with these ugly substititutes for God’s names.

With the Temple destroyed, the prohibition on pronouncing The Name outside of it caused pronunciation of the Name to fall into disuse.  Scholars passed down knowledge of the correct pronunciation of YHVH for many generations, but eventually the correct pronunciation was lost, and we no longer know it with any certainty.  We do not know what vowels were used, or even whether the Vav in the Name was a vowel or a consonant.  See Hebrew Alphabet for more information about the difficulties in pronouncing Hebrew.  Some religious scholars suggest that the Name was pronounced "Yahweh", but others do not find this pronunciation particularly persuasive; our opinion is that this pronunciation is quite insulting to God and expresses more the man-centered ignorance of the scholars than the true name of God (in other words, never say "Yahweh", unless you intend to insult Him, God forbid!).

Some Christian scholars render the four-letter Name as "Jehovah", but this pronunciation is particularly unlikely.  The word "Jehovah" comes from practice of writing YHVH in the Hebrew Bible with the vowels of the Name "Adonai" (the usual substitute for YHVH) on the consonants of YHVH to remind people not to pronounce YHVH as written.  A sixteenth century German Christian scribe, while transliterating the Bible into Latin for the Pope, wrote the Name out as it appeared in his texts, with the consonants of YHVH and the vowels of Adonai, and came up with the word JeHoVaH, and the name stuck.

 

 

Torah

Level:  Basic

 The word "Torah" is a tricky one, because it can mean different things in different contexts.  In its most limited sense, "Torah" refers to the Five Books of Moses:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  But the word "torah" can also be used to refer to the entire Hebrew Bible (the body of scripture known to non-Jews as the Old Testament and to Jews as the Tanakh or Written Torah), or in its broadest sense, to the whole body of Jewish law and teachings.

Written Torah

To Jews, there is no "Old Testament" (an offensive term suggesting that God’s Word has been replaced by a newer and better "testament").  The books that Christians call the New Testament are not part of our Hebrew scriptures (they were written in Greek in a spirit quite alien to Hebrew thought).  Our Bible is also known to us as the Written Torah.

This is a list of the books of Written Torah, in the order in which they appear in the best old Hebrew manuscripts, with the Hebrew name of the book, a translation of the Hebrew name (where it is not the same as the English name), and English names of the books (where it is not the same as the Hebrew name).  The Hebrew names of the first five books are derived from the first few words of the book.  The text of each book is more or less the same in Jewish translations as what appears in Christian bibles, although there are many slight differences in the numbering of verses and chapters and many highly significant differences in the translations; this is meaningful enough that we recommend studying only in the more reliable Jewish translations.

TORAH (The Law):

  • Bereishith (In the beginning) (Genesis)
  • Shemoth (The names) (Exodus)
  • Vayiqra (And He called) (Leviticus)
  • Bamidbar (In the wilderness) (Numbers)
  • Devarim (The words) (Deuteronomy)

NEVI’IM (The Prophets):

  • Yehoshua (Joshua)
  • Shoftim (Judges)
  • Shmuel (I &II Samuel)
  • Melakhim (I & II Kings)
  • Yeshayah (Isaiah)
  • Yirmyah (Jeremiah)
  • Yechezqel (Ezekiel)
  • The Twelve (treated as one book)
    • Hoshea (Hosea)
    • Yoel (Joel)
    • Amos
    • Ovadyah (Obadiah)
    • Yonah (Jonah)
    • Mikhah (Micah)
    • Nachum
    • Chavaqquq (Habbakkuk)
    • Tzefanyah (Zephaniah)
    • Chaggai
    • Zekharyah (Zechariah)
    • Malakhi

KETHUVIM (The Writings):

  • Divrei Ha-Yamim (The words of the days) (Chronicles)
  • Tehillim (Psalms)
  • Iyov (Job)
  • Mishlei (Proverbs)
  • Ruth
  • Shir Ha-Shirim (Song of Songs)
  • Qoheleth (the author’s name) (Ecclesiastes)
  • Eikhah (Lamentations)
  • Esther
  • Daniel
  • Ezra and Nechemyah (Nehemiah) (treated as one book)

Written Torah is often referred to as the Tanakh, which is an acrostic of Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim.

Torah Scrolls

 The scriptures that we use in services are to be written in scrolls on specially prepared skins of kosher animals.  They are always hand-written, in attractive Hebrew calligraphy with "crowns" (crows-foot-like marks coming up from the upper points) on many of the letters.  You are not supposed to touch the parchment on these scrolls:  some say because they are too holy; some say because the parchment, made from animal skins, is a source of ritual defilement; others say because your fingers’ sweat has acids that will damage the parchment over time.

 Instead, you follow the text with a pointer, called a Yad.  "Yad" means hand in Hebrew, and the pointer usually is in the shape of a hand with a pointing index finger.  When not being read, the scrolls are protected by a fabric covering or a decorated cylindrical box, often ornamented with silver crowns on the handles of the scrolls and other decorations.

 The scrolls are kept in a cabinet in the synagogue called an "ark", as in Ark of the Covenant, not as in Noah’s Ark.  The words are different and unrelated in Hebrew.  The former is an acrostic of "aron kodesh", meaning holy cabinet, while the latter is an English translation of the Hebrew word "teyvat" meaning container.

The Torah scrolls that we read from in synagogue are unpointed text, with no vowels or musical notes, so the ability to read a passage from a scroll is a valuable skill, and usually requires substantial advance preparation (reviewing the passage in a text with points).  See Hebrew Alphabet for more on pointed and unpointed texts.

Chumash

The Five Books of Moses are often printed in a form that corresponds to the division into weekly readings (called parashiyot in Hebrew).  Scriptures bound in this way are generally referred to as a chumash.  The word "chumash" comes from the Hebrew root meaning five.  Sometimes, a chumash is simply a collection of the five books of the Torah alone bound in a single volume; but often, a chumash includes the haftarah portions inserted after each week’s parashah and popular commentaries, and is bound in five small volumes.

Talmud

In addition to the written scriptures we have an "Oral Torah", a tradition explaining what the Five Books of Moses mean and how to interpret them and apply the Laws.  Orthodox Jews believe God taught the Oral Torah to Moses, and he taught it to others, and others taught it to others down to the present day.  This tradition was maintained in oral form only until about the 2d century C.E., when much of the oral law was compiled and written down in a document called the Mishnah.

Over the next few centuries, authoritative commentaries elaborating on the Mishnah and recording the rest of the oral law were written down in Israel and Babylon.  These additional commentaries are known as the Tosefta, Mekhileta, Sifra, Sifre, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud.  The last was completed at about 500 C.E.

The two largest works are the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud.  The Babylonian one is more comprehensive, and is the one most people mean when they refer to The Talmud.

The Mishnah is divided into six sections called sedarim (in English, orders).  Each seder contains one or more divisions called masekhtot (in English, tractates).  There are 63 masekhtot in the Mishnah.  Most, though not all, of these masekhtot have been addressed in the Talmud.  Although these divisions seem to indicate subject matter, it is important to note that the Mishnah and the Talmud tend to engage in quite a bit of free-association, thus widely diverse subjects may be discussed in a seder or masekhtah.  Below is the division of the Mishnah into sedarim and masekhtot:

  • Zera`im (Seeds), dealing with agricultural laws
    • Berakhot
    • Pe’ah
    • Demai
    • Kil’ayim
    • Shevi`it
    • Terumot
    • Ma`aserot
    • Ma`aser Sheni
    • Challah
    • `Orlah
    • Biqqurim
  • Mo`ed (Festival), dealing with shabbat and festivals
    • Shabbat
    • `Eruvin
    • Pesachim
    • Sheqalim
    • Yoma
    • Sukkah
    • Betsah
    • Rosh Hashanah
    • Ta`anit
    • Megillah
    • Mo`ed Qatan
    • Chagigah
  • Nashim (Women), dealing with marriage, divorce, and contracts
    • Yevamot
    • Ketubot
    • Nedarim
    • Nazir
    • Sotah
    • Gittin
    • Qiddushin
  • Neziqqin (Damages), dealing with financial laws and courts
    • Bava Qamma
    • Bava Metsi`a
    • Bava Batra
    • Sanhedrin
    • Makkot
    • Shavu`ot
    • `Eduyyot
    • `Avodah Zarah
    • ‘Avot (also known as Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers)
    • Horayot
  • Kodashim (Holy Things), dealing with sacrifices and the Temple
    • Zevachim
    • Menachot
    • Chullin
    • Bekhorot
    • `Arakhin
    • Temurah
    • Keretot
    • Me`ilah
    • Tamid
    • Middot
    • Qinnim
  • Taharot (Purities), dealing with laws of ritual purity and impurity
    • Kelim
    • ‘Ohalot
    • Nega`im
    • Parah
    • Taharot
    • Miqva’ot
    • Niddah
    • Makhshirin
    • Zavim
    • Tevul-Yom
    • Yadayim
    • `Oqatsin
Other Writings

In addition to these works, we have midrashim, which are basically stories expanding on incidents in the Bible to derive principles of Jewish law or to teach moral lessons.  For example, there is a midrash about why Moses was not a good speaker (he put coals in his mouth as a child as a way of proving that he was not greedy), and another one about Abram discovering monotheism and rejecting his father’s idolatry (that is a nice one:  he smashes up all his father’s idols except the big one, then blames the mess on the big one, as a way of showing his father that the idols do not really have any power).  Some of them fill in gaps in the narrative.  For example, in Genesis 22,2, why does God say, "thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac"?  Would not the name alone be enough?  One story says that the narrative is skipping out Abraham’s responses.  "Take thy son." "Which one?" "Thine only son." "But I have two!" "Whom thou lovest." "I love them both!" "Even Isaac."

We also have a mystical tradition, known as Kabbalah.  The primary written work in the Kabbalistic tradition is the Zohar.  Traditionally, rabbis discouraged teaching this material to anyone under the age of 40, because it is too likely to be misinterpreted by anyone without sufficient grounding in the basics.

 

 

Weekly Torah Readings

Level:  Intermediate

Each week in synagogue, we read (or, more accurately, chant, because it is sung) a passage from the Torah.  This passage is referred to as a parashah.  The first parashah, for example, is Parashat Bereishit, which covers from the beginning of Genesis to the story of Noah.  There are 54 parashahs (parashiyot), one for each week of a leap year, so that in the course of a year, we read the entire Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) in our services.  During non-leap years, there are 50 weeks, so some of the shorter portions are doubled up.  We reach the last portion of the Torah around a holiday called Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Law), which occurs in September or October, a few weeks after Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).  On Simchat Torah, we read the last portion of the Torah, and proceed immediately to the first paragraph of Genesis, showing that the Torah is a circle, and never ends.

In the synagogue service, the weekly parashah is followed by a passage from the prophets, which is referred to as a haftarah.  Contrary to common misconception, "haftarah" does not mean "half-Torah".  The word comes from a Hebrew root meaning end or conclusion.  Usually, the haftarah portion is no longer than one chapter, and has some relation to the Torah portion of the week.

The Torah and haftarah readings are performed with great ceremony:  the Torah is paraded around the room before it is brought to rest on the bimah (podium).  The reading is divided up into portions, and various members of the congregation have the honor of reciting blessings over a portion of the reading and doing the reading.  This honor is referred to as an "aliyah" (literally, ascension).

The first aliyah of any day’s reading is customarily reserved for a kohein, the second for a Levite, and priority for subsequent aliyoth is given to people celebrating major life events, such as marriage or the birth of a child.  In fact, a Bar Mitzvah was originally nothing more than the first aliyah of a boy who had reached the age to be permitted by custom such an honor (the Torah permits children to take an aliyah and to read, just like adults, and in Yemenite congregations most six-year-olds already can take an aliyah and read for themselves).

Celebrants of life events are customarily given the last aliyah, which includes blessings on the last part of the Torah reading as well as several blessings of the haftarah reading.  The person given this honor is referred to as the "maftir", from the same root as haftarah, meaning the one who concludes.

For more information about services, see Jewish Liturgy.

Jewish scriptures are sometimes bound in a form that corresponds to this division into weekly readings.  Scriptures bound in this way are generally referred to as a chumash.  The word "chumash" comes from the Hebrew word meaning five, and refers to the five books of the Torah.  Sometimes, the word chumash simply refers to a collection of the five books of the Torah.  But often, a chumash contains the entire first five books, divided up by the weekly parashiyot, with the haftarah portion inserted after each week’s parashah.

Table of Weekly Parashiyot

Below is a table of the regular weekly scriptural readings.  Haftarot in parentheses indicate Sephardic ritual where it differs from Ashkenazic.  There are other variations on the readings for Yemenites (and others), but these are the most commonly used ones.  If you want to know the reading for this week, check the Current Calendar.

There are alternative and additional special readings for certain holidays and other special days, listed in a separate table below.

Parashah
Torah
Haftarah

Bereishit
Genesis 1,1-6,8
Isaiah 42,5-43,10
(Isaiah 42,5-21)

Noach
Genesis 6,9-11,32
Isaiah 54,1-55,5
(Isaiah 54,1-10)

Lekh Lekha
Genesis 12,1-17,27
Isaiah 40,27-41,16

Vayeira
Genesis 18,1-22,24
2 Kings 4,1-37
(2 Kings 4,1-23)

Chayei Sarah
Genesis 23,1-25,18
1 Kings 1,1-31

Toldot
Genesis 25,19-28,9
Malachi 1,1-2,7

Vayeitzei
Genesis 28,10-32,3
Hosea 12,13-14,10
(Hosea 11,7-12,12)

Vayishlach
Genesis 32,4-36,43
Hosea 11,7-12,12
(Obadiah 1,1-21)

Vayyeshev
Genesis 37,1-40,23
Amos 2,6-3,8

Miqeitz
Genesis 41,1-44,17
1 Kings 3,15-4,1

Vayigash
Genesis 44,18-47,27
Ezekiel 37,15-28

Vayechi
Genesis 47,28-50,26
1 Kings 2,1-12

Shemot
Exodus 1,1-6,1
Isaiah 27,6-28,13; 29,22-23
(Jeremiah 1,1-2,3)

Va’eira
Exodus 6,2-9,35
Ezekiel 28,25-29,21

Bo
Exodus 10,1-13,16
Jeremiah 46,13-28

Beshalach
Exodus 13,17-17,16
Judges 4,4-5,31
(Judges 5,1-31)

Yitro
Exodus 18,1-20,23
Isaiah 6,1-7,6; 9,5-6
(Isaiah 6,1-13)

Mishpatim
Exodus 21,1-24,18
Jeremiah 34,8-22; 33,25-26

Terumah
Exodus 25,1-27,19
1 Kings 5,26-6,13

Tetzaveh
Exodus 27,20-30,10
Ezekiel 43,10-27

Ki Tisa
Exodus 30,11-34,35
1 Kings 18,1-39
(1 Kings 18,20-39)

Vayaqhel
Exodus 35,1-38,20
1 Kings 7,40-50
(1 Kings 7,13-26)

Pequdei
Exodus 38,21-40,38
1 Kings 7,51-8,21
(1 Kings 7,40-50)

Vayiqra
Leviticus 1,1-5,26
Isaiah 43,21-44,23

Tzav
Leviticus 6,1-8,36
Jeremiah 7,21-8,3; 9,22-23

Shemini
Leviticus 9,1-11,47
2 Samuel 6,1-7,17
(2 Samuel 6,1-19)

Tazria
Leviticus 12,1-13,59
2 Kings 4,42-5,19

Metzora
Leviticus 14,1-15,33
2 Kings 7,3-20

Acharei
Leviticus 16,1-18,30
Ezekiel 22,1-16

Qedoshim
Leviticus 19,1-20,27
Amos 9,7-15
(Ezekiel 20,2-20)

Emor
Leviticus 21,1-24,23
Ezekiel 44,15-31

Behar
Leviticus 25,1-26,2
Jeremiah 32,6-27

Bechuqotai
Leviticus 26,3-27,34
Jeremiah 16,19-17,14

Bamidbar
Numbers 1,1-4,20
Hosea 2,1-22

Nasso
Numbers 4,21-7,89
Judges 13,2-25

Beha’alotkha
Numbers 8,1-12,16
Zechariah 2,14-4,7

Shelach
Numbers 13,1-15,41
Joshua 2,1-24

Qorach
Numbers 16,1-18,32
1 Samuel 11,14-12,22

Chuqat
Numbers 19,1-22,1
Judges 11,1-33

Balaq
Numbers 22,2-25,9
Micah 5,6-6,8

Pinchas
Numbers 25,10-30,1
1 Kings 18,46-19,21

Mattot
Numbers 30,2-32,42
Jeremiah 1,1-2,3

Masei
Numbers 33,1-36,13
Jeremiah 2,4-28; 3,4
(Jeremiah 2,4-28; 4,1-2)

Devarim
Deuteronomy 1,1-3,22
Isaiah 1,1-27

Va’etchanan
Deuteronomy 3,23-7,11
Isaiah 40,1-26

Eiqev
Deuteronomy 7,12-11,25
Isaiah 49,14-51,3

Re’eh
Deuteronomy 11,26-16,17
Isaiah 54,11-55,5

Shoftim
Deuteronomy 16,18-21,9
Isaiah 51,12-52,12

Ki Teitzei
Deuteronomy 21,10-25,19
Isaiah 54,1-10

Ki Tavo
Deuteronomy 26,1-29,8
Isaiah 60,1-22

Nitzavim
Deuteronomy 29,9-30,20
Isaiah 61,10-63,9

Vayeilekh
Deuteronomy 31,1-31,30
Hosea 14,2-10; Joel 2,15-27
(Hosea 14,2-10; Micah 7,18-20)

Ha’azinu
Deuteronomy 32,1-32,52
2 Samuel 22,1-51

Vezot Haberakhah
Deuteronomy 33,1-34,12
Joshua 1,1-18
(Joshua 1,1-9)

Table of Special Parashiyot

Below are additional readings for holidays and special sabbaths.  Haftarot in parentheses indicate Sephardic ritual where it differs from Ashkenazic.  Note that on holidays, the Maftir portion ordinarily comes from a different Torah scroll.  The Maftir portion is usually the Torah portion that institutes the holiday or specifies the holiday’s offerings.

Parashah
Torah
Haftarah

Rosh Hashanah, Day 1
Genesis 21,1-34
Numbers 29,1-6
1 Samuel 1,1-2,10

Rosh Hashanah, Day 2
Genesis 22,1-24
Numbers 29,1-6
Jeremiah 31,2-20

Shabbat Shuvah
Hosea 14,2-10; Joel 2,15-27
(Hosea 14,2-10; Micah 7,18-20)

Yom Kippur, Morning
Leviticus 16,1-34
Numbers 29,7-11
Isaiah 57,14-58,14

Yom Kippur, Afternoon
Leviticus 18,1-30
Jonah 1,1-4,11; Micah 7,18-20

Sukkot, Day 1
Leviticus 22,26-23,44
Numbers 29,12-16
Zechariah 14,1-21

Sukkot, Day 2
Leviticus 22,26-23,44
Numbers 29,12-16
1 Kings 8,2-21

Sukkot, Intermediate Sabbath
Exodus 33,12-34,26
Ezekiel 38,18-39,16

Shemini Atzeret
Deuteronomy 14,22-16,17
Numbers 29,35-30,1
1 Kings 8,54-9,1

Simchat Torah
Deuteronomy 33,1-34,12
Genesis 1,1-2,3
Numbers 29,35-30,1
Joshua 1,1-18
(Joshua 1,1-9)

Chanukkah, First Sabbath
Zechariah 2,14-4,7

Chanukkah, Second Sabbath
1 Kings 7,40-50

Sheqalim
Exodus 30,11-16
2 Kings 12,1-17
(2 Kings 11,17-12,17)

Zakhor
Deuteronomy 25,17-19
1 Samuel 15,2-34
(1 Samuel 15,1-34)

Purim
Exodus 17,8-16

Parah
Numbers 19,1-22
Ezekiel 36,16-38
(Ezekiel 36,16-36)

Ha-Chodesh
Exodus 12,1-20
Ezekiel 45,16-46,18
(Ezekiel 45,18-46,15)

Shabbat Ha-Gadol
Malachi 3,4-24

Passover, Day 1
Exodus 12,21-51
Numbers 28,16-25
Joshua 5,2-6,1
(Joshua 5,2-6,1; 6,27)

Passover, Day 2
Leviticus 22,26-23,44
Numbers 28,16-25
2 Kings 23,1-9; 23,21-25

Passover, Intermediate Sabbath
Exodus 33,12-34,26
Numbers 28,19-25
Ezekiel 37,1-14

Passover, Day 7
Exodus 13,17-15,26
Numbers 28,19-25
2 Samuel 22,1-51

Passover, Day 8
Deuteronomy 15,19-16,17
Numbers 28,19-25
Isaiah 10,32-12,6

Shavu’ot, Day 1
Exodus 19,1-20,23
Numbers 28,26-31
Ezekiel 1,1-28; 3,12

Shavu’ot, Day 2
Deuteronomy 15,19-16,17
Numbers 28,26-31
Habakkuk 3,1-19
(Habakkuk 2,20-3,19)

Tisha B’Av, Morning
Deuteronomy 4,25-40
Jeremiah 8,13-9,23

Tisha B’Av, Afternoon
Exodus 32,11-14, 34,1-10
Isaiah 55,6-56,8
(Hosea 14,2-10; Micah 7,18-20)

Minor Fasts, Morning
Exodus 32,11-14, 34,1-10

Minor Fasts, Afternoon
Exodus 32,11-14, 34,1-10
Isaiah 55,6-56,8
(none)

Rosh Chodesh (weekday)
Numbers 28,1-15

Shabbat on Eve of Rosh Chodesh
1 Samuel 20,18-42

Shabbat Rosh Chodesh
Numbers 28,9-15
Isaiah 66,1-24

 

 

Prayers and Blessings

Level:  Intermediate

Tefillah:  Prayer

The Hebrew word for prayer is tefillah.  It is derived from the root Pe-Lamed-Lamed and the word l’hitpallel, meaning to judge oneself.  This surprising word origin provides insight into the purpose of Jewish prayer.  The most important part of any Jewish prayer, whether it be a prayer of petition, of thanksgiving, of praise of God, or of confession, is the introspection it provides, the moment that we spend looking inside ourselves, seeing our role in the universe and our relationship to God.

For an observant Jew, prayer is not simply something that happens in synagogue once a week (or even three times a day).  Prayer is an integral part of everyday life.  In fact, one of the most important prayers, the Birkat Ha-Mazon, is never recited in synagogue services!

Observant Jews are constantly reminded of God’s presence and of our relationship with God, because we are continually praying to Him.  Our first thoughts and words in the morning, even before we get out of bed, is a prayer thanking God for returning our souls to us.  There are prayers to be recited just before enjoying a material pleasure, such as eating or drinking, or just after them, such as after eating or drinking or after buying new clothes or ordinary household items; prayers to recite before performing any mitzvah (commandment), such as washing hands or lighting candles; prayers to recite upon seeing anything unusual, such as a king, a rainbow, or the site of a great tragedy; prayers to recite whenever some good or bad thing happens; and prayers to recite before going to bed at night.  All of these prayers are in addition to formal prayer services, which are performed three times a day every weekday and additional times on sabbaths and festivals.  See Jewish Liturgy.

The Need for Prayer

Many people today do not see the need for regular, formal prayer.  "I pray when I feel inspired to, when it is meaningful to me", they say.  This attitude overlooks two important things:  the purpose of prayer, and the need for practice.

One purpose of prayer is to increase your awareness of God in your life and the role that God plays in your life.  If you only pray when you feel inspired (that is, when you are already aware of God), then you will not increase your awareness of God.

In addition, if you want to do something well, you have to practice it continually, even when you do not feel like doing it.  This is as true of prayer as it is of playing a sport, playing a musical instrument, or writing.  The sense of humility and awe of God that is essential to proper prayer does not come easily to modern man, and will not simply come to you when you feel the need to pray.  If you wait until inspiration strikes, you will not have the skills you need to pray effectively.  Before starting to pray regularly, many find that when they want to pray, they do not know how.  They do not know what to say, or how to say it, or how to establish the proper frame of mind.  If you pray regularly, you will learn how to express yourself in prayer.

Kavanah:  The Mindset for Prayer

When you say the same prayers day after day, you might expect that the prayers would become routine and would begin to lose meaning.  While this may be true for some people, this is not the intention of Jewish prayer.  As said at the beginning of this discussion, the most important part of prayer is the introspection it provides.  Accordingly, the proper frame of mind is vital to prayer.

The mindset for prayer is referred to as kavanah, which is generally translated as "concentration" or "intent".  The minimum level of kavanah is an awareness that one is speaking to God and an intention to fulfill the obligation to pray.  If you do not have this minimal level of kavanah, then you are not praying; you are merely reading.  In addition, it is preferred that you have a mind free from other thoughts, that you know and understand what you are praying about and that you think about the meaning of the prayer.

Liturgical melodies are often used as an aid to forming the proper mindset.  Many prayers and prayer services have traditional melodies associated with them.  These can increase your focus on what you are doing and block out extraneous thoughts.

Hebrew:  The Language for Prayer

The Talmud states that it is permissible to pray in any language that you can understand; however, traditional Judaism has always stressed the importance of praying in Hebrew.  A traditional Chasidic story speaks glowingly of the prayer of an uneducated Jew who wanted to pray but did not speak Hebrew.  The man began to recite the only Hebrew he knew:  the alphabet.  He recited it over and over again, until a rabbi asked what he was doing.  The man told the rabbi, "The Holy One, Blessed is He, knows what is in my heart.  I will give Him the letters, and He can put the words together".

Even liberal Judaism is increasingly recognizing the value of Hebrew prayer.  It seems that fifty years ago, you never heard a word of Hebrew in a Reform synagogue.  Today, the standard Reform prayer book contains the text of many prayers in Hebrew, and many of the standard prayers are recited in Hebrew, generally followed by transliteration and an English translation.  Some Reform rabbis read from the Torah in Hebrew, also generally followed by an English translation or explanation.

There are many good reasons for praying in Hebrew:  it gives you an incentive for learning Hebrew, which might otherwise be forgotten; it provides a link to Jews all over the world; it is the language in which the covenant with God was made, etc.  For us, however, the most important reason to pray in Hebrew is that Hebrew is the language of Jewish thought.

Any language other than Hebrew is laden down with the connotations of that language’s culture and religion.  When you translate a Hebrew word, you lose subtle shadings of Jewish ideas and add ideas that are foreign to Judaism.  Only in Hebrew can the pure essence of Jewish thought be preserved and properly understood.  For example, the English word "commandment" connotes an order imposed upon us by a stern and punishing God, while the Hebrew word "mitzvah" implies an honor and privilege given to us, a responsibility that we undertook as part of the covenant we made with God, a good deed that we are eager to perform.

This is not to suggest that praying in Hebrew is more important than understanding what you are praying about.  If you are in synagogue and you do not know Hebrew well enough, you can listen to the Hebrew while looking at the translation.  If you are reciting a prayer or blessing alone, you should get a general idea of its meaning from the translation before attempting to recite it in Hebrew.  But even if you do not fully understand Hebrew at this time, you should try to hear the prayer, experience the prayer, in Hebrew.

Group Prayer

Most of our prayers are expressed in the first person plural, "us" instead of "me", and are recited on behalf of all of the Jewish people.  This form of prayer emphasizes our responsibility for one another and our interlinked fates.

Formal prayer services are largely a group activity rather than an individual activity.  Although it is permissible to pray alone and it fulfills the obligation to pray, you should generally make every effort to pray with a group, short of violating a commandment to do so.

A complete formal prayer service cannot be conducted without a quorum of at least 10 adult Jewish men; that is, at least 10 people who are obligated to fulfill the commandment to recite the prayers.  This prayer quorum is referred to as a minyan (from a Hebrew root meaning to count or to number).  Certain prayers and religious activities cannot be performed without a minyan.  This need for a minyan has often helped to keep the Jewish community together in isolated areas.

Berakhot:  Blessings

A berakhah (blessing) is a special kind of prayer that is very common in Judaism.  Berakhot are recited both as part of the synagogue services and as a response or prerequisite to a wide variety of daily occurrences.  Berakhot are easy to recognize:  they all start with the word barukh (blessed or praised).

The words barukh and berakhah are both derived from the Hebrew root Bet-Resh-Kaf, meaning knee, and refer to the practice of showing respect by bending the knee and bowing, getting down on the knees and prostrating on the ground.  There are several places in Jewish liturgy where bowing is performed, most of them at a time when a berakhah is being recited.  At the end of the formal standing prayer, one is required to at least get down on his knees, if not to prostrate himself altogether on the ground; this requirement is commonly ignored by most Jews today, but continues to be the practice among Muslims all over the world, who learned this from the Jews, who still did it at the time Islaam was founded.

According to Jewish Law, a person must recite at least 100 berakhot each day!  This is not as difficult as it sounds.  Repeating the Shemoneh Esrei three times a day (as all observant Jews do) covers 57 berakhot all by itself, and there are dozens of everyday occurrences that require berakhot.

Who Blesses Whom?

Many English-speaking people find the idea of berakhot very confusing.  To them, the word "blessing" seems to imply that the person saying the blessing is conferring some benefit on the person he is speaking to.  For example, in Catholic tradition, a person making a confession begins by asking the priest to bless him.  Yet in a berakhah, the person saying the blessing is speaking to God.  How can the creation confer a benefit upon the Creator?

This confusion stems largely from difficulties in the translation.  The Hebrew word "barukh" is not a verb describing what we do to God; it is an adjective describing God as the source of all blessings.  When we recite a berakhah, we are not blessing God; we are expressing wonder at how blessed God is.

Content of a Berakhah

There are basically three types of berakhot:  ones recited before enjoying a material pleasure (birkhot ha-na’ah), ones recited before performing a mitzvah (commandment) (birkhot ha-mitzvot) and ones recited at special times and events (birkhot hoda’ah).

Berakhot recited before enjoying a material pleasure, such as eating and drinking, acknowledge God as the creator of the thing that we are about to enjoy.  The berakhah for bread praises God as the one "who brings forth bread from the earth".  The berakhah when putting on our clothing every morning praises God as the one "who clothes the naked".  By reciting these berakhot, we acknowledge that God is the Creator of all things, and that we have no right to use things until we recognize what He has done.  The berakhah essentially gains permission to use the thing.

Berakhot recited before performing a mitzvah (commandment), such as washing hands or lighting candles, praise God as the one "who sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us" to do whatever it is we are about to do.  Reciting such a blessing is an essential element of the performance of a mitzvah.  In Jewish tradition, a person who performs a mitzvah with a sense of obligation is considered more meritorious than a person who performs the same mitzvah because he feels like it.  Recitation of the berakhah focuses our attention on the idea that we are performing a religious duty with a sense of obligation.  It is worth noting that we recite such berakhot over both biblical and rabbinical commandments.  In the latter case, the berakhah can be understood as "who sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to obey the rabbis, who commanded us to" do whatever it is we are about to do.  See Halakhah:  Jewish Law for an explanation of the distinction between biblical and rabbinical commandments.

Berakhot recited at special times and events, such as when seeing a rainbow or a king or hearing good or bad news, acknowledge God as the ultimate source of all good and evil in the universe.  It is important to note that such berakhot are recited for both good things and things that appear to us to be bad.  When we see or hear something bad, we praise God as "the true Judge", underscoring the idea that things that appear to be bad happen for a reason that is ultimately just, even if we in our limited understanding cannot always see the reason.

Form of a Berakhah

Many of the berakhot that we recite today were composed by Ezra and the Men of the Great Assembly nearly 2500 years ago, and they continue to be recited in the same form.

All berakhot use the phrase "Barukh atah Hashem, Eloheynu, melekh ha-olam", Blessed art thou LORD, our God, King of the Universe.  This is sometimes referred to as shem umalkhut (the name and the sovereignty), the affirmation of God as king.

The use of the word "thou" is worth discussing:  in modern English, many people think of the word "thou" as being formal and respectful, but in fact the opposite is true.  Thou (like the Hebrew atah) is the informal, familiar second person pronoun, used for friends and relatives.  This word expresses our close and intimate relationship with God.

Immediately after this phrase, the berakhah abruptly shifts into the third person; for example, in the birkhot ha-mitzvot, the first two phrases are blessed art thou, LORD our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments and has commanded us to . . .  This grammatical faux pas is intentional.  The use of the third person pronoun while speaking to a person in Hebrew is a way of expressing extreme respect and deference.  This shift in perspective is a deliberately jarring way of expressing the idea that God is simultaneously close to us and yet far above us, intimately related to us and yet transcendent.  This paradox is at the heart of the Jewish relationship with God.

Birkat Ha-Mazon:  Grace After Meals

One of the most important prayers, one of the very few that the Bible commands us to recite, is never recited in synagogue.  That prayer is birkat ha-mazon, grace after meals.

In Deuteronomy 8,10, we are commanded that when we eat and are satisfied, we must bless the LORD, our God.  This commandment is fulfilled by reciting the birkat ha-mazon (blessing of the food) after each meal.  Reciting birkat ha-mazon is commonly referred to as bentsching, from the Yiddish word meaning to bless.  Although the word "bentsch" can refer to the recitation of any berakhah, it is almost always used to refer to reciting birkat ha-mazon.

The grace after meals is recited in addition to the various berakhot over food recited before meals.

Birkat ha-mazon actually consists of four blessings, three of which were composed around the time of Ezra and the Great Assembly and a fourth which was added after the destruction of the Temple.  These blessings are:

  1. Birkat Hazan (the blessing for providing food), which thanks God for giving food to the world,
  2. Birkat Ha-Aretz (the blessing for the land), which thanks God for bringing us forth from the land of Egypt, for making His covenant with us, and for giving us the Land of Israel as an inheritance,
  3. Birkat Yerushalayim (the blessing for Jerusalem), which prays for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the coming of the Mashiach; and
  4. Birkat Ha-Tov v’Ha-Maytiv (the blessing for being good and doing good), was added after the destruction of the Temple, although it existed before that time.  It emphasizes the goodness of God’s work, that God is good and does good.

In addition to these four blessings, the full birkat ha-mazon incorporates some psalms and additional blessings for various special occasions (holidays, guests, etc.)

 

 

Jewish Liturgy

Level:  Intermediate

Observant Jews pray in formal worship services three times a day, every day:  at evening (Ma’ariv), in the morning (Shacharit), and in the afternoon (Minchah).  Daily prayers are collected in a book called a siddur, which derives from the Hebrew root meaning order, because the siddur shows the order of prayers.  It is the same root as the word seder, which refers to the Passover home service.

Undoubtedly our oldest fixed daily prayer is the Shema.  This consists of Deuteronomy 6,4-9, Deuteronomy 11,13-21, and Numbers 15,37-41.  Note that the first paragraph commands us to speak of these matters "when you retire and when you arise".  From ancient times, this commandment was fulfilled by reciting the Shema twice a day:  morning and night.

The next major development in Jewish prayer occurred during the Babylonian Exile, 6th century B.C.E. People were not able to sacrifice in the Temple at that time, so they used prayer as a substitute for sacrifice.  "The offerings of our lips instead of bulls", as Hosea said.  People got together to pray three times a day, corresponding to the two daily sacrifices morning and afternoon and the burning of what was left over of the sacrifices at night.  There was an additional prayer service on Sabbaths and certain holidays, to correspond to the additional sacrifices of those days.  Some suggest that this may already have been a common practice among the pious before the Exile.

After the Exile, these daily prayer services continued.  In the 5th century B.C.E., the Men of the Great Assembly composed a basic prayer, covering just about everything you could want to pray about.  This is the "Shemoneh Esrei", which means 18 and refers to the 18 blessings originally contained within the prayer.  It is also referred to as the Amidah (standing, because we stand while we recite it), or Tefillah (prayer, as in The Prayer, because it is the essence of all Jewish prayer).  This prayer is the cornerstone of every Jewish service.

The blessings of the Shemoneh Esrei can be broken down into 3 groups:  three blessings praising God, thirteen making requests (forgiveness, redemption, health, prosperity, rain in its season, ingathering of exiles, etc.), and three expressing gratitude and taking leave.  But wait!  That is 19!  And did we not just say that this prayer is called 18?

One of the thirteen requests (the one against heretics) was added around the 2nd century C.E., in response to the growing threat of heresy (primarily Christianity), but at that time, the prayer was already commonly known as the Shemoneh Esrei, and the name stuck, even though there were now 19 blessings.

Another important part of certain prayer services is a reading from the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) and the Prophets.  The Torah has been divided into sections, so that if each of these sections is read and studied for a week, we can cover the entire Torah in a year every year (this works nicely in 13-month leap years, but in 12-month regular years we double up shorter portions on a few weeks).  At various times in our history, our oppressors did not permit us to have public readings of the Torah, so we read a roughly corresponding section from the Prophets (referred to as a Haftarah).  Today, we read both the Torah portion and the Haftarah portion.  The Torah is read on Mondays, Thursdays, Sabbaths, and some "holidays" (including fasts).  The Haftarah is read on Sabbaths and some holidays.  The Torah and haftarah readings are performed with great ceremony:  the Torah is paraded around the room before it is brought to rest on the bimah (podium), and it is considered an honor to have the opportunity to recite a blessing and do the reading (this honor is called an aliyah).  For more information, see Weekly Torah Readings.

That is the heart of the Jewish prayer service.  There are a few other matters that should be mentioned, though.  There is a long series of morning blessings at the beginning of the morning service.  Some people recite these at home.  They deal with a lot of concerns with getting up in the morning, and things we are obligated to do daily.  There is a section called Pesukei d’Zemira (verses of song), which includes a lot of Psalms and hymns.  Some like to think of it as a warm-up, getting you in the mood for prayer in the morning.

There are also a few particularly significant prayers.  The most important in the popular mind is the Kaddish, the only major prayer in Aramaic, which praises God.  Here is a small piece of it, in English:

May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified in the world that He created as He willed.  May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days, and in the lifetimes of the entire family of Israel, swiftly and soon.  May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.  Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty . . .

There are several variations on it for different times in the service.  One variation is set aside for mourners to recite, the congregation only providing the required responses.  Many people think of the Kaddish as a mourner’s prayer, because the oldest son customarily recites it for a certain period after a parent’s death, but in fact it is much broader than that.  It seems that originally it separated each portion of the service, and a quick glance at any prayer book or our outline below shows that it is recited between each section; in recent generations, it has become to be used as a mourner’s prayer, even outside the context of formal prayer services or Torah study.

Another popular prayer is Aleinu, which most people recite at or near the end of every service, though it is required only within Musaf on Rosh Hashanah.  It also praises God.  Here is a little of it in English, to give you an idea:

It is our duty to praise the Master of all, to ascribe greatness to the Molder of primeval creation, for He has not made us like the nations of the lands . . .  Therefore, we put our hope in you, Adonai our God, that we may soon see Your mighty splendor . . .  On that day, Adonai will be One and His Name will be One.

On certain holidays, we also recite Hallel, which consists of Psalms 113-118.

Many holidays have special additions to the liturgy.  See Yom Kippur Liturgy for additions related to that holiday.

Outline of Services

There are a few other things, but this is a pretty good idea of what is involved.  Here is an outline of the order of the daily services:

  1. Evening Service (Ma’ariv)
    1. Shema and its blessings
    2. Kaddish
    3. Silent Amidah (standing prayer)
    4. Kaddish
  2. Morning Service (Shacharit)
    1. Kaddish
    2. Shema and its blessings
    3. Amidah
    4. Kaddish
    5. Hallel, if appropriate
    6. Torah reading (Mondays, Thursdays, Sabbaths, and holidays) followed by Kaddish
    7. Ashrei (Psalm 145), and other closing prayers, Psalms, and hymns (not on Sabbaths and holidays; recited at the end of Musaf instead on those days) followed by Kaddish
  3. Additional Service (Musaf) (Sabbaths and holidays only; recited immediately after Shacharit)
    1. Amidah
    2. Kaddish
    3. closing prayers, Psalms, and hymns
    4. Kaddish
  4. Afternoon Service (Minchah)
    1. Ashrei (Psalm 145)
    2. Kaddish
    3. Amidah
    4. Kaddish
Variations from Movement to Movement

The above is according to Orthodox practice.  The Reform service, although much shorter, follows the same basic structure and contains shorter versions of the same prayers with a few significant changes in content (for example, in one blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei, instead of praising God who "gives life to the dead", they praise God who "gives life to all" because they do not believe in resurrection).  The Conservative version is very similar to the Orthodox version, and contains only minor variations in the content of the prayers (similar to the Reform example).  See Movements of Judaism for more on the theological distinction between Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform.

There are a few significant differences in the way that services are conducted in different movements:

  1. In Orthodox, women and men are seated separately; in Reform and Conservative, all sit together.  See The Role of Women in the Synagogue.
  2. In Orthodox and usually Conservative, everything is in Hebrew.  In Reform, most is done in the local language, though they are increasingly using Hebrew.
  3. In Orthodox, the person leading the service has his back to the congregation, and prays facing the same direction as the congregation; in Conservative and Reform, the person leading the service faces the congregation.
  4. Conservative and Reform are rather rigidly structured:  everybody shows up at the same time, leaves at the same time, and does the same thing at the same time; Orthodox is somewhat more free-form:  people show up when they show up, catch up to everybody else at their own pace, often do things differently than everybody else.  This is difficult if you do not know what you are doing, but once you have got a handle on the service, you may find it much more comfortable and inspirational than trying to stay in unison.

 

 

Halakhah:  Jewish Law

Level:  Intermediate

 What is Halakhah?

Judaism is not just a set of beliefs about God, man, and the universe.  Judaism is a comprehensive way of life, filled with rules and practices that affect every aspect of life:  what you do when you wake up in the morning, what you can and cannot eat, what you can and cannot wear, how to groom yourself, how to conduct business, who you can marry, how to observe the holidays and Sabbaths, and perhaps most important, how to behave towards God, other people, and animals.  This set of rules and practices is known as halakhah.

The word "halakhah" is usually translated as "Jewish Law", although a more literal translation might be "the path that one walks".  The word is derived from the Hebrew root Heh-Lamed-Kaf, meaning to go, to walk, or to travel.

Some non-Jews and non-observant Jews criticize this legalistic aspect of traditional Judaism, saying that it reduces the religion to a set of rituals devoid of spirituality.  While there are certainly some Jews who observe halakhah in this way, that is not the intention of halakhah, and it is not even the correct way to observe halakhah.

On the contrary, when properly observed, halakhah increases the spirituality in a person’s life, because it turns the most trivial, mundane acts, such as eating and getting dressed, into acts of religious significance.  When people write and ask how to increase their spirituality or the influence of their religion in their lives, the only answer we can think of is:  observe more halakhah.  Keep kosher or light sabbath candles, say the grace after meals, or pray once or twice a day.  When you do these things, you are constantly reminded of your faith, and it becomes an integral part of your entire existence.

What Does Halakhah Consist of?

Halakhah is made up of mitzvot from the Torah as well as laws instituted by the rabbis and certain customs.  All of these have the status of Jewish law and all are equally binding.  The only difference is that the penalties for violating laws and customs instituted by the rabbis are less severe than the penalties for violating Torah law, and laws instituted by the rabbis can be changed by the rabbis in rare, appropriate circumstances.

The 613 Mitzvot

At the heart of halakhah is the unchangeable 613 mitzvot that God gave to the Jewish people in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).  The word "mitzvah" means commandment.  In its strictest sense, it refers only to commandments instituted in the Torah; however, the word is commonly used in a more generic sense to include all of the laws, practices and customs of halakhah, and is often used in an even more loose way to refer to any good deed.

Some of the mitzvot are clear, explicit commands in the Bible (thou shalt not murder; to write words of Torah on the doorposts of your house), others are more implicit (the mitzvah to recite grace after meals, which is inferred from "and you will eat and be satisfied and bless the LORD your God"), and some can only be ascertained by Talmudic logic (that a man shall not commit incest with his daughter, which is derived from the commandment not to commit incest with his daughter’s daughter).

Some of the mitzvot overlap; for example, it is a positive commandment to rest on the Sabbath and a negative commandment not to do work on the Sabbath.

Although there is not 100% agreement on the precise list of the 613 (there are some slight discrepancies in the way some lists divide related or overlapping mitzvot), there is complete agreement that there are 613 mitzvot.  This number is significant:  it is the numeric value of the word Torah (Tav = 400, Vav = 6, Resh = 200, Heh = 5), plus 2 for the two mitzvot whose existence precedes the Torah:  "I am the LORD, your God" and "You shall have no other gods before Me".  There is also complete agreement that these 613 mitzvot can be broken down into 248 positive mitzvot (one for each bone and organ of the male body) and 365 negative mitzvot (one for each day of the solar year).

The most accepted list of the 613 mitzvot is Maimonides‘ list in his Mishneh Torah.  In the introduction to the first book of Mishneh Torah, Maimonides lists all of the positive mitzvot and all of the negative mitzvot, then proceeds to divide them up into subject matter categories.  See List of the 613 Mitzvot.

Many of these 613 mitzvot cannot be observed at this time for various reasons.  For example, a large portion of the laws relate to sacrifices and offerings, which can only be made in the Temple, and the Temple does not exist today.  Some of the laws relate to the theocratic state of Israel, its king, its supreme court, and its system of justice, and cannot be observed because the theocratic state of Israel does not exist today.  In addition, some laws do not apply to all people or places.  Most agricultural laws only apply within the Land of Israel, and certain laws only apply to kohanim or Levites.  The modern scholar Rabbi Israel Meir of Radin, commonly known as the Chafetz Chayim, has identified 77 positive mitzvot and 194 negative mitzvot which can be observed outside of Israel today.

Gezeirah:  A Fence around the Torah

A gezeirah is a law instituted by the rabbis to prevent people from accidentally violating a Torah mitzvah.  For example, the Torah commands us not to work on the Sabbath, but a gezeirah commands us not to move a object only used to perform prohibited work (such as a pencil, money, a hammer), because someone handling the implement might forget that it was the Sabbath and perform prohibited work.

It is important to note that from the point of view of the practicing Jew, there is no difference between a gezeirah and a Torah mitzvah.  Both are equally binding.  The difference is just in the severity of punishment:  a Torah violation of the Sabbath is punishable by death, while a rabbinical violation of a gezeirah is punishable by whipping.

Another difference between a gezeirah and a mitzvah is that the rabbis can, in rare appropriate circumstances, modify, or abrogate a gezeirah.  Rabbis cannot change the Torah law that was commanded by God.

Takkanah:  A Law Instituted by the Rabbis

Halakhah also includes some laws that are not derived from mitzvot in the Torah.  A takkanah is a law that was instituted by the rabbis.  For example, the "mitzvah" to light candles on Chanukkah, a post-biblical holiday, is a takkanah.  The practice of public Torah readings every Monday and Thursday is a takkanah instituted by Ezra.

Some takkanot vary from community to community or from region to region.  For example, around the year 1000 C.E., a rabbi instituted a prohibition of polygyny, a practice clearly permitted by the Torah and the Talmud.  It was accepted by Ashkenazic Jews, who lived in Christian countries where polygyny was not permitted, but was not accepted by Sephardic Jews, who lived in Islamic countries where men were permitted up to four wives.

A takkanah, like a gezeirah, is just as binding as a Torah mitzvah.

Minhag:  A Custom with the Status of Law

A minhag is a custom that evolved for worthy religious reasons and has continued long enough to become a binding religious practice.  For example, the second, extra day of holidays was originally instituted as a gezeirah, so that people outside of Israel, who were uncertain about the exact date of a holiday, would not accidentally violate the holiday’s mitzvot.  After the mathematical calendar was instituted and there was no doubt about the days, the added second day was not necessary.  The rabbis considered ending the practice at that time, but decided to continue it as a binding custom (minhag).

It is important to note that these "customs" are a binding part of halakhah, just like a mitzvah, a takkanah, or a gezeirah.

The word "minhag" is also used in a looser sense, to indicate a community or an individual’s customary way of doing some religious thing.  For example, it may be the minhag in one synagogue to stand while reciting a certain prayer, while in another synagogue it is the minhag to sit during that prayer.  Even in this looser sense, it is generally recommended that a person follow his own minhag, even when visiting another community.

 

 

Love and Brotherhood

Level:  Basic

Many people think of Judaism as the religion of cold, harsh laws, to be contrasted with Christianity, the religion of love and brotherhood.  This is an unfair characterization of both Judaism and Jewish law.  Laws are at the heart of Judaism, but a large part of Jewish law is about love and brotherhood, the relationship between man and his neighbors.  Jewish law commands us to eat only kosher food, not to do forbidden work on shabbat, and not to wear wool woven with linen; but it also commands us to love all Jews (and converts in particular), to give aid to the poor and needy, and to do no wrong to anyone in speech or in business.  In fact, acts of love and kindness are so much a part of Jewish law that the word "mitzvah" (literally, "commandment") is commonly used to mean any good deed.

The Talmud tells a story of Rabbi Hillel, who lived around the time of Jesus.  A pagan came to him saying that he would convert to Judaism if Hillel could teach him the whole of the Torah in the time he could stand on one foot.  Hillel replied, "What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man.  That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary.  Go and study it".

The "Golden Rule" is not an idea that began with Christianity.  It was a fundamental part of the Torah long before Hillel or Jesus.  It is a common-sense application of the Torah commandment to love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19,18), which Rabbi Akiba described as the essence of the Torah.

The true difference between Judaism and Christianity lies in Hillel’s last comment:  Go and study it.  The Torah is not content to leave love and brotherhood as a general ideal, to be fulfilled as each individual sees fit; it spells out, in intricate detail, how we are meant to show that love.

Jewish law includes within it a blueprint for a just and ethical society, where no one takes from another or harms another or takes advantage of another, but everyone gives to one another and helps one another and protects one another.  Again, these are not merely high ideals; the means for fulfilling these ideals are spelled out in the 613 commandments, which are to be put into practice in the real world, not just thought about.

Everyone knows that the Ten Commandments command us not to murder.  The full scope of Jewish law goes much farther in requiring us to protect our fellow man.  We are commanded not to leave a condition that may cause harm, to construct our homes in ways that will prevent people from being harmed, and to help a person whose life is in danger.  These commandments regarding the preservation of life are so important in Judaism that they override all of the ritual observances that people think are the most important part of Judaism.

We are commanded to help those in need, both in physical need and financial need.  The Torah commands us to help a neighbor with his burden, and help load or unload his beast, to give money to the poor and needy, and not to turn them away empty handed.  See Tzedakah:  Charity.

Jewish law forbids us from cheating another or taking advantage of another.  Jewish law regarding business ethics and practices is extensive.  It regulates conduct between a businessman and his customer (for example, not to use false weights and measures, not to do wrong in buying and selling, not to charge interest) and between a businessman and his employee (to pay wages promptly, to allow a worker in the field to eat from the produce he is harvesting, and not to take produce other than what he can eat while harvesting).

Entire books have been written on the subject of Jewish laws against wronging another person in speech.  We are commanded not to tell lies about a person, nor even uncomplimentary things that are true.  We are commanded to speak the truth, to fulfill our promises, and not to deceive others.  See Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra.

Contrary to what many people think, many of these laws regarding treatment of others apply not only to our treatment of our fellow Jews, but also to our treatment of Gentiles (for example, it is not only forbidden to sell non-kosher meat to a Gentile as if it were kosher, which the Gentile is not commanded to be concerned about; it is even forbidden to sell him ordinary leather shoes as if they were from a kosher slaughtered animal, which even Jews are not commanded to be concerned about).  Some of these laws deal with our treatment of animals(for example, first we feed our animals and then we eat).  In fact, some of these laws even extend kind treatment to inanimate objects (for example, we are forbidden to toss slices of bread to each other at the dinner table, taking our bread lightly, and are forbidden to destroy fruit trees, even in time of war for use in fighting our enemy).  All of this is calculated to make us not only lovers of God, but lovers of the men and the world God made for us.

 

 

Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra

Level:  Intermediate

When non-observant people talk about how difficult it is to observe Jewish law, they usually mention the difficulty of observing Shabbat or keeping kosher or other similarly detailed ritual laws.  Yet the laws that are most difficult to keep, which are most commonly violated even by observant Jews (unintentionally, of course!), are the laws regarding improper speech.

This is a very important area of Jewish law:  entire books have been written on the subject, though in one chapter in Mishneh Torah all one really needs to know is summarized along with the laws against revenge and holding a grudge.  (It is worth mentioning that the most widely accepted code and the supposed basis for Jewish law today, the Shulkhan Arukh, does not even mention these laws; Mishneh Torah covers everything for all places and times, but Shulkhan Arukh does not even cover everything needed for here and now.)

The Power of Speech

Judaism is intensely aware of the power of speech and of the harm that can be done through speech.  The rabbis note that the universe itself was created through speech.  Of the 43 sins enumerated in the Al Chet confession recited on Yom Kippur, 11 are sins committed through speech.  The Talmud tells that the tongue is an instrument so dangerous that it must be kept hidden from view, behind two protective walls (the mouth and teeth) to prevent its misuse.

The harm done by speech is even worse than the harm done by stealing or by cheating someone financially, because amends can be made for monetary harms, but the harm done by speech can never be repaired.  For this reason, some sources indicate that there is no forgiveness for lashon ha-ra (disparaging speech).  A Chasidic tale illustrates this point:  A man went about the community telling malicious lies about the rabbi.  Later, he realized the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse.  He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends.  The rabbi told the man, "Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds!" The man thought this was a strange request, but it was a simple enough task, and he did it gladly.  When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, "Now, go and gather the feathers.  Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers".

Speech has been compared to an arrow:  once the words are released, like an arrow, they cannot be recalled, the harm they do cannot be stopped, and the harm they do cannot always be predicted, for words like arrows often go astray.

Tale-Bearing

There are two mitzvot in the Torah that specifically address improper speech:  "Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer among thy people" (Leviticus 19,16), and "ye shall not wrong one another" (Leviticus 25,17, which according to tradition refers to wronging a person with speech).

Tale-bearing is, essentially, any gossip.  The Hebrew word for tale-bearer is "rakheel" (Resh-Kaf-Yod-Lamed), which is related to a word meaning trader or merchant.  The idea is that a tale-bearer is like a merchant, but he deals in information instead of goods.  In our modern "Information Age", the idea of information as a product has become more clear than ever before, yet it is present even here in the Torah.

It is a violation of this mitzvah to say anything about another person, even if it is true, even if it is not negative, even if it is not secret, even if it hurts no one, even if the person himself would tell the same thing if asked!  It is said that the telling of gossip leads to bloodshed, which is why the next words in the Torah are "you shall not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed".  The story of Do’eig the Edomite (I Samuel Chs.  21-22) is often used to illustrate the harm that can be done by tale-bearing.  Do’eig saw Achimelekh the Kohein give David bread and a sword, a completely innocent act intended to aid a leading member of Saul’s court.  Do’eig reported this to Saul.  Do’eig’s story was completely true, not negative, not secret, and Achimelekh would have told Saul exactly the same thing if asked (in fact, he did so later).  Yet Saul misinterpreted this tale as proof that Achimelekh was supporting David in a rebellion, and proceeded to slaughter all but one of the kohanim at Nob.

The person who listens to gossip is even worse than the person who tells it, because no harm could be done by gossip if no one listened to it.  It has been said that lashon ha-ra (disparaging speech) kills three:  the person who speaks it, the person who hears it, and the person about whom it is told.

In Jewish law, all things are considered to be secret unless a person specifically says otherwise.  For this reason, you will note that in the Torah, God constantly says to Moses, "Speak to the Children of Israel, saying" or "Speak to the Children of Israel and tell them".  If God did not specifically say this to Moses, Moses would be forbidden to repeat his words!  Nor is there any time-limit on secrets.  The Talmud tells the story of a student who revealed a secret after 22 years, and was immediately banished from the house of study!

The gravest of these sins of tale-bearing is "lashon ha-ra" (literally, "the evil tongue"), which involves discrediting a person or saying negative things about a person, even if those negative things are true.  Some sources indicate that lashon ha-ra is equal in seriousness to murder, idol worship, and forbidden sexual relations (the only three sins that you may not violate even to save a life).

It is forbidden to even imply or suggest negative things about a person.  It is forbidden to say negative things about a person, even in jest.  It is likewise considered a "shade of lashon ha-ra" to say positive things about a person in the presence of his enemies, because this will encourage his enemies to say negative things to contradict you!

One who tells disparaging things that are false is referred to as a motzi sheim ra, that is, one who spreads a bad report.  This is considered the lowest of the low.

It is generally not a sin to repeat things that have been told "in the presence of three persons".  The idea is that if it is told in the presence of three persons, it is already public knowledge, and no harm can come of retelling it.  However, even in this case, you should not repeat it if you know you will be spreading the gossip further.

When Tale-Bearing is Allowed

There are a few exceptional circumstances when tale-bearing is allowed, or even required.  Most notably, tale-bearing is required in a Jewish court of law, because it is a mitzvah to give testimony and that mitzvah overrides the general prohibition against tale-bearing.  Thus, a person is required to reveal information, even if it is something that was explicitly told in confidence, even if it will harm a person, in a Jewish court of law.

A person is also required to reveal information to protect a person from immediate, serious harm.  For example, if a person hears that others are plotting to kill someone, he is required to reveal this information.  That is another reason why the commandment not to go about as a tale-bearer is juxtaposed with "you shall not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed".

In limited circumstances, one is also permitted to reveal information if someone is entering into a relationship that he would not enter if he knew certain information.  For example, it may be permissible to tell a person that his prospective business partner is untrustworthy, or that a prospective spouse has a disease.  This exception is subject to significant and complex limitations; however, if those limitations are satisfied, the person with the information is required to reveal it.

In all of these exceptions, a person is not permitted to reveal information if the same objective could be fulfilled without revealing information.  For example, if you could talk a person out of marrying for reasons other than the disease, you may not reveal the disease.

Wronging a Person through Speech

Leviticus 25,17 says, "You shall not wrong one another".  This has traditionally been interpreted as wronging a person with speech.  It includes any statement that will embarrass, insult, or deceive a person, or cause a person emotional pain or distress.

Here are some commonly-used examples of behavior that is forbidden by this mitzvah:

  • You may not call a person by a derogatory nickname, or by any other embarrassing name, even if he is used to it.
  • You may not ask an uneducated person for an opinion on a scholarly matter (that would draw attention to his lack of knowledge or education).
  • You may not ask a merchant how much he would sell something for if you have no intention of buying.
  • You may not refer someone to another person for assistance when you know the other person cannot help (in other words, it is a violation of Jewish law to give someone the run-around!).
  • You may not deceive a person, even if no harm is done by the deception; for example, you may not sell non-kosher meat to a non-Jew telling him that it is kosher, even though no harm is done to the non-Jew by this deception.
  • You may not sell a person damaged goods without identifying the damage, even if the price you give is fair for the goods in their damaged condition.
  • You may not offer a person a gift or invite a person to dinner if you know that the person will not accept.
  • You may not compliment a person if you do not mean it.

 

 

Kashrut:  Jewish Dietary Laws

Level:  Intermediate

Kashrut is the body of Jewish law dealing with what foods we can and cannot eat and how those foods must be prepared and eaten.  "Kashrut" comes from the Hebrew root Kaf-Shin-Resh, meaning fit, proper, or correct.  It is the same root as the more commonly known word "kosher", which describes food that meets these standards.  The word "kosher" can also be used, and often is used, to describe ritual objects that are made in accordance with Jewish law and are fit for ritual use.

There is no such thing as "kosher-style" food.  Kosher is not a style of cooking.  Chinese food can be kosher if it is prepared in accordance with Jewish law, and there are many fine kosher Chinese restaurants in Philadelphia and New York.  Traditional Ashkenazic Jewish foods like knishes, bagels, blintzes, and matzah ball soup can all be non-kosher if not prepared in accordance with Jewish law.  When a restaurant calls itself "kosher-style", it usually means that the restaurant serves these traditional Jewish foods, and it almost invariably means that the food is not actually kosher.

Food that is not kosher is commonly referred to as "treyf" (literally, torn, from the commandment not to eat animals that have been torn by other animals).

Why Do We Observe the Laws of Kashrut?

Many modern Jews think that the laws of kashrut are simply primitive health regulations that have become obsolete with modern methods of food preparation.  There is no question that some of the dietary laws have some beneficial health effects.  For example, the laws regarding kosher slaughter are so sanitary that kosher butchers and slaughterhouses have been exempted from many USDA regulations.

However, health is not the only reason for Jewish dietary laws.  Many of the laws of kashrut have no known connection with health.  To the best of our modern scientific knowledge, there is no reason why camel or rabbit meat (both treyf) is any less healthy than cow or goat meat.  In addition, some of the health benefits to be derived from kashrut were not made obsolete by the refrigerator.  For example, there is some evidence that eating meat and dairy together interferes with digestion, and no modern food preparation technique reproduces the health benefit of the kosher law of eating them separately.

The short answer to why we observe these laws is:  because the Torah says so.  The Torah does not specify any reason for these laws, and for a Torah-observant, traditional Jew, there is no need for any other reason.  Some have suggested that the laws of kashrut fall into the category of "chukkim", laws for which there is no reason.  We show our obedience to God by following these laws even though we do not know the reason.  Others, however, have tried to ascertain God’s reason for imposing these laws.

In his book "To Be a Jew" (an excellent resource on traditional Judaism), Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin suggests that the dietary laws are designed as a call to holiness.  The ability to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil, pure and defiled, the sacred and the profane, is very important in Judaism.  Imposing rules on what you can and cannot eat ingrains that kind of self control.  In addition, it elevates the simple act of eating into a religious ritual.  The Jewish dinner table is often compared to the Temple altar in rabbinic literature.

How Difficult is it to Keep Kosher?

People who do not keep kosher often say how difficult it is.  Actually, keeping kosher is not particularly difficult in and of itself; what makes it difficult to keep kosher is that the rest of the world does not do so.

As we shall see below, the basic underlying rules are fairly simple.  If you buy your meat at a kosher butcher and buy only kosher certified products at the market, the only thing you need to think about is the separation of meat and dairy.

Keeping kosher only becomes difficult when you try to eat in a non-kosher restaurant, or at the home of a person who does not keep kosher.  In those situations, your lack of knowledge about your host’s ingredients and the food preparation techniques make it very difficult to keep kosher.  Some commentators have pointed out, however, that this may well have been part of what God had in mind:  to make it more difficult for us to socialize with those who do not share our religion.

The Fundamental Rules

Although the details of kashrut are extensive, the laws all derive from a few fairly simple, straightforward rules:

  1. Certain animals may not be eaten at all.  This restriction includes the flesh, organs, eggs, and milk of the forbidden animals.
  2. Of the animals that may be eaten, the birds and mammals must be slaughtered in accordance with Jewish law.
  3. All blood must be drained from the meat or broiled out of it before it is eaten.
  4. Certain parts of permitted animals may not be eaten.
  5. Meat (the flesh of birds and mammals) cannot be eaten with dairy.  Fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and grains can be eaten with either meat or dairy.
  6. Utensils that have come into contact with meat may not be used with dairy, and vice versa.  Utensils that have come into contact with non-kosher food may not be used with kosher food.  This applies only where the contact occurred while the food was hot.
  7. Grape products made by non-Jews may not be eaten or drunk.
The Details
Animals that may not be eaten

Of the "beasts of the earth" (which basically refers to land mammals with the exception of swarming rodents), you may eat any animal that has cloven hooves and chews its cud.  Leviticus 11,3; Deuternomy 14,6.  Any land mammal that does not have both of these qualities is forbidden.  The Torah specifies that the camel, the rock badger, the hare and the pig are not kosher because each lacks one of these two qualifications.  Sheep, cattle, goats, and deer are kosher.

Of the things that are in the waters, you may eat anything that has fins and scales.  Leviticus 11,9; Deuteronomy 14,9.  Thus, shellfish such as lobsters, oysters, shrimp, clams, and crabs are all forbidden.  Fish like tuna, carp, salmon, and herring are all permitted.

For birds, the criteria are less clear.  The Torah lists forbidden birds (Leviticus 11,13-19; Deuteronomy 14,11-18), but does not specify why these particular birds are forbidden.  All of the birds on the list are birds of prey or scavengers, thus the rabbis inferred that this was the basis for the distinction.  Other birds are permitted, such as chicken, geese, ducks, and turkeys.

Of the "winged swarming things" (winged insects), a few are specifically permitted (Leviticus 11,21).

Rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and insects (except as mentioned above) are all forbidden (Leviticus 11,29-30, 42-43).

Some authorities require a post-mortem examination of the lungs of cattle, to determine whether the lungs are free from adhesions.  If the lungs are free from such adhesions, the animal is deemed "glatt" (that is, "smooth").  In certain circumstances, an animal can be kosher without being glatt; however, the stringency of keeping "glatt kosher" has become increasingly common in recent years.

As mentioned above, any product derived from these forbidden animals, such as their milk, eggs, fat, or organs, also cannot be eaten.  Rennet, an enzyme used to harden cheese, is often obtained from non-kosher animals, thus kosher hard cheese can be difficult to find.

Kosher slaughtering

The mammals and birds that may be eaten must be slaughtered in accordance with Jewish law; "as I have commanded thee" (Deuteronomy 12,21) is according to the Oral Torah on kosher slaughter given to Moses at Sinai.  We may not eat animals that died of natural causes (Deuteronomy 14,21) or that were killed by other animals (Exodus 22,30).  In addition, the animal must have no disease or flaws in the organs at the time of slaughter.  These restrictions do not apply to fish, which may be merely "gathered" (Numbers 11,22).

Ritual slaughter is known as shechitah, and the person who performs the slaughter is called a shochet, both from the Hebrew root Shin-Chet-Tet, meaning to slaughter.  The method of slaughter is a quick, deep stroke across the throat with a perfectly sharp blade with no nicks or unevenness.  This method is painless, causes unconsciousness within seconds, and is widely recognized as the most humane method of slaughter possible.

Another advantage of shechitah is that ensures rapid, complete draining of the blood, which is also necessary to render the meat kosher.

The shochet is not simply a butcher; he must be a pious man, well-trained in Jewish law, particularly as it relates to kashrut.  In smaller, more remote communities, the rabbi and the shochet were often the same person.

Draining of Blood

The Torah prohibits consumption of blood.  Leviticus 7,26-27; Leviticus 17,10-14.  This is the only dietary law that has a reason specified in Torah:  we do not eat blood because the life of the animal is contained in the blood.  This applies only to the blood of birds and mammals, not to fish blood.  Thus, it is necessary to remove all blood from the flesh of kosher animals.

The first step in this process occurs at the time of slaughter.  As mentioned above, shechitah allows for rapid draining of most of the blood.

The remaining blood must be removed by salting, and then either broiling or emersing the salted meat in boiling water till it whitens.  Liver may only be koshered by the broiling method, because it has so much blood in it and such complex blood vessels.  This final process must be completed within 72 hours after slaughter, and before the meat is frozen or ground.  Most butchers and all frozen food vendors take care of the salting for you, but you should always check this when you are buying someplace you are unfamiliar with.

An egg that contains a blood spot may not be eaten.  This is not very common, but one finds them once in a while.  It is a good idea to break an egg into a container and check it before you put it into a heated pan, because if you put a blood-stained egg into a heated pan, the pan becomes non-kosher.

Forbidden Fats and Nerves

The sciatic nerve and its adjoining blood vessels may not be eaten.  The process of removing this nerve is time consuming and not very cost-effective, so most kosher slaughterers simply sell the hind quarters to non-kosher butchers.

A certain kind of fat, known as chelev, which surrounds the vital organs and the liver, may not be eaten.  Kosher butchers remove this.  Modern scientists have found biochemical differences between this type of fat and the permissible fat around the muscles and under the skin.

Separation of Meat and Dairy

On three separate occasions, the Torah tells us not to "boil a kid in its mother’s milk" (Exodus 23,19; Exodus 34,26; Deuteronomy 14,21).  The Oral Torah explains that this passage prohibits eating meat and dairy together.  The rabbis extended this prohibition to include not eating milk and poultry together.  It is, however, permissible to eat fish and dairy together, and it is quite common.  It is also permissible to eat dairy and eggs together.  According to some views, it is not permissible to eat meat and fish together, but we are not certain of the reason for that restriction (it has been attributed to medical opinion in the Middle Ages, for example).

This separation includes not only the foods themselves, but the utensils, pots and pans with which they are cooked, the plates and flatware from which they are eaten, the dishwashers or dishpans in which they are cleaned, and the towels on which they are dried.  A kosher household will have at least two sets of pots, pans, and dishes:  one for meat and one for dairy.  See Utensils below for more details.

One must wait a significant amount of time between eating meat and dairy.  Opinions differ, and vary from one or two to six hours.  This is because fatty residues and meat particles tend to cling to the mouth.  From dairy to meat, however, one need only rinse one’s mouth and eat a neutral solid like bread, unless the dairy product in question is also of a type that tends to stick in the mouth.

The Yiddish words fleishig (meat), milchig (dairy), and pareve (neutral) are commonly used to describe food or utensils that fall into one of those categories.

Note that even the smallest quantity of dairy (or meat) in something renders it entirely dairy (or meat) for purposes of kashrut.  For example, most margarines are dairy for kosher purposes, because they contain a small quantity of whey or other dairy products to give it a dairy-like taste.  Animal fat is considered meat for purposes of kashrut.  You should read the ingredients very carefully, even if the product is kosher-certified.

Utensils

Utensils (pots, pans, plates, flatware, etc., etc.) must also be kosher.  A utensil picks up the kosher "status" (meat, dairy, pareve, or treyf) of the food that is cooked in it or eaten off of it, and transmits that status back to the next food that is cooked in it or eaten off of it.  Thus, if you cook chicken soup in a saucepan, the pan becomes meat.  If you thereafter use the same saucepan to heat up some warm milk, the fleishig status of the pan is transmitted to the milk, and the milchig status of the milk is transmitted to the pan, making both the pan and the milk a forbidden mixture.

Kosher status can be transmitted from the food to the utensil or from the utensil to the food only in the presence of heat, thus if you are eating cold food in a non-kosher establishment, the condition of the plates is not an issue.  Likewise, you could use the same knife to slice cold cuts and cheese, as long as you clean it in between, but this is not really a recommended procedure, because it increases the likelihood of mistakes.

Stove tops and sinks routinely become non-kosher utensils, because they routinely come in contact with both meat and dairy in the presence of heat.  It is necessary, therefore, to use dishpans when cleaning dishes (do not soak them directly in the sink) and to use separate spoon rests and trivets when putting things down on the stove top.

Dishwashers are a kashrut problem.  If you are going to use a dishwasher in a kosher home, you either need to have separate dish racks or you need to run the dishwasher in between meat and dairy loads.

You should use separate towels and pot holders for meat and dairy.  Routine laundering koshers such items, so you can simply launder them between using them for meat and dairy.

Certain kinds of utensils can be "koshered" if you make a mistake and use it with both meat and dairy.  Consult a rabbi for guidance if this situation occurs.

Grape Products

The restrictions on grape products derive from the laws against using products of idolatry.  Wine was commonly used in the rituals of all ancient religions, and wine was routinely sanctified for pagan purposes while it was being processed.  For this reason, use of wines and other grape products made by non-Jews was prohibited.  (Whole grapes are not a problem, nor are whole grapes in fruit cocktail).

For the most part, this rule only affects wine and grape juice.  This becomes a concern with many fruit drinks or fruit-flavored drinks, which are often sweetened with grape juice.  You may also notice that it is virtually impossible to find kosher baking powder, because baking powder is made with cream of tartar, a by-product of wine making.

Kashrut Certification

The task of keeping kosher is greatly simplified by widespread kashrut certification.  Approximately 3/4 of all prepackaged foods have some kind of kosher certification, and most major brands have reliable Orthodox certification.

 The symbols at right are all widely-accepted kashrut certifications commonly found on products throughout the United States.  With a little practice, it is very easy to spot these marks on food labels, usually near the product name, occasionally near the list of ingredients.  There are many other certifications available, of varying degrees of strictness.

The most controversial certification is the K, a plain letter K found on products asserted to be kosher.  All other kosher certification marks are trademarked and cannot be used without the permission of the certifying organization.  The certifying organization stands behind the kashrut of the product.  But you cannot trademark a letter of the alphabet, so any manufacturer can put a K on a product.  For example, Jell-O brand gelatin puts a K on its product, even though almost every reliable Orthodox authority agrees that Jell-O is not kosher.

It is becoming increasingly common for kosher certifying organizations to indicate whether the product is fleishig, milchig, or pareve.  If the product is dairy, it will frequently have a D or the word Dairy next to the kashrut symbol.  If it is meat, the word Meat or an M may appear near the symbol.  If it is pareve, the word Pareve (or Parev) may appear near the symbol (Not a P!  That means kosher for Passover!).  If no such clarification appears, you should read the ingredient list carefully to determine whether the product is meat, dairy, or pareve.

 

 

Kosher Sex

Level:  Advanced

Note:  This page addresses issues of Jewish law that may not be appropriate for younger readers.  Please exercise appropriate discretion.

Attitude Towards Sexuality

In Jewish law, sex is not considered inherently shameful, sinful, or obscene.  Sex is not seen as a necessary evil for the sole purpose of procreation.  Although sexual desire comes from the yetzer hara (the so-called "evil impulse"), it is no more evil than hunger or thirst, which also come from the yetzer hara.  Like hunger, thirst, or other basic needs, sexual desire must be controlled, channeled, and satisfied in the proper time, place, and manner.  But when sexual desire is satisfied between a husband and wife at the proper time and out of mutual love and desire, sexual relations are actually a mitzvah (a Biblical commandment, see Exodus 21,10 referring to "conjugal rights" and the commentary on it).

Sexual enjoyment (whether involving intercourse or mere hand holding) is permissible for Jews only within the context of marriage.  For Torah, sex is not merely a way of experiencing physical pleasure.  It is properly an act of immense significance, which requires commitment and responsibility.  The requirement of marriage before sex ensures that sense of commitment and responsibility.  The Torah forbids all sexual contact short of intercourse outside of the context of marriage, recognizing that such contact is likely lead to intercourse and is damaging in and of itself.  Jews are rabbinically forbidden to even engage in sexual fantasy, let alone masturbation alone or mutual masturbation outside of marriage.

The primary purpose of sexual relations is to reinforce the loving marital bond between husband and wife.  The first and foremost purpose of marriage is intimate long-term companionship (not just bearing children in a family context), and sexual relations play an important role in that.  Procreation is also a reason for sex, but it is not the only reason; after a woman is no longer able to bear children, she is still expected to have an active sex life, just as during her child-bearing years (the idea that old folks should not or do not have sexual relations is an alien one in a Torah context).  Sex between husband and wife is also recommended (and even required) at other times when conception is impossible, such as when the woman is pregnant or when the woman is using a permissible form of contraception.  Kosher sexual relations are not necessarily limited to those that can lead to pregnancy, either:  anal and oral relations are permitted, if enjoyable to both marital partners, though Jewish men have a separate commandment to reproduce, and should generally end up having normal vaginal intercourse.

In the Written Torah, one of the words used for sex between husband and wife comes from the root Yod-Dalet-Ayin, meaning to know, which vividly illustrates that proper Jewish sexuality involves both the heart and mind, not merely the body.  (The English expression "sexual knowledge" seems to be derived from this Biblical idea, but generally has a negative connotation lacking in the Hebrew.)

Nevertheless, Torah does not ignore the physical component of sexuality.  The need for physical compatibility between husband and wife is recognized in Jewish law.  A Jewish couple must meet at least once before the marriage, and if either prospective spouse finds the other physically unattractive, they should not marry.

Sexual relations should only be experienced in a time of joy.  Sex for selfish personal satisfaction, without regard for the partner’s pleasure, is wrong and evil.  A man may never force his wife to have sex.  A couple may not have sexual relations while drunk or quarreling.  Sex may never be used as a weapon against a spouse, either by depriving the spouse of sex or by compelling it.  It is a serious offense to use sex (or lack thereof) to punish or manipulate a spouse.

Sex is the woman’s right, not the man’s.  A man has a duty to give his wife sex regularly and to ensure that sex is pleasurable for her.  He is also obligated to watch for signs that his wife wants sex, and to offer it to her without her asking for it.  The woman’s right to sexual intercourse is referred to as onah, and is one of a wife’s three basic rights (the others are food and clothing), which a husband may not reduce.  The Talmud specifies both the quantity and quality of sex that a man must give his wife.  It specifies the frequency of sexual obligation based on the husband’s occupation, although this obligation can be modified in the ketubah (marriage contract).  A man may not take a vow to abstain from sex for an extended period of time, and may not take a journey for an extended period of time, because that would deprive his wife of sexual relations.  In addition, a husband’s consistent refusal to engage in sexual relations is grounds for compelling a man to divorce his wife, even if the couple has already fulfilled the halakhic obligation to procreate.

Although sex is the woman’s right, she does not have absolute discretion to withhold it from her husband.  A woman may not withhold sex from her husband as a form of punishment, and if she does, the husband may divorce her without paying the substantial divorce settlement provided for in the ketubah.

Although some sources take a more narrow view, the general view of halakhah is that any sexual conduct that does not regularly involve ejaculation outside the vagina is permissible.  As one passage in the Talmud states, "a man may do whatever he pleases with his wife".  In fact, there are passages in the Talmud that encourage foreplay to arouse the woman, and oral and anal sex are permitted (though not necessarily desirable), if they are not to the exclusion of vaginal sex.

Niddah:  The Laws of Separation

One of the most mysterious areas of Jewish sexual practices is the law of niddah, separation of husband and wife during the woman’s menstrual period.  These laws are also known as taharat ha-mishpachah, family purity.  Few people outside of the Orthodox community are even aware that these laws exist, which is unfortunate, because these laws provide many undeniable benefits.  The laws of niddah are not deliberately kept secret; they are simply unknown because most non-Orthodox Jews do not continue their religious education beyond bar mitzvah, and these laws address subjects that are not really suitable for discussion with children under the age of 13.

According to the Torah, a man is forbidden from having sexual intercourse with a niddah, that is, a menstruating woman.  The law of niddah is the only law of ritual purity that continues to be observed today.  At one time, a large portion of Jewish law revolved around questions of ritual purity and impurity.  The other laws mainly had significance in the context of the Temple, and are not applicable today.

The time of separation begins at the first sign of blood and ends in the evening after the woman’s seventh "clean day".  This separation lasts about 12 to 14 days.  The rabbis broadened this prohibition, providing that a man may not even touch his wife during this time. Weddings must be scheduled carefully, so that the woman is not in a state of niddah on her wedding night.

At the end of the period of niddah, as soon as possible after nightfall after the seventh clean day, the woman must immerse herself in a kosher mikveh, a ritual pool.  The mikveh was traditionally used to cleanse a person of various forms of ritual impurity.  Today, it is used almost exclusively for this purpose and as part of the ritual of conversion.  It is important to note that the purpose of the mikveh is solely ritual purification, not physical cleanliness; in fact, immersion in the mikveh is done only after a woman has bathed and shampooed and combed her hair.  The mikveh is such an important part of traditional Jewish ritual life that a new community is required to build a mikveh before they build a synagogue.

The Torah does not specify the reason for the laws of niddah, but this period of abstention has both physical and psychological benefits.

The fertility benefits of this practice are obvious and undeniable.  In fact, it is remarkable how closely these laws parallel the advice given by medical professionals today.  When couples are having trouble conceiving, modern medical professionals routinely advise them to abstain from sex during the two weeks around a woman’s period (to increase the man’s sperm count at a time when conception is not possible), and to have sex on alternate nights during the remaining two weeks.  When you combine this basic physical benefit with the psychological benefit of believing that you are fulfilling God’s will, it is absolutely shocking that more couples with fertility problems do not attempt this practice.  The rejection of this practice by the liberal movements of Judaism is not a matter of "informed choice", but simply a matter of ignorance or blind prejudice.

In addition, women who have sexual intercourse during their menstrual period are more vulnerable to a variety of vaginal infections, as well as increased risk of cervical cancer.

But the benefits that the rabbis have always emphasized are the psychological ones, not the physical ones.  The rabbis noted that a two-week period of abstention every month forces a couple to build a non-sexual bond as well as a sexual one.  It helps to build the couple’s desire for one another, making intercourse in the remaining two weeks more special.  It also gives both partners a chance to rest, without feeling sexually inadequate.  They also emphasized the value of self-discipline in a drive as fundamental as the sexual drive.

Birth Control

In principle, birth control is permitted, so long as the couple is committed to eventually fulfilling the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply (which, at a minimum, consists of having two children, one of each gender).

The issue in birth control is not whether it is permitted, but what method is permitted.  It is well-established that methods that destroy the seed or block the passage of the seed are not permitted, thus condoms are not permitted for birth control.  However, the pill and IUD are acceptable forms of birth control under Jewish law.

Abortion

Jewish law not only permits, but in some circumstances requires abortion.  Where the mother’s life is in jeopardy because of the unborn child, abortion is mandatory.

An unborn child has the status of "potential human life" until its head has emerged from the mother.  Potential human life is valuable, and is not to be terminated casually, but it does not have as much value as a life in existence.  The Talmud makes no bones about this:  it says quite bluntly that if the fetus threatens the life of the mother, you cut it up within her body and remove it limb by limb if necessary, because its life is not as valuable as hers.  But once the head has emerged, you cannot take its life to save the mother’s, because you cannot choose between one human life and another.

Homosexuality

Male homosexual relations are clearly forbidden by the Torah (Leviticus 18,22).  Such acts are condemned in the strongest possible terms, as abhorrent, and are punishable by death (Leviticus 20,13), as are the sins of adultery, incest, and bestiality.

It is important to note, however, that it is homosexual acts that are forbidden, not homosexual orientation.  The Torah focuses on a person’s actions rather than a person’s desires.  A man’s desire to have sex with another man is no more a sin than his desire to have sex with another man’s wife, so long as he does not act upon that desire.  In fact, Jewish tradition recognizes that a person who chooses not to do something because it is forbidden is worthy of more merit than someone who simply chooses not to do it because he does not feel like doing it; thus, a man who feels such desires but does not act upon them is worthy of more merit in that regard than a man who does not feel such desires.

Interestingly, female homosexual relations are not specifically mentioned by the Written Torah, but are only forbidden in the general prohibition of "the [lewd] practices of Egypt" (Leviticus 18,3, translated "the doings of the land of Egypt" in the our JPS Bible).

 

 

Tzedakah:  Charity

Level:  Intermediate

Charity is a fundamental part of the Torah way of life:  Traditional Jews give at least ten percent of their income to charity.  Traditional Jewish homes commonly have a box for collecting coins for the poor, and coins are routinely placed in the box.  Jewish youths are continually going from door to door collecting for various worthy causes.  In many ways, charitable donation has taken the place of animal sacrifice in Jewish life:  giving to charity is an almost instinctive Jewish response to express thanks to God, to ask forgiveness from God, or to request a favor from God.  According to Jewish tradition, the spiritual benefit of giving to the poor is so great that a beggar actually does the giver a favor by giving a person the opportunity to perform tzedakah.

The Meaning of "Tzedakah"

"Tzedakah" is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call "charity" in English:  giving aid, assistance, and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes.  But the nature of tzedakah is very different from the idea of charity.  The word "charity" suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy.  The word "tzedakah" is derived from the Hebrew root Tzade-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice, or fairness.  In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due.

The Obligation of Tzedakah

Giving to the poor is an obligation in Judaism, a duty that cannot be forsaken even by those who are themselves in need.  Some sages have said that tzedakah is the highest of all commandments, equal to all of them combined, and that a person who does not perform tzedakah is equivalent to an idol worshipper.  Tzedakah is one of the three acts that gain us forgiveness from our sins.  The High Holiday liturgy states that God has inscribed a judgment against all who have sinned, but teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah can reverse the decree.  See Days of Awe.

According to Jewish law, we are required to give one-tenth of our income to the poor.  This is generally interpreted as one-tenth of our net income after payment of taxes.  Those who are dependent on public assistance or living on the edge of subsistence may give less; no one should give so much that he would become a public burden, nor more than twenty percent of his assets even if he would not become a public burden.

The obligation to perform tzedakah can be fulfilled by giving money to the poor, to health care institutions, to synagogues, or to educational institutions.  It can also be fulfilled by supporting your children beyond the age when you are legally required to, or supporting your parents in their old age.  The obligation includes giving to both Jews and Gentiles; contrary to popular belief, Jews do not just "take care of our own".

Judaism acknowledges that many people who ask for charity have no genuine need.  In fact, the Talmud suggests that this is a good thing:  if all people who asked for charity were in genuine need, we would be subject to punishment (from God) for refusing anyone who asked.  The existence of frauds diminishes our liability for failing to give to all who ask, because we have some legitimate basis for doubting the beggar’s sincerity.  It is permissible to investigate the legitimacy of a charity before donating to it.

We have an obligation to avoid becoming in need of tzedakah.  A person should take any work that is available, even if he thinks it is beneath his dignity, to avoid becoming a public charge.  In particular, Jewish legal scholars, teachers, and rabbis must make their living at something other than teaching the Oral Torah and relying on charity, even if this entails hardships for them, lest they profane God’s name, and lose their part in the World to Come.  Unfortunately, many rabbis have failed to take this seriously in recent generations; some have brazenly gone so far as to say that the public must support them, and that they are forbidden to work.

If a person is truly in need, however, and has no way to obtain money on his own, he should not feel embarrassed to accept tzedakah.  No one should feel too proud to take money from others.  In fact, it is considered a transgression to refuse tzedakah.  One who would sooner die than to accept tzedakah, when he must do so in order to survive, is as if he sheds his own blood.

Levels of Tzedakah

Certain kinds of tzedakah are considered more meritorious than others.  The Talmud describes these different levels of tzedakah, and Maimonides organized them into a list.  The levels of charity, from the least meritorious to the most meritorious, are:

  1. Giving begrudgingly
  2. Giving less than you should, but giving it cheerfully.
  3. Giving after being asked
  4. Giving before being asked
  5. Giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity
  6. Giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient does not know your identity
  7. Giving when neither party knows the other’s identity
  8. Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant

 

 

Treatment of Animals

Level:  Intermediate

"Herod also got together a great quantity of wild beasts, and of lions in very great abundance, and of such other beasts as were either of uncommon strength or of such a sort as were rarely seen.  These were trained either to fight one with another, or men who were condemned to death were to fight with them.  And truly foreigners were greatly surprised and delighted at the vast expenses of the shows, and at the great danger of the spectacles, but to the Jews it was a palpable breaking up of those customs for which they had so great a veneration." -Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews.

Prohibition Against Cruelty to Animals

Judaism places great stress on proper treatment of animals.  Unnecessary cruelty to animals is strictly forbidden, and in many cases, animals are accorded the same sensitivity as human beings.  This concern for the welfare of animals is unique to Judaism; Christianity does not share this value, nor did most civilized nations until quite recently.  Cruelty to animals was not outlawed until the 1800s.

Judaism expresses no definitive opinion as to whether animals are capable of experiencing physical or psychological pain as humans do; however, Judaism has always recognized the link between the way a person treats animals and the way a person treats human beings.  A person who is cruel to a defenseless animal will undoubtedly be cruel to defenseless people, and a person who cares for the lowest of creatures will certainly care for his fellow man.

Jacob, Moses, and David were all shepherds, people who cared for animals.  The Talmud specifically states that Moses was chosen for his mission because of his skill in caring for animals.  "The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said ‘Since you are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of My flock, Israel.’" Likewise Rebekah was chosen as a wife for Isaac because of her kindness to animals.  When Abraham’s servant asked for water for himself, she volunteered to water his camels as well, and thereby proved herself a worthy wife.

On the other hand, the two hunters in the Bible, Nimrod and Esau, are both depicted as villains.  A great rabbi who was insensitive to the fear of a calf being led to slaughter was punished with years of pain.

In the Torah, humanity is given dominion over animals, and has the right to use animals for legitimate needs.  Animal flesh can be consumed for food; animal skins can be used for clothing; the Torah itself must be written on parchment, that is, animal hides.

However, we are permitted to use animals in this way only when there is a genuine, legitimate need, and we must do so in the manner that causes the animal the least suffering.  Kosher slaughtering is designed to be as fast and painless as possible, and if anything occurs that might cause pain (such as a nick in the slaughtering knife or a delay in the cutting), the flesh may not be consumed.  Hunting for sport is strictly prohibited, and hunting and trapping for legitimate needs is permissible only when it is done in the least painful way possible.

The laws regarding treatment of animals are referred to as Tzaar Baalei Chayim, prevention of cruelty to animals.

Under Jewish law, animals have some of the same rights as humans do.  Animals rest on Shabbat, as humans do.  We are forbidden to muzzle an ox while it is working in the field, just as we must allow human workers to eat from the produce they are harvesting.

Several commandments demonstrate concern for the physical or psychological suffering of animals.  We may not plow a field using animals of different species, because this would be a hardship to the animals.  We are required to relieve an animal of its burden, even if we do not know its owner, or even if it is ownerless.  We are not permitted to kill an animal in the same day as its young, and are specifically commanded to send away a mother bird when taking the eggs, because of the psychological distress this would cause the animal.  In fact, the Torah specifically says that a person who sends away the mother bird will be rewarded with long life, precisely the same reward that is given for honoring mother and father.  This should give some indication of the importance of this law.

We are permitted to relax certain rabbinical rules for the Sabbath to rescue an animal in pain or at risk of death.

In the Talmud, the rabbis further dictated that a person may not purchase an animal unless he has made provisions to feed it, and a person must feed his animals before he feeds himself.

Pets

Jewish law does not prohibit keeping pets, and indeed many observant Jews have dogs, cats, or other household pets.

As with all animals, we are required to feed our pets before ourselves, and make arrangements for feeding our pets before we obtain them.  Also, like all animals, household pets are entitled to Sabbath rest, thus you cannot have your dog retrieve the paper for you on Shabbat, etc.

It is permissible to feed non-kosher food to pets.  In fact, it is permissible to use products of non-kosher animals as long as you do not eat them; for example, it is permissible to use a toothpaste that contains non-kosher ingredients as long as the toothpaste is not fit for human consumption.  Likewise, it is permissible to feed non-kosher food to your pets, as long as you do not consume it yourself.

The laws of Passover, however, are somewhat broader.  During Passover, it is impermissible to have any chametz (leavened grain products) in your home, or to derive any benefit from chametz, thus you cannot use chametz to feed your pets.  You must either feed your pet something that contains no chametz (such as 100% beef dog food, kosher for Passover table scraps, or matzah meal to feed fish or rodents) or temporarily sell the pets to a non-Jew.

It is a violation of Jewish law to neuter a pet.  The Torah prohibits castrating males of any species.  This law does not apply to neutering female pets.

It is a violation of the general prohibition against cruelty to animals to have your pet physically altered in any way without a genuine, legitimate need.  For example, declawing cats and docking the ears or tails of dogs are forbidden.

 

 

Qorbanot:  Sacrifices and Offerings

Level:  Advanced

Frequently Asked Questions

We begin by answering the questions most commonly asked on these subjects, and then proceed to a more comprehensive discussion of the subject of qorbanot.

Do Jews offer sacrifices today?
No.  No Jews today are known to publicly offer any kind of animal sacrifice or offerings, nor have Jews offered sacrifices since the second century C.E. There are Orthodox Jews in Israel who practice the techniques of ritual sacrifice, so that the knowledge will not be lost; a remembrance of the Pesach sacrifice was slaughtered in 5760 (2000 C.E.), within sight of the Temple Mount.  But this is not at all the same thing as offering a sacrifice. 
When did Jews stop offering sacrifices, and why?
For the most part, the practice of sacrifice stopped in the year 70 C.E., when the Roman army destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, the place where sacrifices were offered.  The practice was briefly resumed during the Jewish War of 132-135 C.E., but was ended permanently after that war was lost.  There were also a few communities that continued sacrifices for a while after that time.
We stopped offering sacrifices because we do not have a proper place to offer them.  The Torah specifically commands us not to offer sacrifices wherever we feel like it; we are only permitted to offer sacrifices in the place that God has chosen for that purpose (Deuteronomy 12,13-14).  It would be a sin to offer sacrifices in any other place.
The last place appointed by God for this purpose was the Temple in Jerusalem; but the Temple has been destroyed, and a mosque has been erected in the place where it stood.  Until we observant Jews recapture the Temple Mount and rebuild the Temple, we cannot offer sacrifices.
Orthodox Jews believe that when the Mashiach comes, sacrifices will be renewed.  Some of us think it better not to wait for him, but to be about the business of rebuilding the Temple and reinstituting the sacrifices; in any event, it is permitted to bring all of the regular order of sacrifices today on the Temple Mount at the place where the altar was, even now when the Temple is no longer standing.
Do Jews want to resume sacrifices?
Orthodox Jews do.  There are several places in our daily prayer services where we pray for the restoration of the Temple and the resumption of its rituals, including the rituals of sacrifice.
Did the kohanim (priests) or anybody else eat the animals offered?
Yes!  Most types of offerings could and should be eaten.  Certain types were eaten by the kohanim only, or by a specific kohein.  Other types were eaten by the person offering the sacrifice and his family, friends, and guests (particularly the poor who could not afford sacrifices themselves).  The types of offerings and who was permitted to eat them will be discussed further below.
Isn’t sacrifice cruelty to animals?
Animal sacrifice is no more cruel than slaughtering animals for food.  In fact, the procedure for slaughtering livestock for sacrificial purposes is the same as the procedure used for slaughtering animals for food, a procedure commanded by God that is designed to be as quick and painless as possible (see Shechitah).  The Torah is very concerned about the proper treatment of animals, and would never advocate a cruel procedure for animal sacrifice.
How do Jews obtain forgiveness without sacrifices?
Forgiveness of sins against God alone is simply obtained through repentance and confession of one’s sins in words before God Himself, and amending one’s future conduct according to the halakhah; when one sins against a person (as by theft or injury), he must also do his best to make restitution to the person injured and gain his forgiveness, as well as repenting, confessing, and making amends in future conduct before God.  Gentiles may be surprised to learn that this is as fully effective for them as for Jews (which is the main point of the Book of Jonah, of course; see Jonah 3,10, in particular).  When the Temple stands, some sins require offerings as explained below in addition to this repentance process, not instead of it; without this repentance process, offerings for sins are totally ineffective, and must be brought again when one has truly repented.
It is important to emphasize that under the Torah, sacrifice was never the exclusive means of obtaining forgiveness, was not in and of itself sufficient to obtain forgiveness, and in certain circumstances was not even effective to obtain forgiveness.  This will be discussed further below.
In current Jewish practice, prayer and study of the laws of sacrifices has taken the place of sacrifices.  In accordance with the words of Hosea, we render instead of bullocks the offering of our lips (Hosea 14,3; please note that the KJV translates this somewhat differently).  While dedicating the Temple, King Solomon referred to the idea that prayer can be used to obtain forgiveness (I Kings 8,46-50).  Our prayer services are in many ways designed to parallel the sacrificial practices; for example, we have an extra service onshabbat, to parallel the extra shabbat offering.  For more information about this, see Jewish Liturgy.
But isn’t a blood sacrifice required in order to obtain forgiveness?
Not at all, as we have just seen in the previous paragraph.  Although animal sacrifice is one means of obtaining forgiveness, there are non-animal offerings as well, and there are other means for obtaining forgiveness that do not involve sacrifices at all.
The passage that people ordinarily cite for the notion that blood is required is Leviticus 17,11:  "For the soul of the flesh is in the blood and I have assigned it for you upon the altar to provide atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that atones for the soul".  But the passage that this verse comes from is not about atonement, but about dietary laws, and the passage only says that blood is used to obtain atonement–not that blood is the sole means for obtaining atonement.  Leviticus 17,10-12 could be paraphrased as "Do not eat blood, because blood is used in atonement rituals; therefore, do not eat blood".
Were sacrifices a symbol of the savior to come?
Not according to the Torah.  That is a Christian teaching that has no basis in Jewish thought.  Jews do not believe in a savior, and do not believe that sacrifice has anything to do with a savior or mashiach.
Quite the contrary, some would say that the original institution of sacrifice had more to do with the Torah’s past than with its future.  Maimonides suggested that the entire sacrificial cult in Torah was ordained as an accommodation to man’s primitive desires; but once God included it in the Torah, it became a permanent part of our required worship of God.
Sacrifice was an ancient and universal human expression of religion.  Sacrifice existed among the Hebrews long before the giving of the Torah.  When the laws of sacrifice were laid down in the Torah, the pre-existence of a system of sacrificial offering was understood, and sacrificial terminology was used without any explanation.  The Torah, rather than creating the institution of sacrifice, carefully circumscribes and limits the practice, permitting it only in certain places, at certain times, in certain manners, by certain people, and for certain purposes.  Maimonides suggested that these limitations are designed to wean a primitive people away from the debased rites of their idolatrous neighbors.
Qorbanot

In ancient times, a major component of Jewish ritual was the offering of qorbanot.  An entire order of the Talmud (Kodashim, that is, Holy Things) is devoted to the subject.

The word "qorbanot" is usually translated as "sacrifices" or "offerings"; however, both of these terms suggest a loss of something or a giving up of something, and although that is certainly a part of the ritual, that is not at all the literal meaning of the Hebrew word.  The word qorbanot comes from the root Qof-Resh-Bet, which means to draw near, and indicates the primary purpose of offerings:  to draw us near to God.

Parts of the rituals involved in the offering of qorbanot were performed exclusively by the kohanim (priests).  These rituals were only performed in the Temple in Jerusalem.  The procedures could not be performed by anyone else, and could not be performed in any other place.  Because the Temple no longer exists, we can no longer offer qorbanot.

There are three basic concepts underlying qorbanot.  The first the aspect of giving.  A qorban requires the renunciation of something that belongs to the person making the offering.  Thus, sacrifices are made from domestic animals, not wild animals (because wild animals do not belong to anyone).  Likewise, offerings of food are ordinarily in the form of flour or meal, which requires substantial work to prepare.

Another important concept is the element of substitution.  The idea is that the thing being offered is a substitute for the person making the offering, and the things that are done to the offering are things that should have been done to the person offering.  The offering is in some sense "punished" in place of the offerer.  It is interesting to note that whenever the subject of qorbanot is addressed in the Torah, the name of God used is the four-letter name indicating God’s mercy.

The third important concept is of coming closer.  The essence of sacrifice is to bring a person closer to God.

Purposes of Qorbanot

Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of qorbanot is not simply to obtain forgiveness from sin.  When the Temple stands, every Jew who can is required to come to Jerusalem three times a year for special holidays that require bringing several different types of qorbanot, most of which are eaten by the celebrants with their family and friends.  These qorbanot bring the Jewish people together, and build both solidarity between us and our God on the one hand and among us on the other.

Certain qorbanot are brought purely for the purpose of communing with God and becoming closer to Him.  Others are brought for the purpose of expressing thanks, love, or gratitude to God.  Others are used to cleanse a person of ritual impurity (which does not necessarily have anything to do with sin).  And yes, some qorbanot are brought for purposes of atonement.

The atoning aspect of qorbanot is carefully circumscribed.  For the most part, qorbanot only expiate unintentional sins, that is, sins committed because a person forgot that this thing was a sin.  No atonement is needed for violations committed under duress, and for the most part, qorbanot cannot atone for a malicious, deliberate sin.  In addition, qorbanot have no expiating effect unless the person making the offering sincerely repents of his actions before making the offering, and makes restitution to any person harmed by his sin.

Types of Qorbanot

There are many different types of qorbanot, and the laws related to them are detailed and complicated.  This section will merely introduce some of the major types of qorbanot, their names, and their characteristics.  There are many subtypes within these classifications, and some other types that do not fit neatly into these categories.

Olah:  Burnt Offering

Perhaps the best-known class of offerings is the burnt offering.  It was the oldest and commonest sacrifice, and represented submission to God’s will.  The Hebrew word for burnt offering is olah, from the root Ayin-Lamed-Heh, meaning ascension.  It is the same root as the word aliyah, which is used to describe moving to Israel or ascending to the podium to read from a Torah scroll.  An olah is completely burnt on the outer altar; no part of it is eaten by anyone.  Because the offering represents complete submission to God’s will, the entire offering is given to God (i.e., it cannot be used after it is burnt).  It expresses a desire to commune with God.  An olah could be brought from cattle, sheep, goats, or even doves.  Gentiles were allowed to bring an olah in our Temple, unlike the rest of the kinds of qorbanot, which were reserved for Jews alone within the Temple itself; it should be remembered, however, that Gentiles are permitted to build their own place for qorbanot, and offer them to God themselves, and are promised reward for this meritorious behavior (it is disappointing that Gentiles have so far neglected this opportunity, by the way).

Zebach Sh’lamim:  Peace Offering

A peace offering is an offering expressing thanks or gratitude to God for His bounties and mercies.  The Hebrew term for this type of offering is zebach sh’lamim (or sometimes just sh’lamim), which is related to the word shalom, meaning peace or wholeness.  A representative portion of the offering is burnt on the altar, a portion is given to the kohanim, and the rest is eaten by the offerer and his family; thus, everyone gets a part of this offering.  This category of offerings includes thanksgiving-offerings, free will-offerings, and offerings made after fulfillment of a vow.  Note that this class of offerings has nothing to do with sin, and could properly be brought by the most righteous of the righteous.

Chatat:  Sin Offering

A sin offering is an offering to atone for and purge a sin.  It is an expression of sorrow for the error and a desire to be reconciled with God.  The Hebrew term for this type of offering is chatat, from the word "chayt", meaning missing the mark.  A chatat could only be offered for unintentional sins committed through carelessness or ignorance, not for intentional malicious sins.  The size of the offering varied according to the nature of the sin and the financial means of the sinner.  Some chatatot are individual and some are communal.  Communal offerings represent the interdependence of the community, and the idea that we are all responsible for each other’s sins.  A few special chatatot could not be eaten, but for the most part, for the average person’s personal sin, the chatat was eaten by the kohanim.

Asham:  Guilt Offering

A guilt offering is an offering to atone for sins of stealing things from the altar, for when you are not sure whether you have committed a sin or what sin you have committed, or for breach of trust.  The Hebrew word for a guilt offering is asham.  When there was doubt as to whether a person committed a sin, the person would bring an asham, rather than a chatat, because bringing a chatat would constitute admission of the sin, and the person would have to be punished for it.  If a person brought an asham and later discovered that he had in fact committed the sin, he would have to bring a chatat at that time.  An asham was eaten by the kohanim.

Food and Drink Offerings

A meal offering (minchah) represented the devotion of the fruits of man’s work to God, because it was not a natural product, but something created through man’s effort.  A representative piece of the offering was burnt on the fire of the altar, but the rest was eaten by thekohanim.

There are also offerings of undiluted wine, referred to as nesekh.

Parah Adumah:  The Red Heifer

In 1997 and again in 2002, red heifers were born in Israel.  These births received quite a bit of press coverage, and there were many questions asking about their significance.

The ritual of the red heifer (in Hebrew, parah adumah) is part of one of the most mysterious rituals described in the Torah.  The purpose of this ritual is to purify people from the defilement caused by contact with the dead.  The ritual is described in Numbers 19.  If you find it difficult to understand, do not feel bad; the sages themselves described it as beyond human understanding.  What is so interesting about this ritual is that it purifies the impure, but it also renders the pure impure (i.e., everybody who participates in the ritual becomes impure).

It is believed by many that this ritual will be performed by the Mashiach when he comes, because we have all suffered the defilement of contact with the dead.  Thus, the existence of a red heifer is a possible, but not definite, sign of the Mashiach.  If the Mashiach were coming, there would be a red heifer, but there could be a red heifer without the Mashiach coming.

Unfortunately, in the end, both of heifers we have had so far were disqualified.

 

 

A List of the 613 Mitzvot

Level:  Advanced

Below is the list of the 613 mitzvot (commandments) as brought in the Preface to Mishneh Torah by the Rambam or Maimonides in our translation from the original Hebrew.

In addition to this list according to the overall structure of Mishneh Torah, the Rambam also provides separate lists of the Positive Commandments and Negative Commandments, for most of which there are citations to the verses that are the basis for the commandments (and we have provided links from them to the Bible passages, so that one may see the verses in their full context).

Structure of the 14 Books of Mishneh Torah

I have seen fit to divide this work into fourteen books:

Book 1  I include in it all the commandments that are the basic principles of the religion of Moses Our Teacher, which one needs to know at the outset–such as recognizing the unity of the Holy One blessed be He and the prohibition of idolatry.  I have called this book The Book of Knowledge.

Book 2  I include in it the commandments that are done frequently, which we have been commanded to do so that we may always love God and remember Him constantly–such as reading the Shema`, prayer, tefillin, and blessings; circumcision is included, because it is a sign in our flesh to constantly remind us when we are not in tefillin or tzitzit or the like.  I have called this book The Book of Love.

Book 3  I include in it the commandments to be done at fixed times–such as Sabbath and holidays.  I have called this book The Book of Times.

Book 4  I include in it the commandments on sexual relations–such as marriage and divorce, levirate marriage and release from it.  I have called this book The Book of Women.

Book 5  I include in it the commandments on forbidden sexual relations and commandments on forbidden foods–for in these two matters the Omnipresent sanctified us and separated us from the nations, in forbidden sexual relations and forbidden foods, and of both it is written "and I have set you apart from the peoples" (Leviticus 20,26), "who have set you apart from the peoples" (Leviticus 20,24).  I have called this book The Book of Holiness.

Book 6  I include in it commandments by which one undertakes to forbid himself in certain things–such as oaths and vows.  I have called this book The Book of Promising.

Book 7  I include in it commandments on seed of the land–such as Sabbatical years and Jubilees, tithes and heave offerings, and the other commandments akin to these matters.  I have called this book The Book of Seeds.

Book 8  I include in it commandments on building the sanctuary and continual public sacrifices.  I have called this book The Book of Service.

Book 9  I include in it commandments on sacrifices of the individual.  I have called this book The Book of Sacrifices.

Book 10  I include in it commandments on ritual purity or impurity.  I have called this book The Book of Ritual Purity.

Book 11  I include in it commandments on civil relations in which there is injury at the offset to either property or person.  I have called this book The Book of Injuries.

Book 12  I include in it commandments on sale and purchase.  I have called this book The Book of Acquisition.

Book 13  I include in it commandments on other civil relations in cases that do not have at the outset any injury–such as deposits, debts, and claims and denials.  I have called this book The Book of Judgments.

Book 14  I include in it commandments that are delegated to the Sanhedrin–such as capital punishment, receiving evidence, and administration of the king and his wars.  I have called this book The Book of Judges.

The following is the division of the groups of laws in this work according to the subjects of the books, and the division of the commandments according to subjects of the groups of laws:

The Book of Knowledge

Its groups of laws are five, and this is their order:  Laws of the Foundations of the Torah, Laws of Personal Dispositions, Laws of Torah Study, Laws of Idolatry and Gentile Customs, Laws of Repentance

Laws of the Foundations of the Torah include ten commandments, six positive commandments and four negative commandments, which are:  (1) to know that there is God; (2) not to entertain the thought that there is any god but the LORD; (3) to acknowledge His Oneness; (4) to love Him; (5) to fear Him; (6) to sanctify His Name; (7) not to profane His Name; (8) not to destroy things upon which His Name is called; (9) to obey the prophet who speaks in His Name; (10) not to test Him.

Laws of Personal Dispositions include eleven commandments, five positive commandments and six negative commandments, which are:  (1) to imitate His ways; (2) to cleave to those who know Him; (3) to love others; (4) to love converts; (5) not to hate others; (6) to rebuke; (7) not to shame others; (8) not to afflict the unfortunate; (9) not to gossip; (10) not to take revenge; (11) not to bear a grudge.

Laws of Torah Study include two positive commandments:  (1) to learn Torah; (2) to honor those who teach it and know it.

Laws of Idolatry and Gentile Customs include fifty-one commandments, two positive commandments and forty-nine negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to turn to idolatry; (2) not to stray after thoughts of the heart and sights of the eyes; (3) not to blaspheme; (4) not to worship an object of idolatry in its normal way; (5) not to prostrate oneself before it; (6) not to make a graven image for oneself; (7) not to make a graven image even for others; (8) not to make figures even for decoration; (9) not to proselytize others after it; (10) to burn a city that has been proselytized over to idolatry; (11) not to rebuild it; (12) not to benefit from any of its property; (13) not to entice an individual to worship it; (14) not to love the enticer; (15) not to leave off hating him; (16) not to save him; (17) not to plead for his acquittal; (18) not to refrain from pleading for his conviction; (19) not to prophesy in its name; (20) not to listen to one who prophesies in its name; (21) not to prophesy falsely, even in the name of the LORD; (22) not to fear killing a false prophet; (23) not to swear in the name of idolatry; (24) not to divine by consulting ghosts; (25) not to resort to familiar spirits; (26) not to turn over to Molech; (27) not to set up a pillar; (28) not to prostrate oneself on a figured stone; (29) not to plant a tree for worship; (30) to destroy an object of idolatry and everything made for it; (31) not to benefit from a object of idolatry or its accessories; (32) not to benefit from the coverings of anything worshipped; (33) not to make a covenant with idolaters; (34) not to show them favor; (35) that they must not settle in our land; (36) not to imitate their customs or their dress; (37) not to practice divination; (38) not to practice black magic; (39) not to practice soothsaying; (40) not to practice the charmer’s art; (41) not to enquire of the dead; (42) not to consult a ghost; (43) not to consult a familiar spirit; (44) not to practice witchcraft; (45) not to shave the corners of the head; (46) not to remove the corners of the beard; (47) that a man shall not wear the attire of a woman; (48) that a woman shall not wear the attire of a man; (49) not to tattoo the body; (50) not to cut oneself; (51) not to make a bald spot for the dead.

Laws of Repentance include one positive commandment, which is that the sinner shall repent of his sin before the LORD, and confess.

All the commandments included in this book are thus seventy five, sixteen of them positive commandments and fifty-nine negative commandments.

The Book of Love

Its groups of laws are six, and this is their order:  Laws of Reading the Shema`, Laws of Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah, and Torah Scroll, Laws of Tzitzit, Laws of Blessings, Laws of Circumcision

Laws of Reading the Shema` include one positive commandment, which is to read the Shema` twice daily.

Laws of Prayer and Priestly Blessing include two positive commandments:  (1) to serve the LORD in prayer daily; (2) for priests to bless Israel daily.

Laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah, and Torah Scroll include five positive commandments, which are:  (1) for there to be tefillin on the head; (2) to bind them on the arm; (3) to fix a mezuzah at entrances; (4) for every man to write a Torah scroll for himself; (5) for the King to write a second scroll for himself, so that he will have two Torah scrolls.

Laws of Tzitzit include one positive commandment, which is to make tzitzit on the corners of garments.

Laws of Blessings include one positive commandment, which is to bless His Name after eating.

Laws of Circumcision include one positive commandment, which is to circumcise males on the eighth day.

All the commandments included in this book are thus eleven positive commandments.

The Book of Times

Its groups of laws are ten, and this is their order:  Laws of the Sabbath, Laws of Eruvin, Laws of Rest on the Tenth of Tishri, Laws of Rest on the Holidays, Laws of Leaven and Unleavened Bread, Laws of Shofar, Sukkah, and Lolav, Laws of Sheqels, Laws of Sanctification of Months, Laws of Fasts, Laws of the Scroll of Esther and Hanukkah

Laws of the Sabbath include five commandments, two positive commandments and three negative commandments, which are:  (1) to rest on the seventh day; (2) not to do work on it; (3) not to punish on the Sabbath; (4) not to leave the limits of one’s settlement on the Sabbath; (5) to sanctify the day in speech.

Laws of Eruvin include one positive commandment, which is rabbinical and not counted among the Torah commandments.

Laws of Rest on the Tenth of Tishri include four commandments, two positive commandments and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to rest on it from work; (2) not to do work on it; (3) to fast on it; (4) not to eat or drink on it.

Laws of Rest on the Holidays include twelve commandments, six positive commandments and six negative commandments, which are:  (1) to rest on the first day of Pesach; (2) not to do work on it; (3) to rest on the seventh day of Pesach; (4) not to do work on it; (5) to rest on Shavu`ot; (6) not to do work on it; (7) to rest on Rosh Hashanah; (8) not to do work on it; (9) to rest on the first day of the Festival of Sukkot; (10) not to do work on it; (11) to rest on the eighth day of the Festival; (12) not to do work on it.

Laws of Leaven and Unleavened Bread include eight commandments, three positive commandments and five negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to eat leavened food on the Fourteenth of Nisan, from noon onwards; (2) to get rid of leaven on the Fourteenth of Nisan; (3) not to eat leavened food during the seven days; (4) not to eat a mixture that contains leaven during the seven days; (5) that no leavened food is to be seen in one’s possession during the seven days; (6) that no leavened food is to be found in one’s possession during the seven days; (7) to eat unleavened bread on the night of Pesach; (8) to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt on that night.

Laws of Shofar, Sukkah, and Lolav include three positive commandments, which are:  (1) to hear the sound of the shofar on the first of Tishri; (2) to dwell in a sukkah seven days of the Festival; (3) to take up a Lolav in the Temple all seven days of the Festival.

Laws of Sheqels include one positive commandment, which is for every man to give half a Sheqel every year.

Laws of Sanctification of Months include one positive commandment, which is to calculate, know, and fix which day is to be the beginning of each and every month in the year.

Laws of Fasts include one positive commandment, which is to fast and cry out before the LORD whenever a great calamity comes upon the public.

Laws of the Scroll of Esther and Hanukkah include two positive rabbinical commandments, not counted among the Torah commandments.

All the Torah commandments included in this book are thus thirty five, nineteen of them positive commandments and sixteen negative commandments; there are also three rabbinical commandments.

The Book of Women

Its groups of laws are five, and this is their order:  Laws of Marriage, Laws of Divorce, Laws of Levirate Marriage and Release, Laws of the Virgin Maiden, Laws of a Woman Suspected of Adultery

Laws of Marriage include four commandments, two positive commandments and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to take a wife by marriage contract and sanctification ceremony; (2) for a woman not to have sexual relations without a marriage contract and sanctification ceremony; (3) not to withhold food, clothing, and conjugal rights; (4) to be fruitful and multiply from one’s wife.

Laws of Divorce include two commandments:  (1) a positive commandment, which is that one shall divorce with a written document; (2) that one shall not take back a former wife after her being married to another.

Laws of Levirate Marriage and Release include three commandments, two positive commandments and one negative commandment, which are:  (1) to marry the widow of a brother who died childless; (2) to release the widow, if one does not marry her; (3) that such a widow not be married to another man until the levirate obligation has been removed.

Laws of the Virgin Maiden include five commandments, three positive commandments and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to fine the seducer; (2) that the rapist shall marry his victim; (3) that the rapist shall not divorce; (4) that the wife of one who defamed her as a non-virgin at marriage may remain with him forever; (5) that such a defamer shall not divorce his wife.

Laws of a Woman Suspected of Adultery include three commandments, one affirmative commandment and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to do to a woman suspected of adultery the special procedure set out in the Torah; (2) not to put oil on her offering; (3) not to put frankincense on it.

All the commandments included in this book are thus seventeen, nine of them positive commandments and eight negative commandments.

The Book of Holiness

Its groups of laws are three, and this is their order:  Laws of Forbidden Sexual Relations, Laws of Forbidden Foods, Laws of Slaughter

Laws of Forbidden Sexual Relations include thirty-seven commandments, one positive commandment and thirty-six negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to have sexual relations with one’s mother; (2) not to have sexual relations with one’s father’s wife; (3) not to have sexual relations with one’s sister; (4) not to have sexual relations with one’s father’s wife’s daughter; (5) not to have sexual relations with one’s son’s daughter; (6) not to have sexual relations with one’s daughter; (7) not to have sexual relations with one’s daughter’s daughter; (8) not to marry a woman and her daughter; (9) not to marry a woman and her son’s daughter; (10) not to marry a woman and her daughter’s daughter; (11) not to have sexual relations with one’s father’s sister; (12) not to have sexual relations with one’s mother’s sister; (13) not to have sexual relations with one’s father’s brother’s wife; (14) not to have sexual relations with one’s son’s wife; (15) not to have sexual relations with one’s brother’s wife; (16) not to have sexual relations with one’s wife’s sister; (17) not have sexual relations with a beast; (18) that a woman shall not bring a beast to have sexual relations with her; (19) not to have sexual relations with another male; (20) not to have sexual relations with one’s father; (21) not to have sexual relations with one’s father’s brother (22) not to have sexual relations with another man’s wife; (23) not to have sexual relations with a menstruous woman; (24) not to intermarry with Gentiles; (25) that an Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the community by marriage with born Jews; (26) not to keep an Egyptian of the third generation from so entering the community; (27) not to keep an Edomite of the third generation from so entering the community; (28) that a mamzer shall not so enter the community; (29) that a eunuch shall not so enter the community; (30) not to castrate a male, even a domestic animal or wild beast or fowl; (31) that the High Priest shall not marry a widow; (32) that the High Priest shall not have sexual relations with a widow, even without marriage; (33) that the High Priest shall marry a virgin in her adolescence; (34) that a priest shall not marry a divorced woman; (35) that he shall not marry a harlot; (36) that he shall not marry a profaned woman; (37) that one shall not be intimate with one with which sexual relations are severely forbidden, even though he does not have sexual relations.

Laws of Forbidden Foods include twenty-eight commandments, four positive commandments and twenty-four negative commandments, which are:  (1) to examine the identifying signs in animals and beasts to tell the unclean from the clean; (2) to examine the identifying signs of fowl to tell the unclean from the clean; (3) to examine the identifying signs of locusts to tell the unclean from the clean; (4) to examine the identifying signs of fishes to tell the unclean from the clean; (5) not to eat unclean animals and beasts; (6) not to eat unclean fowl; (7) not to eat unclean fishes; (8) not to eat winged swarming things; (9) not to eat things that creep upon the earth; (10) not to eat things that swarm upon the earth; (11) not to eat a worm found in fruit after it has emerged onto the ground; (12) not to eat things that swarm in water; (13) not to eat an animal that died without slaughtering; (14) not to benefit from an ox condemned to be stoned; (15) not to eat an animal that is fatally injured; (16) not to eat a limb removed from a living animal; (17) not to eat blood; (18) not to eat suet of a clean animal; (19) not to eat the sinew of the thigh; (20) not to eat meat with milk; (21) not to cook it; (22) not to eat bread of the new crop; (23) not to eat roasted grain of the new crop; (24) not to eat fresh grain of the new crop; (25) not to eat fruit of a tree in the first three years from planting; (26) not to eat grains or vegetables sown in a vineyard; (27) not to eat produce from which priestly portions have not yet been removed; (28) not to drink wine of libation to idolatry.

Laws of Slaughter include five commandments, three positive commandments and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to slaughter and then eat; (2) not to slaughter an animal and its young on the same day; (3) to cover the blood of a wild beast or of a fowl; (4) not to take the mother bird with the young; (5) to set the mother bird free, if one has taken it and its young.

All the commandments included in this book are thus seventy, eight of them positive commandments and sixty-two negative commandments.

The Book of Promises

Its groups of laws are four, and this is their order:  Laws of Oaths, Laws of Vows, Laws of the Nazarite, Laws of Appraisals and Devoted Property

Laws of Oaths include five commandments, one positive commandment and four negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to swear by His Name falsely; (2) not to take His Name in vain; (3) not to falsely deny an article left in trust; (4) not to swear falsely in denial of a claim to property; (5) to swear by His Name in truth.

Laws of Vows include three commandments, two positive commandments and one negative commandment, which are:  (1) that one shall fulfill whatever he has uttered and do as he has vowed; (2) not to break one’s word; (3) that a vow or oath may be annulled, which is the law of annulment of vows explicitly mentioned in the Written Law.

Laws of the Nazarite include ten commandments, two positive commandments and eight negative commandments, which are:  (1) that the Nazarite shall let his hair grow long; (2) that he shall not cut his hair all the days of his Nazariteship; (3) that the Nazarite shall not drink wine nor a mixture with wine, not even their vinegar; (4) that he shall not eat fresh grapes; (5) that he shall not eat raisins; (6) that he shall not eat grape seeds; (7) that he shall not eat grape skins; (8) that he shall not enter under any covering where there is a corpse; (9) that he shall not become unclean from a corpse; (10) that he shall shave off his hair when bringing his sacrifices, when he completes his Nazariteship or when he becomes unclean.

Laws of Appraisals and Devoted Property include seven commandments, five positive commandments and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to judge in appraisals of the values of persons as explicitly set forth in the Torah, which is the law of appraisal of persons; (2) the law of the appraisal of animals; (3) the law of the appraisal of houses; (4) the law of the appraisal of fields; (5) the law of one who devotes his property; (6) that what was so devoted shall not be sold; (7) that what was so devoted shall not be redeemed.

All the commandments included in this book are thus twenty five, ten of them positive commandments and fifteen negative commandments.

The Book of Seeds

Its groups of laws are seven, and this is their order:  Laws of Diverse Varieties, Laws of Gifts to the Poor, Laws of Heave Offerings, Laws of Tithes, Laws of Second Tithes and the Fruit of the Fourth Year, Laws of First Fruits and Other Priestly Gifts Outside the Sanctuary, Laws of the Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee

Laws of Diverse Varieties include five negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to sow diverse seeds together; (2) not to sow grain or vegetables in a vineyard; (3) not to mate animals of different species; (4) not to work with animals of different species together; (5) not to wear clothing of both wool and linen.

Laws of Gifts to the Poor include thirteen commandments, seven positive commandments and six negative commandments, which are:  (1) to leave the edge of the field unharvested; (2) not to wholly reap the edge of the field; (3) to leave the fallen stalks; (4) not to gather the fallen stalks; (5) to leave the imperfect clusters of the vineyard; (6) not to gather the imperfect clusters of the vineyard; (7) to leave the individual fallen grapes of the vineyard; (8) not to gather the individual fallen grapes of the vineyard; (9) to leave the forgotten sheaf; (10) not to go back to take the forgotten sheaf; (11) to set aside a tithe for the poor; (12) to give charity according to one’s ability; (13) not to harden one’s heart against the poor.

Laws of Heave Offerings include eight commandments, two positive commandments and six negative commandments, which are:  (1) to set aside a great heave offering; (2) to set aside a heave offering of the tithes; (3) not to set aside heave offerings and tithes out of order, but to set them aside in the right order; (4) that an unauthorized person shall not eat a heave offering; (5) that even a tenant or hired worker of a priest shall not eat a heave offering; (6) that the uncircumcised shall not eat a heave offering; (7) that an unclean priest shall not eat a heave offering; (8) that a profaned woman shall not eat a heave offering nor a gift from consecrated animals.

Laws of Tithes include one commandment, which is to set apart the first tithe of produce each and every year the fields are sown and give it to the Levites.

Laws of Second Tithes and the Fruit of the Fourth Year include nine commandments, three positive commandments and six negative commandments, which are:  (1) to set apart the second tithe; (2) not to spend its redemption money for any necessities but eating, drinking, and anointing; (3) not to eat it while unclean; (4) not to eat it while mourning; (5) not to eat the second tithe of grain outside Jerusalem; (6) not to eat the second tithe of wine outside Jerusalem; (7) not to eat the second tithe of olive oil outside Jerusalem; (8) that all the fruit of trees in the fourth year after planting shall be holy, and that it is to be eaten by its owner in Jerusalem like the second tithe; (9) to make the tithe declaration.

Laws of First Fruits and Other Priestly Gifts Outside the Sanctuary include nine commandments, eight positive commandments and one negative commandment, which are:  (1) to set apart first fruits and bring them to the Sanctuary; (2) that the priest shall not eat the first fruits outside Jerusalem; (3) to recite the declaration on them; (4) to set apart a portion of dough for the priest; (5) to give the foreleg, the jaw, and the stomach to the priest; (6) to give him the first fleece; (7) to redeem the first-born son, and to give the redemption gift to the priest; (8) to redeem the first-born of an ass, and give the redemption gift to the priest; (9) to decapitate the first-born of an ass, if one does not want to redeem it.

Laws of the Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee include twenty-two commandments, nine positive commandments and thirteen negative commandments, which are:  (1) that the land shall rest unworked in the Sabbatical year; (2) that one shall not work the ground in that year; (3) that one shall not work the trees in that year; (4) that one shall not harvest what grows by itself in the manner of harvesters; (5) that one shall not harvest a vineyard in the manner of harvesters; (6) that one shall renounce ownership in what the land produces; (7) that one shall release all his loans; (8) that one shall not oppress nor demand a debt; (9) that one shall not refrain from making loans before the Sabbatical year, so as not to lose his money; (10) to count the years by sevens; (11) to sanctify the fiftieth year; (12) to sound the shofar on the Tenth of Tishri so that slaves go out free; (13) that the land shall not be worked in that year; (14) that one shall not harvest what grows by itself in manner of harvesters; (15) not to harvest the vineyards in the manner of harvesters; (16) to grant redemption to the land in this year, which is the rule for inherited fields or purchased fields; (17) that the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; (18) the rule for houses in walled cities; (19) that none of the Tribe of Levi shall receive a heritage in the Land of Israel, but cities to dwell in shall be given to them as a gift; (20) that the Tribe of Levi shall not take a share in the spoils of war; (21) to give to the Levites cities to dwell in and open land round about the cities; (22) that the open land round about their cities shall never be sold, but they may redeem it at any time whether before the Jubilee or after the Jubilee.

All the commandments included in this book are thus sixty seven, thirty of them positive commandments and thirty-seven negative commandments.

The Book of Service

Its groups of laws are nine, and this is their order:  Laws of the Chosen House, Laws of Vessels of the Sanctuary and Those Who Serve in It, Laws of Entry into the Sanctuary, Laws of Things Forbidden on the Altar, Laws of Sacrificial Procedures, Laws of the Daily Offerings and Additional Offerings, Laws of Sacrifices Become Unfit, Laws of the Service on Yom Kippur, Laws of Benefit from Consecrated Things

Laws of the Chosen House include six commandments, three positive commandments and three negative commandments, which are:  (1) to build a Sanctuary; (2) not to build the Altar of hewn stones; (3) not to go up by steps onto the Altar; (4) to fear the Sanctuary; (5) to keep a guard around the Sanctuary; (6) not to stop guarding the Sanctuary.

Laws of Vessels of the Sanctuary and Those Who Serve in It include fourteen commandments, six positive commandments and eight negative commandments, which are:  (1) to prepare the anointing oil; (2) not to make the like of it; (3) not to anoint oneself with it; (4) not to prepare incense in the formula of the incense; (5) not to offer on the Golden Altar anything but the incense; (6) to bear the Ark on the shoulder; (7) that one shall not remove the staves from it; (8) that the Levite shall serve in the Sanctuary; (9) that no one shall do the work assigned to another in the Sanctuary; (10) to sanctify the priest for the service; (11) that all divisions take part equally on the pilgrimage festivals; (12) to wear priestly clothing for the service; (13) that one shall not rend the priests’ robes; (14) that the breastplate be not loosened from the Ephod.

Laws of Entry into the Sanctuary include fifteen commandments, two positive commandments and thirteen negative commandments, which are:  (1) that a drunken priest shall not enter the Sanctuary; (2) that a priest whose hair is disheveled shall not enter it; (3) that a priest whose garment is torn shall not enter it; (4) that a priest shall not enter the Temple at all times; (5) that a priest shall not leave the Sanctuary during the service; (6) to send the unclean out of the Sanctuary; (7) that one who is unclean shall not enter the Sanctuary; (8) that one who is unclean shall not enter the Temple Mount; (9) that one who is unclean shall not serve; (10) that who took a purifying ritual bath shall not serve in the Sanctuary before the stars come out on the following evening; (11) that one who serves shall wash his hands and feet; (12) that one with a disqualifying blemish shall not enter the Temple nor approach the Altar; (13) that one with a disqualifying blemish shall not serve; (14) that one with a temporary disqualifying blemish shall not serve; (15) that a non-priest shall not serve.

Laws of Things Forbidden on the Altar include fourteen commandments, four positive commandments and ten negative commandments, which are:  (1) to sacrifice only unblemished animals; (2) not to set apart a blemished animal for the Altar; (3) not to slaughter one; (4) not to sprinkle its blood; (5) not to burn its suet; (6) not to sacrifice one with a temporary blemish; (7) not to sacrifice one with a blemish, even in sacrifices of Gentiles; (8) not to inflict a blemish in consecrated animals; (9) to redeem consecrated animals that have become unfit; (10) to sacrifice only from eight days old and onward, for before then it is called underage and is not to be sacrificed; (11) not to sacrifice animals taken in exchange for services of a prostitute or in exchange for a dog; (12) not to burn on the Altar leaven or honey; (13) to salt all sacrifices; (14) not to omit salting of sacrifices.

Laws of Sacrificial Procedures include twenty-three commandments, ten positive commandments and thirteen negative commandments, which are:  (1) to do the burnt offering according to the procedures in its prescribed order; (2) not to eat the flesh of the burnt offering; (3) the order of the sin offering; (4) not to eat the flesh of a sin offering brought inside; (5) not to sever the head a sin offering of fowl; (6) the order of the guilt offering; (7) that the priests shall eat the flesh of the most holy sacrifices within the Sanctuary; (8) that they shall not eat them outside the Courtyard; (9) that a non-priest shall not eat of the most holy sacrifices; (10) the order of the peace offerings; (11) not to eat the flesh of the minor holy sacrifices before the sprinkling of their blood; (12) to do each of the meal offerings according to the order of its procedures prescribed in the Torah; (13) that one not put oil on the meal offering of a sinner; (14) that one not put frankincense upon it; (15) that a priest’s meal offering shall not be eaten; (16) that a meal offering shall not be baked leavened; (17) that the priests shall eat the remainders of meal offerings; (18) that one shall bring all his vowed offerings and his free-will offerings on the first pilgrimage festival that comes; (19) that one shall not delay vowed offerings or free-will offerings or other things one is obligated to do; (20) to offer all sacrifices in the Chosen House; (21) to bring things consecrated outside Israel to the Chosen House; (22) not to slaughter sacrifices outside the Courtyard; (23) not to offer a sacrifice outside the Courtyard.

Laws of the Daily Offerings and Additional Offerings include nineteen commandments, eighteen positive commandments and one negative commandment, which are:  (1) to sacrifice daily two lambs as burnt offerings; (2) to light a fire upon the Altar daily; (3) not to extinguish it; (4) to remove the ashes daily; (5) to burn incense daily; (6) to light lamps daily; (7) that the High Priest shall bring a meal offering daily, which is called Chavittin; (8) to add on the Sabbath two lambs as burnt offerings; (9) to do the showbread; (10) the additional offering of New Moons; (11) the additional offering of Pesach; (12) to offer the Omer as a wave offering; (13) that each and every man shall count seven weeks from the day the Omer is offered; (14) the additional offering of Shavu`ot; (15) to bring the two loaves of bread with the sacrifices brought because of them on Shavu`ot; (16) the additional offering of Rosh Hashanah; (17) the additional offering of the Day of the Fast; (18) the additional offering of the Festival of Sukkot; (19) the additional offering of the Festival of Shemini `Atzeret.

Laws of Sacrifices Become Unfit include eight commandments, two positive commandments and six negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to eat consecrated animals that have become unfit or have been blemished; (2) not to eat the abomination of intended delay; (3) that one shall not leave the offerings until after their time; (4) that one shall not eat what is left over beyond its time; (5) that one shall not eat sacrifices that have become unclean; (6) that one who has become unclean shall not eat sacrifices; (7) to burn what is left over beyond its time; (8) to burn what has become unclean.

Laws of the Service on Yom Kippur are one positive commandment, which is to do the service of the whole Day of Atonement in the order written in Leviticus 16–the sacrifices, the confessions, the sending of the scapegoat, and the rest of the service.

Laws of Benefit from Consecrated Things include three commandments, one positive commandment and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) for one has benefitted from consecrated things to pay what he has benefitted with the addition of a fifth and bring an offering, which is the rule for one who benefits from consecrated things; (2) not to work with consecrated animals; (3) not to shear the fleece of consecrated animals.

All the commandments included in this book are thus one hundred three, forty seven of them positive commandments and fifty-six negative commandments.

The Book of Sacrifices

Its groups of laws are six, and this is their order:  Laws of the Pesach Sacrifice, Laws of Pilgrimage Festival Sacrifices, Laws of the First-Born, Laws of Unintentional Sins, Laws of Those with Incomplete Atonement, Laws of Substitution for Consecrated Animals

Laws of the Pesach Sacrifice include sixteen commandments, four positive commandments and twelve negative commandments, which are:  (1) to slaughter the Pesach sacrifice at its appointed time; (2) not to slaughter it while in possession of leaven; (3) not to let the parts to be burned on the Altar be left overnight; (4) to slaughter the Second Pesach sacrifice; (5) to eat the flesh of the Pesach sacrifice with unleavened bread and bitter herbs on the night of the Fifteenth of Nisan; (6) to eat the flesh of the Second Pesach sacrifice with unleavened bread and bitter herbs on the night of the Fifteenth of the second month; (7) not to eat it raw or boiled; (8) not to take flesh of the Pesach sacrifice outside the place of the group appointed to eat it; (9) that an apostate shall not eat it; (10) that an alien tenant or hired worker shall not eat it; (11) that the uncircumcised shall not eat it; (12) that one shall not break a bone of it; (13) that one shall not break a bone of the Second Pesach sacrifice; (14) that one shall not leave over any of it until morning; (15) that one shall not leave over any of the Second Pesach sacrifice until morning; (16) that one shall not leave over any of the flesh of the pilgrimage festival sacrifice brought on the Fourteenth of Nisan until the third day.

Laws of Pilgrimage Festival Sacrifices include six commandments, four positive commandments and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to appear before the LORD; (2) to celebrate the three pilgrimage festivals; (3) to rejoice on the pilgimage festivals; (4) not to appear empty-handed; (5) not to neglect to make the Levite rejoice and to give him gifts on the pilgrimage festivals; (6) to assemble the people on Sukkot after the end of the Sabbatical year.

Laws of the First-Born include five commandments, two positive commandments and three negative commandments, which are:  (1) to set apart the first-born; (2) not to eat an unblemished first-born outside Jerusalem; (3) not to redeem the first-born; (4) to set apart a tithe of animals; (5) not to redeem the tithe of animals.  I have included Laws of the tithe of animals with those of the first-born because the procedure is the same in both, and the Written Torah includes the one with the other, as it is written "and dash their blood" (see Numbers 18,17), which according to the oral tradition is both the blood of the tithe of animals and the blood of the first-born.

Laws of Unintentional Sins include five positive commandments, which are:  (1) that an individual shall bring a fixed sin offering for his error; (2) that one who does not know whether he sinned or not shall bring a guilt offering until he knows for certain and brings his sin offering, and this is called the conditional guilt offering; (3) that the sinner in specific sins brings a guilt offering, and this is called the unconditional guilt offering; (4) that the sinner in specific sins brings, if wealthy an animal and if poor a fowl or a tenth of an ephah of meal, and this is called the offering according to means; (5) that the Sanhedrin shall bring an offering, if they have erred and instructed not according to the law in one of certain grave matters.

Laws of Those with Incomplete Atonement include four positive commandments, which are:  (1) that a woman with an unclean issue shall bring an offering, when she becomes clean; (2) that a woman after childbirth shall bring an offering, when she becomes clean; (3) that a man with an unclean issue shall bring an offering, when he becomes clean; (4) that a leper shall bring an offering, when he becomes clean.  After they have brought their offerings, their purification is complete.

Laws of Substitution for Consecrated Animals include three commandments, one positive commandment and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to substitute for consecrated animals; (2) that a substituted animal shall become consecrated, if a substitution was made; (3) not to change consecrated animals from one category of holiness to another.

All the commandments included in this book are thus thirty nine, twenty of them positive commandments and nineteen negative commandments.

The Book of Ritual Purity

Its groups of laws are eight, and this is their order:  Laws of the Uncleanness from a Corpse, Laws of the Red Heifer, Laws of Uncleanness from Leprosy, Laws of Uncleanness of a Bed or Seat, Laws of Other Sources of Uncleanness, Laws of Uncleanness of Foods, Laws of Vessels, Laws of Ritual Baths

Laws of the Uncleanness from a Corpse include one positive commandment, which is the rule for uncleanness from a corpse.

Laws of the Red Heifer include two positive commandments:  (1) the rule for the red heifer; (2) the rule for the uncleanness of the waters of sprinkling and of their purification.

Laws of Uncleanness from Leprosy include eight commandments, six positive commandments and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to give judgments on leprosy in persons according to the rules written in the Torah; (2) not to cut off the identifying signs of uncleanness; (3) not to shave the scall; (4) that the leper shall be recognizable by wearing torn garments, letting the hair go unkempt, and covering the head down to the lips; (5) the cleansing of leprosy; (6) that the leper shall shave all his hair when he becomes clean; (7) the rule for leprosy of a garment; (8) the rule for leprosy of a house.

Laws of Uncleanness of a Bed or Seat include four positive commandments, which are:  (1) the rule for uncleanness from a menstruous woman; (2) the rule for uncleanness from a woman after childbirth; (3) the rule for uncleanness from a woman with an unclean issue; (4) the rule for uncleanness from a man with an unclean issue.

Laws of Other Sources of Uncleanness include three positive commandments, which are:  (1) the rule for uncleanness from an animal that died without slaughtering; (2) the rule for uncleanness from the eight creeping things; (3) the rule for uncleanness from semen.  An idol defiles like a creeping thing, and this uncleanness is rabbinical.

Laws of Uncleanness of Foods are one commandment, which is the rule for the uncleanness of liquids, and foods, and the conditions that cause foods to be susceptible to becoming unclean.

Laws of Vessels are on the subject of knowing which vessels contract uncleanness of any of the sorts given above, which vessels do not contract them, and how vessels become unclean and cause uncleanness.

Laws of Ritual Baths include one positive commandment, which is that whoever is unclean shall immerse himself in a ritual bath and then he will become clean.

All the commandments included in this book are thus twenty, eighteen of them positive commandments and two negative commandments.

The Book of Injuries

Its groups of laws are five, and this is their order:  Laws of Injury to Property, Laws of Theft, Laws of Robbery and Lost Property, Laws of One Who Injures Person or Property, Laws of a Murderer and the Preservation of Life

Laws of Injury to Property include four positive commandments, which are:  (1) the rule for the goring ox; (2) the rule for the grazing animal; (3) the rule for the uncovered pit; (4) the rule for the spreading fire.

Laws of Theft include seven commandments, two positive commandments and five negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to steal property; (2) the rule for the thief; (3) to maintain just scales and weights; (4) not to do injustice in measures and weights; (5) not to have in one’s possession diverse weights and measures, even if they are not used in buying and selling; (6) not to move a landmark; (7) not to steal persons.

Laws of Robbery and Lost Property include seven commandments, two positive commandments and five negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to rob; (2) not to exploit; (3) not to covet; (4) not to desire what belongs to another; (5) to return what has been robbed; (6) not to ignore lost property; (7) to return lost property.

Laws of One Who Injures Person or Property include one positive commandment, which is the rule for one who injures another or damages another’s property.

Laws of a Murderer and the Preservation of Life include seventeen commandments, seven positive commandments and ten negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to murder; (2) not to take ransom from a murderer, but rather to execute him; (3) to exile one who killed another accidentally; (4) not to take ransom from one who is liable for exile; (5) that a murderer shall not be executed when he has committed murder, before he has been tried; (6) to save the pursued at the cost of the life of the pursuer; (7) to show no pity for the pursuer; (8) not to stand by idly when life is in danger; (9) to set apart cities of refuge and prepare the way to them; (10) to decapitate the heifer in a riverbed; (11) not to till its ground nor sow it; (12) not to endanger human life; (13) to build a parapet; (14) that one not cause the innocent to err; (15) to help a person unload the burden when fallen on the way; (16) to help him to load it again; (17) not to leave him alarmed and go on one’s way.

All the commandments included in this book are thus thirty six, sixteen of them positive commandments and twenty negative commandments.

The Book of Acquisition

Its groups of laws are five, and this is their order:  Laws of Sales, Laws of Acquisition of Ownerless Property and Gifts, Laws of Neighbors, Laws of Agents and Partners, Laws of Slaves

Laws of Sales include five commandments, one positive commandment and four negative commandments, which are:  (1) the rule for purchase and sale; (2) not to wrong others in buying and selling; (3) not to wrong others in speech; (4) not to wrong a righteous convert in his possessions; (5) not to wrong him in speech.

Laws of Acquisition of Ownerless Property and Gifts are on the subject of knowing the rule for one who acquires ownerless property and how and by what means he acquires it, and the rule for one who gives a gift and its recipient and which gift returns to its giver and which does not return.

Laws of Neighbors are on the subject of knowing the rule for partition of land between partners, the avoidance of damage by each of them to his neighbor or to the owner of adjoining property, and the rule for the owner of adjoining property.

Laws of Agents and Partners are on the subject of knowing the rule for a person’s agent or his partner, and the laws on their purchases and sales and losses and profits.

Laws of Slaves include thirteen commandments, five positive commandments and eight negative commandments, which are:  (1) the rule for the acquisition of a Hebrew bondman; (2) that he shall not be sold as a slave is sold; (3) that he shall not be subjugated to do strenuous work; (4) that we shall not allow a resident alien to subjugate him to strenuous work; (5) that we shall not force him to do the work of a slave; (6) to give him a gift when he goes free; (7) that he shall not go out empty-handed; (8) to redeem a Hebrew bondmaid; (9) to espouse her; (10) that she shall not be sold; (11) to use a Canaanite slave forever, except if the master injured one of certain parts of his body; (12) not to return a slave who fled from outside the Land of Israel to the Land of Israel; (13) not to wrong such a slave who escaped to us.

All the commandments included in this book are thus eighteen, six of them positive commandments and twelve negative commandments.

The Book of Judgments

Its groups of laws are five, and this is their order:  Laws of Hiring, Laws of Borrowed and Deposited Things, Laws of Creditor and Debtor, Laws of Claimant and Respondent, Laws of Inheritances

Laws of Hiring include seven commandments, three positive commandments and four negative commandments, which are:  (1) the rule for the hired worker and the paid depositary; (2) to pay the hired worker’s wage on time; (3) not to delay the payment of the hired worker’s wage after it is due; (4) that the hired worker may eat of the unharvested produce in which he is working; (5) that he may not eat the unharvested produce other than when he does the finishing work on it; (6) that the hired worker shall not take anything away other than what he has eaten; (7) that one shall not muzzle an ox in his treading, and this applies to other animals.

Laws of Borrowed and Deposited Things include two positive commandments:  (1) the rule for the borrower; (2) the rule for an unpaid depositary.

Laws of Creditor and Debtor include twelve commandments, four positive commandments and eight negative commandments, which are:  (1) to lend to the poor and needy; (2) not to press him; (3) to press the Gentile; (4) that one shall not take a pledge by force; (5) to return the pledge to its owner, when he needs it; (6) not to delay return of the pledge to a poor owner, when he needs it; (7) not to exact a pledge from a widow; (8) not to take in pledge utensils used in preparing food; (9) that the lender shall not loan at interest; (10) that the borrower shall not borrow at interest; (11) that a person shall not provide services between lender and borrower in a loan at interest, neither to serve as witness between them, nor to write the loan document, nor to act as a guarantor; (12) to borrow from the Gentile and loan him at interest.

Laws of Claimant and Respondent are one positive commandment, which is the rule for one who makes a claim and one who admits or denies.

Laws of Inheritances are one positive commandment, which is the rule for the order of inheritances.

All the commandments included in this book are thus twenty three, eleven of them positive commandments and twelve negative commandments.

The Book of Judges

Its groups of laws are five, and this is their order:  Laws of the Sanhedrin and the Penalties Under Their Jurisdiction, Laws of Evidence, Laws of Rebels, Laws of Mourning, Laws of Kings and Wars

Laws of the Sanhedrin and the Penalties Under Their Jurisdiction include thirty commandments, ten positive commandments and twenty negative commandments, which are:  (1) to appoint judges; (2) not to appoint a judge who does not know the way of judgment; (3) to follow the majority, when the judges differ in opinion; (4) not to execute the accused if there is only a bare majority for conviction, but rather when there is at least a majority of two; (5) that one who has argued for acquittal shall not later argue for conviction in capital cases; (6) to execute by stoning; (7) to execute by burning; (8) to execute by decapitation with a sword; (9) to execute by strangling; (10) to hang; (11) to bury the executed on the day of his execution; (12) not to let his body remain overnight; (13) not to allow a sorcerer to live; (14) to whip the wicked; (15) not to exceed the maximum number of whippings; (16) not to execute the innocent on circumstantial evidence; (17) not to punish one who committed an offence under duress; (18) not to show pity for one who kills another person or injures him; (19) not to show compassion to a poor person in a trial; (20) not to show respect to an important person in a trial; (21) not to decide against a habitual transgressor, even though he is a sinner; (22) not to do injustice in a judgment; (23) not to pervert the judgment of a convert or orphan; (24) to judge righteously; (25) not to fear when judging a violent person; (26) not to take a bribe; (27) not to receive a baseless report; (28) not to curse judges; (29) not to curse a king or head of Sanhedrin; (30) not to curse any other worthy Israelite.

Laws of Evidence include eight commandments, three positive commandments and five negative commandments, which are:  (1) for one who knows evidence to testify in court; (2) to examine and thoroughly check witnesses; (3) that a witness shall not give instruction in a case in which he has given evidence, in capital cases; (4) that nothing shall be on evidence of a single witness; (5) that a habitual transgressor shall not testify; (6) that a relative shall not testify; (7) not to testify falsely; (8) to do to a false witness as he had plotted to do to the accused.

Laws of Rebels include nine commandments, three positive commandments and six negative commandments, which are:  (1) to act according to the Torah as the Great Rabbinical Court declares it; (2) not to deviate from their words; (3) not to add to the Torah either in the commandments of the Written Law or in the interpretation that we have learned from tradition; (4) not to take away from either of them; (5) not to curse one’s father or mother; (6) not to strike one’s father or mother; (7) to honor one’s father and mother; (8) to fear one’s father and mother; (9) that a son shall not be stubborn and rebellious against the voice of his father and mother.

Laws of Mourning include four commandments, one positive commandment and three negative commandments, which are:  (1) to mourn for deceased relatives, and even a priest must become unclean and mourn for his relatives; but one does not mourn for those who have been executed by a court, and for this reason I have included these laws in this book, because they are similar to the duty of burying the executed on the day of his death, which is a positive commandment; (2) that the High Priest shall not become unclean for deceased relatives; (3) that he shall not enter under a covering where a corpse is; (4) that an ordinary priest shall not become unclean from the corpse of any person aside from his relatives.

Laws of Kings and Wars include twenty-three commandments, ten positive commandments and thirteen negative commandments, which are:  (1) to appoint a king from among the Israelites; (2) not to appoint him from the community of converts; (3) that he shall not have many wives; (4) that he shall not have many horses; (5) that he shall not have much gold and silver; (6) to exterminate the seven Canaanite peoples; (7) not to let a single one of them live; (8) to wipe out the seed of Amalek; (9) to remember what Amalek did; (10) not to forget his evil deeds and his ambush on the way; (11) not to dwell in the Land of Egypt; (12) to offer peace to the inhabitants of a city when besieging it, and to deal with it in the way set out in the Torah, according as it makes peace or does not; (13) not to seek peace with Ammon and Moab, when besieging them; (14) not to destroy fruit trees in a siege; (15) to prepare a latrine so that members of the camp shall go out there to excrete; (16) to prepare a stake to dig with; (17) to anoint a priest to speak to the men of the army in time of war; (18) for a man who has espoused a wife, built a house, or planted a vineyard to rejoice in their new acquisitions a full year, and they are sent back home from the war; (19) that they shall not be pressed into any service, and not even to go out for the needs of the city, the needs of the troops, nor the like; (20) not to be frightened nor retreat in time of war; (21) the rule for a beautiful woman taken captive in war; (22) that she is not to be sold; (23) that one shall not enslave her after having sexual relations with her.

All the commandments included in this book are thus seventy four, twenty seven of them positive commandments and forty-seven negative commandments.

And thus all the groups of commandments in these fourteen books are eighty-three groups.

 

 

Jewish Calendar

Level:  Basic

The dates of Jewish holidays only seem to change from year to year.  Holidays are celebrated on the same day of the Jewish calendar every year, but the Jewish year is not the same length as a solar year on the Gregorian calendar used by most of the western world, so the date shifts on the Gregorian calendar.

Background and History

The Jewish calendar is primarily lunar, with each month beginning on the new moon, when the first sliver of moon becomes visible after the dark of the moon.  In ancient times, the new months used to be determined by observation.  When people observed the new moon, they would notify the Sanhedrin.  When the Sanhedrin heard testimony from two independent, reliable eyewitnesses that the new moon occurred on a certain date, they would declare the rosh chodesh (first of the month) and send out messengers to tell people when the month began.

The problem with strictly lunar calendars is that there are approximately 12.4 lunar months in every solar year, so a 12-month lunar calendar loses about 11 days every year and a 13-month lunar gains about 19 days every year.  The months on such a calendar "drift" relative to the solar year.  On a 12-month calendar, the month of Nisan, which is supposed to occur in the Spring, occurs 11 days earlier each year, eventually occurring in the Winter, the Fall, the Summer, and then the Spring again.  To compensate for this drift, an extra month is occasionally added:  a second month of Adar.  The month of Nisan would occur 11 days earlier for two or three years, and then would jump forward 29 or 30 days, balancing out the drift.

In the fourth century, Hillel II established a fixed calendar based on mathematical and astronomical calculations.  This calendar, still in use, standardized the length of months and the addition of months over the course of a 19-year cycle, so that the lunar calendar realigns with the solar years.  Adar II is added in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th years of the cycle.  Jewish year 5758 (beginning October 2, 1997) is the first year of the current cycle.

In addition, Yom Kippur should not fall adjacent to a Sabbath, because this would cause difficulties in coordinating the fast with the Sabbath, and Hoshanah Rabba should not fall on Sabbath because it would interfere with the holiday’s observances.  A day is added to the month of Cheshvan or subtracted from the month of Kislev of the previous year to prevent these things from happening.

Numbering of Jewish Years

The year number on the Jewish calendar represents the number of years since creation, as calculated by adding up the ages of people in the Bible back to the time of creation.  However, it is important to note that this date is not necessarily supposed to represent a scientific fact.  For example, many Orthodox Jews will readily acknowledge that the seven "days" of creation are not necessarily 24-hour days (indeed, a 24-hour day would be meaningless until the creation of the sun on the fourth "day").

Jews do not generally use the words "A.D." and "B.C." to refer to the years on the Gregorian calendar.  "A.D." means the year of the Lord, and we know that Jesus is not the LORD.  Instead, we use the abbreviations C.E. (Common or Christian Era) and B.C.E. (Before the Common Era).

Months of the Jewish Year

The first month of the Biblical Jewish calendar is the month of Nisan, in the spring, when Passover occurs.  However, the regular Jewish New Year is in Tishri, the seventh month in the Biblical calendar, and that is when the year number is increased.  This concept of different starting points for a year is not as strange as it might seem at first glance.  The US "new year" starts in January, but the new "school year" starts in September, and many businesses and governmental institutions have "fiscal years" that start at various times of the year.  Similarly, the Jewish calendar has different starting points for different purposes.

The Jewish calendar has the following months:

Month
Length
Gregorian Equivalent

Tishri
30 days
September-October

Cheshvan
29 or 30 days
October-November

Kislev
30 or 29 days
November-December

Tevet
29 days
December-January

Shevat
30 days
January-February

Adar
29 or 30 days
February-March

Adar II
29 days
March-April

Nisan
30 days
March-April

Iyar
29 days
April-May

Sivan
30 days
May-June

Tammuz
29 days
June-July

Av
30 days
July-August

Elul
29 days
August-September

In leap years, Adar I has 30 days; in non-leap years, Adar has 29 days.

The lengths of Cheshvan and Kislev are determined by complex calculations involving the time of day of the full moon of the following year’s Tishri and the day of the week that Tishri would occur in the following year.  But there are plenty of easily accessible computer programs that will calculate the Jewish calendar for any year one needs.

Note that the number of days between Nisan and Tishri is always the same.  Because of this, the time from the first major Biblical festival (Passover in Nisan) to the last major Biblical festival (Sukkot in Tishri) is always the same.

For an excellent detailed explanation of these matters, see Hebrew Calendar Science and Myths.

 

 

Shabbat

Level:  Basic

 The Nature of Shabbat

The Sabbath (or Shabbat, as it is called in Hebrew) is one of the best known and least understood of all Jewish observances.  People who do not observe Shabbat think of it as a day filled with stifling restrictions, or as a day of prayer like the Christian Sunday.  But to those who observe Shabbat, it is a precious gift from God, a day of great joy eagerly awaited throughout the week, a time when we can set aside all of our weekday concerns and devote ourselves to higher pursuits.  In Jewish literature, poetry, and music, Shabbat is described as a bride or queen, as in the popular Shabbat hymn Lecha Dodi Likrat Kallah (come, my beloved, to meet the [Sabbath] bride).  It is said "more than Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept Israel".

Shabbat is the most important ritual observance in Judaism.  It is the only ritual observance instituted in the Ten Commandments.  It is also the most important special day, even more important than Yom Kippur.  This is suggested by the fact that morealiyoth (opportunities for congregants to be called up to the Torah) are given on Shabbat than on any other day.

Shabbat is primarily a day of rest and spiritual enrichment.  The word "Shabbat" comes from the root Shin-Bet-Tav, meaning to cease, to end, or to rest.

Shabbat is not specifically a day of prayer.  Although we do pray on Shabbat, and spend a substantial amount of time in synagogue praying, prayer is not what distinguishes Shabbat from the rest of the week.  Observant Jews pray every day, three times a day.  See Jewish Liturgy.  To say that Shabbat is a day of prayer is no more accurate than to say that Shabbat is a day of feasting:  we eat every day, but on Shabbat, we eat more elaborately and in a more leisurely fashion.  The same can be said of prayer on Shabbat.

In the modern West, the five-day work-week is so common that it is forgotten what a radical concept a day of rest was in ancient times.  The weekly day of rest has no parallel in any other ancient civilization.  In ancient times, leisure was for the wealthy and the ruling classes only, never for the serving or laboring classes.  In addition, the very idea of rest each week was unimaginable.  The Greeks thought Jews were lazy because they insisted on having a "holiday" every seventh day.

Shabbat involves two interrelated commandments:  to remember (zachor) the Sabbath, and to observe (shamor) the Sabbath.

Zachor:  To Remember

We are commanded to remember Shabbat; but remembering means much more than merely not forgetting to observe Shabbat.  It also means to remember the significance of Shabbat, both as a commemoration of creation and as a commemoration of our freedom from slavery in Egypt.

In Exodus 20,10, after the Fourth Commandment is first instituted, God explains, "because for six days, the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and on the seventh day, he rested; therefore, the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it".  By resting on the seventh day and sanctifying it, we remember and acknowledge that God is the creator of heaven and earth and all living things.  We also emulate the divine example, by refraining from work on the seventh day, as God did.  If God’s work can be set aside for a day of rest, how can we believe that our own work is too important to set aside temporarily?

In Deuteronomy 5,14, when Moses reiterates the Ten Commandments, he notes the second thing that we must remember on Shabbat:  "remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD, your God brought you forth from there with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day".

What does the Exodus have to do with resting on the seventh day?  It is all about freedom.  As said before, in ancient times, leisure was confined to certain classes; slaves did not get days off.  Thus, by resting on the Sabbath, we are reminded that we are free.  But in a more general sense, Shabbat frees us from our weekday concerns, from our deadlines and schedules and commitments.  During the week, we are slaves to our jobs, to our creditors, to our need to provide for ourselves; on Shabbat, we are freed from these concerns, much as our ancestors were freed from slavery in Egypt.

We remember these two meanings of Shabbat when we recite kiddush (the prayer over wine sanctifying the Sabbath or a holiday).  Friday night kiddush refers to Shabbat as both zikkaron l’ma’aseh bereishit (a memorial of the work in the beginning) and zeicher litzi’at mitzrayim (a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt).

Shamor:  To Observe

Of course, no discussion of Shabbat would be complete without a discussion of the work that is forbidden on Shabbat.  This is another aspect of Shabbat that is grossly misunderstood by people who do not observe it.

Most English speakers see the word "work" and think of it in the English sense of the word:  physical labor and effort, or employment.  Under this definition, lighting a match would be permitted, because it does not require effort, but a waiter would not be permitted to serve food on Shabbat, because that is his employment.  Jewish law prohibits the former and permits the latter.  Many English speakers therefore conclude that Jewish law does not make any sense.

The problem lies not in Jewish law, but in the definition that English speakers are using.  The Torah does not prohibit "work" in the 20th century English sense of the word.  The Torah prohibits "melachah" (Mem-Lamed-Alef-Kaf-Heh), which is usually translated as "work", but does not mean precisely the same thing as the English word.  Before you can begin to understand the Shabbat restrictions, you must understand the word "melachah".

Melachah generally refers to the kind of work that is creative, or that exercises control or dominion over your environment.  The quintessential example of melachah is the work of creating the universe, which God ceased from doing on the seventh day.  Note that God’s work did not require a great physical effort:  he spoke, and it was done.

The word melachah is rarely used in scripture outside of the context of Shabbat and holiday restrictions.  The only other repeated use of the word is in the discussion of the building of the sanctuary and its vessels in the wilderness (Exodus Chapters 31 and 35-38).  Notably, the Shabbat restrictions are reiterated during this discussion (Exodus 31,14-15 and 35,2), thus we can infer that the work of creating the sanctuary had to be stopped for Shabbat.  From this, the rabbis concluded that the work prohibited on the Sabbath is the same as the work of making the sanctuary.  They found 39 categories of forbidden acts, all of which are types of work that were needed to build the sanctuary:

  1. Plowing
  2. Sowing
  3. Reaping
  4. Binding sheaves
  5. Threshing
  6. Winnowing
  7. Selecting
  8. Grinding
  9. Sifting
  10. Kneading
  11. Baking
  12. Shearing (of wool)
  13. Washing (of wool)
  14. Separating fibers (of wool)
  15. Dyeing
  16. Spinning
  17. Making loops
  18. Setting up a loom
  19. Weaving threads
  20. Separating threads
  21. Tying
  22. Untying
  23. Sewing
  24. Tearing
  25. Building
  26. Tearing down a building
  27. Hitting with a hammer
  28. Trapping
  29. Slaughtering
  30. Skinning
  31. Tanning a hide
  32. Scraping a hide
  33. Cutting up a hide
  34. Writing
  35. Erasing
  36. Drawing lines
  37. Kindling a fire
  38. Extinguishing a fire
  39. Taking an object from the private domain to the public domain, taking an object from the public domain to the private domain, or transporting an object in the public domain.

All of these tasks are prohibited, as well as any task that operates by the same principle or has the same purpose.  In addition, the rabbis have prohibited moving any implement that is mainly used for one of the above purposes (for example, you may not move a hammer or a pencil aside from exceptional circumstances), buying and selling, and other weekday tasks that would interfere with the spirit of Shabbat.

The issue of the use of an automobile on Shabbat, so often argued by non-observant Jews, is not really an issue at all for observant Jews.  The automobile is powered by an internal combustion engine, which operates by burning gasoline and oil, a clear violation of the Torahprohibition against kindling a fire.  In addition, the movement of the car would constitute transporting an object in the public domain, another violation of a Torah prohibition, and in all likelihood the car would be used to travel a distance greater than that permitted by rabbinical prohibitions.  For all these reasons, and many more, the use of an automobile on Shabbat is clearly not permitted.

As with almost all of the commandments, all of these Shabbat restrictions can be violated if necessary to save a life.

A Typical Shabbat

At about 2PM or 3PM on Friday afternoon, observant Jews leave the office to begin Shabbat preparations.  The mood is much like preparing for the arrival of a special, beloved guest:  the house is cleaned, the family bathes and dresses up, the best dishes and tableware are set, a festive meal is prepared.  In addition, everything that is not done during Shabbat is set up in advance:  lights and appliances are set (or timers placed on them), the light bulb in refrigerator is removed, so it will not turn on when one opens it, and preparations for all the remaining Shabbat meals are made.

The Sabbath, like all Jewish days, begins at sunset, because in the story of creation in Genesis Chapter 1, you will notice that it says at the end of the first paragraph, "And there was evening, and there was morning, one day".  From this, we infer that a day begins with evening, that is, sunset.  Shabbat candles are lit after a blessing is recited several minutes before sunset.  Two candles are generally lit, representing the two commandments zachor and shamor; but one is enough, and some light seven or more.

The family then attends a brief evening service (45 minutes – that is brief by Jewish standards – see Jewish Liturgy).

After that service, the family comes home for a leisurely, festive dinner.  Before dinner, the man of the house recites Kiddush, a prayer over wine sanctifying the Sabbath.  The usual prayer for eating bread is recited over two loaves of challah, a sweet, eggy bread shaped in a braid.  The family then eats dinner.  Although there are no specific requirements or customs regarding what to eat, meals are generally stewed or slow cooked items, because of the prohibition against cooking during the Sabbath.  (Things that are mostly cooked before Shabbat and then reheated or kept warm are OK).

After dinner, the birkat ha-mazon (grace after meals) is recited.  Although this is done every day, on the Sabbath, it is done in a leisurely manner with many upbeat tunes.

By the time all of this is completed, it may be 9PM or later.  The family has an hour or two to talk or study Torah, and then go to sleep.

The next morning Shabbat services begin around 9AM and continue until about noon.  After services, the family says kiddush again and has another leisurely, festive meal.  A typical afternoon meal is cholent, a very slowly cooked stew.  A recipe is below.  By the time birkat ha-mazon is done, it is about 2PM.  The family studies Torah for a while, talks, takes an afternoon walk, plays some checkers, or engages in other leisure activities.  A short afternoon nap is not uncommon.  It is required to have a third meal before the Sabbath is over.  This is usually a light meal in the late afternoon.

Shabbat ends at nightfall, when three stars are visible, approximately 40 minutes after sunset.  At the conclusion of Shabbat, the family performs a concluding ritual called Havdalah (separation, division).  Blessings are recited over wine, spices, and candles.  Then a blessing is recited regarding the division between the sacred and the secular, between the Sabbath and the working days, etc.

As you can see, Shabbat is a very full day when it is properly observed, and very relaxing.  You really do not miss being unable to turn on the TV, drive a car, or go shopping.

Recipe for Cholent

Cholent is a traditional Shabbat dish, because it is designed to be cooked very slowly.  It can be started before the Sabbath and is ready to eat for lunch the next day.  The name "cholent" supposedly comes from the French words "chaud lent" meaning hot slow.  If French seems like a strange source for the name of a traditional Jewish dish, keep in mind that the ancestors of the Ashkenazic Jews traveled from Israel to Germany and Russia by way of France.

  • 2 pounds fatty meat (you can use stewing beef, but brisket is more common)
  • 2 cups dry beans (navy beans, great northern beans, pintos, limas are typical choices).
  • 1 cup barley
  • 6 medium potatoes
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • garlic, pepper, and paprika to taste
  • water to cover

Soak the beans and barley until they are thoroughly softened.  Sprinkle the flour and spices on the meat and brown it lightly in the oil.  Cut up the potatoes into large chunks.  Slice the onions.  Put everything into a Dutch oven and cover with water.  Bring to a boil on the stove top, then put in the oven at 250 degrees before Shabbat begins.  Check it in the morning, to make sure there is enough water to keep it from burning but not enough to make it soggy.  Other than that, leave it alone.  By lunch time Shabbat afternoon, it is ready to eat.

This also works very well in a crock pot on the low setting, but be careful not to put in too much water!

 

 

Jewish Holidays – Introduction

Level:  Basic

This is the first in a series of pages on the Jewish holidays.  Each of the pages in this series talks about the significance of a holiday, its traditional observances and related customs, the date on which each holiday will occur for five years, and in some cases recipes for traditional, Ashkenazic holiday-related foods.

Pages are available regarding the following holidays and other special days:

A few general notes about Jewish holidays:

When Holidays Begin

All Jewish holidays begin the evening before the date specified.  This is because a Jewish "day" begins and ends at sunset, rather than at midnight.  If you read the story of creation in Genesis Chapter 1, you will notice that it says, "And there was evening, and there was morning, one day" at the end of the first paragraph.  From this, we infer that a day begins with evening, that is, sunset.

For a discussion of why Jewish holidays occur on different days every year, see Jewish Calendar.

Work on Holidays

Work is not permitted on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first and second days of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, Shavu’ot, and the first, second, seventh, and eighth days of Passover.  The "work" prohibited on those holidays is the same as that prohibited on theSabbath, except that cooking, baking, transferring fire from another fire already lit before the holiday, and carrying outside, all of which are forbidden on Sabbaths, are permitted on holidays.  When a holiday occurs on a Sabbath, the full Sabbath restrictions are observed.

Extra Day of Holidays

You may notice that the number of days of some holidays do not accord with what the Bible specifies.  In most cases, we celebrate one more day than the Bible requires.  There is an interesting reason for this additional day.

The Jewish calendar is lunar, with each month beginning on the new moon.  The new months used to be determined by observation.  When the new moon was observed, the Sanhedrin declared the beginning of a new month and sent out messengers to tell people when the month began.  People in distant communities could not always be notified of the new moon (and, therefore, of the first day of the month), so they did not know the correct day to celebrate.  They knew that the old month would be either 29 or 30 days, so if they did not get notice of the new moon, they celebrated holidays on both possible days.  For more information about the lunar months, see Jewish Calendar.

This practice of celebrating an extra day was maintained as a custom even after we adopted a precise mathematical calendar, because it was the long-standing custom of the Jews outside Israel.  This extra day is not celebrated by Israelis, regardless of whether they are in Israel at the time of the holiday, but is celebrated by everybody else, even if they are visiting Israel at the time of the holiday.

Rosh Hashanah is celebrated as two days everywhere (in Israel and outside Israel), because it occurs on the first day of a month.  Messengers were not dispatched on the holiday, so even people in Israel did not know whether a new moon had been observed, and everybody celebrated two days.  The practice was also maintained as a custom after the mathematical calendar was adopted.

Yom Kippur is celebrated only one day everywhere, because extending the holiday’s severe restrictions for a second day would cause an undue hardship.

List of All Holiday Dates

Below is a list of all major holiday dates for the years 5769 through 5773 (or fall 2008 through summer 2013).  All holidays begin at sunset on the day before the date specified here.

Holiday
  5769  
  5770  
  5771  
  5772  
  5773 

Rosh Hashanah
30Sep08
19Sep09
  9Sep10
29Sep11
17Sep12

Yom Kippur
  9Oct08
28Sep09
18Sep10
  8Oct11
26Sep12

Sukkot
14Oct08
  3Oct09
23Sep10
13Oct11
  1Oct12

Shemini Atzeret
21Oct08
10Oct09
30Sep10
20Oct11
  8Oct12

Simchat Torah
22Oct08
11Oct09
  1Oct10
21Oct11
  9Oct12

Chanukkah
22Dec08
12Dec09
  2Dec10
21Dec11
  9Dec12

Tu B’Shevat
  9Feb09
30Jan10
20Jan11
  8Feb12
26Jan13

Purim
10Mar09
28Feb10
20Mar11
  8Mar12
24Feb13

Pesach (Passover)
  9Apr09
30Mar10
19Apr11
  7Apr12
26Mar13

Lag B’Omer
12May09
  2May10
22May11
10May12
28Apr13

Shavu’ot
29May09
19May10
  8Jun11
27May12
15May13

Tisha B’Av
30Jul09
20Jul10
  9Aug11
29Jul12
16Jul13

 

 

The Month of Tishri

Level:  Basic

The month of Tishri (September and October on the Gregorian calendar) is clearly the busiest time of the year for Jewish holidays.  In the month of Tishri, outside of Israel there are a total of 13 days of special religious significance, 7 of them days on which work is not permitted; even in Israel without doubled holidays, there are 12 special days, 5 of them on which work is not permitted.

These holidays include the holidays known as the "High Holidays", the most important holidays of the Jewish year:  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  If a Jew ever goes to synagogue (other than for weddings or bar mitzvahs), it is for these holidays.

Tishri 5770 (September / October 2009)

Sunday
Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Shabbat

1 Tishri
September 19
Rosh Hashanah

2 Tishri
September 20
Rosh Hashanah
3 Tishri
September 21
Fast of Gedaliah
4 Tishri
September 22
5 Tishri
September 23
6 Tishri
September 24
7 Tishri
September 25
8 Tishri
September 26
Parashat Ha’azinu

9 Tishri
September 27
10 Tishri
September 28
Yom Kippur
11 Tishri
September 29
12 Tishri
September 30
13 Tishri
October 1
14 Tishri
October 2
15 Tishri
October 3
Sukkot

16 Tishri
October 4
Chol ha-Moed (Israel)
Sukkot (abroad)
17 Tishri
October 5
Chol ha-Moed
18 Tishri
October 6
Chol ha-Moed
19 Tishri
October 7
Chol ha-Moed
20 Tishri
October 8
Chol ha-Moed
21 Tishri
October 9
Hoshannah Rabbah
22 Tishri
October 10
Shemini Atzeret

23 Tishri
October 11
Simchat Torah (abroad)
24 Tishri
October 12
25 Tishri
October 13
26 Tishri
October 14
27 Tishri
October 15
28 Tishri
October 16
29 Tishri
October 17
Parashat Bereishit

30 Tishri
October 18
Rosh Chodesh

 

 

Rosh Hashanah

Level:  Basic

Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days of Tishri.  In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means, literally, "head of the year" or "first of the year".  Rosh Hashanah is commonly known as the Jewish New Year.  This name is somewhat deceptive, because there is little similarity between Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year, and the midnight drinking bash and daytime football game in the USA, for example.

There is, however, one important similarity between the Jewish New Year and that of the modern Christian West:  Many use the New Year as a time to plan a better life, making "resolutions".  Likewise, the Jewish New Year is a time to begin introspection, looking back at the mistakes of the past year and planning the changes to make in the new year.  More on this concept at Days of Awe.

The name "Rosh Hashanah" is not used in the Bible to discuss this holiday.  The Bible refers to the holiday as Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar).  The holiday is instituted in Leviticus 23,24-25.

The shofar is a ram’s horn which is blown somewhat like a trumpet.  One of the most important observances of this holiday is hearing the sounding of the shofar in the synagogue.  A total of 100 notes are sounded each day.  There are four different types of shofar notes:  tekiah, a 3 second sustained note; shevarim, three 1-second notes rising in tone, teruah, a series of short, staccato notes extending over a period of about 3 seconds; and "tekiah gedolah" (literally, "big tekiah"), the final blast in a set, which lasts (perhaps) 10 seconds minimum.  The Bible gives no specific reason for this practice.  One that has been suggested is that the shofar’s sound is a call to repentance.  The shofar is not blown if the holiday falls on a Sabbath.

No work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah.

Another popular observance during this holiday is eating apples dipped in honey, a symbol of our wish for a sweet new year (but do not forget to do a ritual handwashing before dipping, just as before eating bread).  It is very tasty.  We also dip bread in honey (instead of the usual practice of sprinkling salt on it) at this time of year for the same reason.

Religious services for the holiday focus on the concept of God’s sovereignty.

The common greeting at this time is L’shanah tovah ("for a good year").  This is a shortening of "L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem" (or to women, "L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’taihatemi"), which means "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year".  More on that concept atDays of Awe.

You may notice that the Bible speaks of Rosh Hashanah as occurring on the first day of the seventh month.  The first month of the Jewish calendar is Nisan, occurring in March and April.  Why, then, does the Jewish "new year" occur in Tishri, the seventh month?

Judaism has several different "new years", a concept which may seem strange at first, but think of it this way:  the usual Western "new year" starts in January, but the new "school year" starts in September, and many businesses have "fiscal years" that start at various times of the year.  In Judaism, Nisan 1 is the new year for the purpose of counting the reign of kings and months on the calendar, Elul 1 (in August) is the new year for the tithing of animals, Shevat 15 (in February) is the new year for trees (determining when first fruits can be eaten, etc.), and Tishri 1 (Rosh Hashanah) is the new year for years (when we increase the year number.  Sabbatical and Jubilee years begin at this time).

See Extra Day of Jewish Holidays for an explanation of why this holiday is celebrated for two days instead of the one specified in the Bible.

List of Dates

Rosh Hashanah begins on the following days on the civil calendar:

  • 30 September 2008 (5769)
  • 19 September 2009 (5770)
  • 9 September 2010 (5771)
  • 29 September 2011 (5772)
  • 17 September 2012 (5773)

 

 

Days of Awe

Level:  Basic

The ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur are commonly known as the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim) or the Days of Repentance.  This is a time for serious introspection, a time to consider the sins of the previous year and repent before Yom Kippur.

One of the ongoing themes of the Days of Awe is the concept that God has "books" that he writes our names in, writing down who will live and who will die, who will have a good life and who will have a bad life, for the next year.  These books are written in on Rosh Hashanah, but our actions during the Days of Awe can alter God’s decree.  The actions that change the decree are "teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah", that is, repentance, prayer, and good deeds (usually translated charity, but the term is much broader than that).  These "books" are sealed on Yom Kippur.  This concept of writing in books is the source of the common greeting during this time "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year".

Among the customs of this time, it is common to seek reconciliation with people you may have wronged during the course of the year.  The Talmud maintains that Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and God.  To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible.

Another custom observed during this time is kapparot.  This is rarely practiced today, and is observed in its true form only by Chasidic and occasionally Orthodox Jews.  Basically, you purchase a live fowl, and on the morning before Yom Kippur you waive it over your head reciting a prayer asking that the fowl be considered atonement for sins.  The fowl is then slaughtered and given to the poor (or its value is given).  Some Jews today simply use a bag of money instead of a fowl.  Most Reform and Conservative Jews have never even heard of this practice.  Since the source of this custom appears to be imitation of idolaters, it is best to discontinue its practice, even though the idolaters themselves have generally already abandoned it.

Work is permitted as usual during the intermediate Days of Awe, from Tishri 3 to Tishri 9, except of course for the Sabbath during that week.

Two more special occasions occur during the course of the Days of Awe.

Tishri 3, the day after the second day of Rosh Hashanah, is the Fast of Gedaliah.  This really has nothing to do with the Days of Awe, except that it occurs in the middle of them.  For more information, see Minor Fasts.

The Sabbath that occurs in this period is known as Shabbat Shuvah (the Sabbath of Return).  This is considered a rather important Sabbath.

 

 

Yom Kippur

Level:  Basic

Yom Kippur is probably the most important holiday of the Jewish year.  Many Jews who do not observe any other Jewish custom will refrain from work, fast and/or attend synagogue services on this day.  Yom Kippur occurs on the 10th day of Tishri.  The holiday is instituted at Leviticus 23,26 and following.

The name "Yom Kippur" means Day of Atonement, and that pretty much explains what the holiday is.  It is a day set aside to "afflict the soul", to atone for the sins of the past year.  In Days of Awe, we mentioned the "books" in which God inscribes all of our names.  On Yom Kippur, the judgment entered in these books is sealed.  This day is, essentially, your last appeal, your last chance to change the judgment, to demonstrate your repentance and make amends.

As noted in Days of Awe, Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and God, not for sins against another person.  To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible.  That must all be done before Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath; no work can be performed on that day.  It is well-known that you are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking (even water) on Yom Kippur.  It is a complete, 25-hour fast beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur.  The Talmud also specifies additional restrictions that are less well-known:  washing and bathing, anointing one’s body (with cosmetics, deodorants, etc.), wearing leather shoes (Orthodox Jews routinely wear canvas sneakers under their dress clothes on Yom Kippur), and engaging in sexual relations are all prohibited on Yom Kippur.

As always, any of these restrictions can be lifted where a threat to life or health is involved.  In fact, children under the age of nine and women in childbirth (from the time labor begins until three days after birth) are not permitted to fast, even if they want to.  Older children and women from the third to the seventh day after childbirth are permitted to fast, but are permitted to break the fast if they feel the need to do so.  People with other illnesses should consult a physician and a rabbi for advice.

Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue, in prayer.  In Orthodox synagogues, services begin early in the morning (8 or 9 AM) and continue until about 3 PM.  People then usually go home for an afternoon nap and return around 5 or 6 PM for the afternoon and evening services, which continue until nightfall.  The services end at nightfall, with the blowing of the tekiah gedolah, a long blast on the shofar.  See Rosh Hashanah for more about the shofar and its characteristic blasts.

It is customary to wear white on the holiday, which symbolizes purity and calls to mind the promise that our sins shall be made as white as snow (Isaiah 1,18).

Yom Kippur Liturgy

See also Jewish Liturgy generally.

The evening service that begins Yom Kippur is commonly known as Kol Nidre, named for the prayer that begins the service.  "Kol nidre" means all vows, and in this prayer, we ask God to annul all vows we may have made in the past year and all vows we may make in the next year.

This prayer has often been held up by anti-Semites as proof that Jews are untrustworthy (we do not keep our vows), and for this reason the Reform movement removed it from the liturgy for a while.  In fact, the reverse is true:  we make this prayer because we take vows so seriously that we consider ourselves bound even if we make the vows under duress or in times of stress when we are not thinking as well as we should.  This prayer gave comfort to those who were converted to Christianity by torture in various inquisitions, yet felt unable to break their vow to follow Christianity.  In recognition of this history, the Reform movement restored this prayer to its liturgy.

In any event, saying this prayer does not have any effect on our obligation to do as we have vowed to do, either individually or collectively.

There are many additions to the regular liturgy (there would have to be, to get such a long service).  Perhaps the most important addition is the confession of the sins of the community, which is inserted into the shemoneh Esrei (Amidah) prayer.  Note that all sins are confessed in the plural (we have done this, we have done that), emphasizing communal responsibility for sins.

There are two basic parts of this confession:  Ashamnu, a shorter, more general list (we have been treasonable, we have been aggressive, we have been slanderous . . .), and Al Chet, a longer and more specific list (for the sin we sinned before you forcibly or willingly, and for the sin we sinned before you by acting callously . . .) Frequent petitions for forgiveness are interspersed in these prayers.  There’s also a catch-all confession:  "Forgive us the breach of positive commands and negative commands, whether or not they involved an act, whether or not they are known to us".

It is interesting to note that these confessions do not specifically address the kinds of ritual sins that some people think are the be-all-and-end-all of Judaism.  There is no "for the sin we have sinned before you by eating pork, and for the sin we have sinned against you by driving on Shabbat" (though obviously these are implicitly included in the catch-all).  The vast majority of the sins enumerated involve mistreatment of other people, most of them by speech (offensive speech, scoffing, slander, talebearing, and swearing falsely, to name a few).  These all come into the category of sin known as "lashon ha-ra" (literally, the evil tongue), which is considered a very serious sin in Judaism.

The concluding service of Yom Kippur, known as Ne’ilah, is one unique to the day.  It usually runs about 1 hour long.  The ark (a cabinet where the scrolls of the Torah are kept) is kept open throughout this service.  There is a tone of desperation in the prayers of this service.  The service is sometimes referred to as the closing of the gates; think of it as the "last chance" to get in a good word before the holiday ends.  The service ends with a very long blast of the shofar.  See Rosh Hashanah for more about the shofar and its characteristic blasts.

List of Dates

Yom Kippur occurs on the following days on the civil calendar:

  • 9 October 2008 (5769)
  • 28 September 2009 (5770)
  • 18 September 2010 (5771)
  • 8 October 2011 (5772)
  • 26 September 2012 (5773)

 

 

Sukkot

Level:  Basic

The Festival of Sukkot begins on Tishri 15, the fifth day after Yom Kippur.  It is quite a drastic transition, from one of the most solemn holidays in our year to one of the most joyous.

This festival is also referred to as Zeman Simchateinu, the Season of our Rejoicing.  Sukkot lasts for seven days.  The two days following the festival are separate holidays, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, but are commonly thought of as part of Sukkot.

The word "Sukkot" means booths, and refers to the temporary dwellings that we are commanded to live in during this holiday.  The name of the holiday is frequently translated "The Feast of Tabernacles", which, like many translations of technical Jewish terms, is not terribly useful unless you already know what the term is referring to.  The Hebrew pronunciation of Sukkot is "Sue COAT", but is often pronounced as in Yiddish, to rhyme with "BOOK us".

Like Passover and Shavu’ot, Sukkot has a dual significance:  historical and agricultural.  The holiday commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters.  Sukkot is also a harvest festival, and is referred to in the Bible (Exodus 23,16 and 34,22) as Chag Ha-Asif, the Feast of Ingathering.

The festival of Sukkot is instituted in Leviticus 23,33 and following.  No "work" is permitted on the first day (and second day outside Israel).  Work is permitted on the remaining days.  These intermediate days on which work is permitted are referred to as Chol Ha-Mo’ed, as are the intermediate days of Passover.

In honor of the holiday’s historical significance, we are commanded to dwell in temporary shelters, as our ancestors did in the wilderness.  The commandment to "dwell" in a sukkah can be fulfilled by simply eating all of one’s meals there in case of poor weather or poor health; if the weather, climate, and one’s health permit, however, one should live in the sukkah as if it were one’s house all week long as much as possible, especially including sleeping in it.

 A sukkah must have at least three walls covered with a material that will not blow away in the wind.  Canvas covering tied or nailed down is acceptable and quite common.  A sukkah may be any size, so long as it is large enough for you to fulfill the commandment of dwelling in it.  The roof of the sukkah must be made of material referred to as "sekhakh" (literally, covering).  To fulfill the commandment, the sekhakh must be something that grew from the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, corn stalks, bamboo reeds, sticks, or narrow raw boards.  The sekhakh must be left loose, not tied together in bundles, but may be tied down, so that it will not fly off in the wind.  The sekhakh should be placed sparsely enough that the stars can be seen, but not so sparsely that more than about three average hand-breadths is open at any point or that there is more light than shade.

It is common practice, and highly commendable, to decorate the sukkah.  In the northeastern United States, Jews commonly hang dried squash and corn in the sukkah to decorate it, because these vegetables are readily available at that time for the US holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Building and decorating a sukkah is a fun family project, much like decorating the Christmas tree is for Christians.  It is a sad commentary on modern Judaism in the US that most of the highly assimilated Jews who complain about being deprived of the fun of having and decorating a Christmas tree have never even heard of Sukkot.

Many people in the USA, upon seeing a decorated sukkah for the first time, remark on how much the sukkah (and the holiday generally) reminds them of Thanksgiving.  This is not entirely coincidental.  The American pilgrims, who originated the Thanksgiving holiday, were deeply religious people.  When they were trying to find a way to express their thanks for their survival and for the harvest, they looked to the Bible for an appropriate way of celebrating and based their holiday in part on Sukkot (facts somehow not taught in US public schools!).

 Another observance related to Sukkot involves what are known as The Four Species (arba minim in Hebrew) or the lulav and etrog.  We are commanded to take these four plants and use them to "rejoice before the LORD".  The four species in question are an etrog (a citrus fruit native to Israel and other countries in the area), one palm-branch (really a single palm leaf before it opens; in Hebrew, lulav), three myrtle branches (hadas), and two willow branches (arava).  The six branches are bound together and referred to collectively as the lulav, and are held in the right hand; the etrog is held next to the lulav in the left hand.  With these four species in hand, one recites a blessing and waives the species three times in four directions (forward, backward, upward, and downward, perhaps symbolizing that God is everywhere).

The four species are also held during the Hallel prayer in religious services, and are held during processions around the bimah (the pedestal where the Torah is read) each day during the holiday.  These processions commemorate similar processions around the alter of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.  The processions are known as Hoshanahs, because while the procession is made, we recite a prayer with the refrain, "Hosha na!" (please save us!).  On the seventh day of Sukkot, seven circuits are made.  For this reason, the seventh day of Sukkot is known as Hoshanah Rabbah (the great Hoshanah).

List of Dates

Sukkot begins on the following days on the civil calendar:

  • 14 October 2008 (5769)
  • 3 October 2009 (5770)
  • 23 September 2010 (5771)
  • 13 October 2011 (5772)
  • 10 October 2012 (5773)

 

 

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

Level:  Basic

Tishri 22, the day after the seventh day of Sukkot, is the holiday Shemini Atzeret.  In Israel, Shemini Atzeret is also the holiday of Simchat Torah.  Outside of Israel, where extra days of holidays are held, only the second day of Shemini Atzeret is Simchat Torah.  These two holidays are commonly thought of as part of Sukkot, but that is technically incorrect; Shemini Atzeret is a holiday in its own right and does not involve the special observances of Sukkot.

"Shemini Atzeret" literally means the assembly of the eighth (day).  Rabbinic literature explains the holiday this way:  God is like a host, who invites us as visitors for a limited time, but when the time comes for us to leave, He has enjoyed himself so much that He asks us to stay another day.

The annual cycle of weekly Torah readings is completed at this time.  We read the last Torah portion, then proceed immediately to the first chapter of Genesis, reminding us that the Torah is a circle, and never ends.  This completion of the readings is a time of great celebration.  There are processions around the synagogue carrying Torah scrolls and plenty of high-spirited singing and dancing (it should be noted that while singing is permitted, dancing is unfortunately rabbinically prohibited on all holidays and on the Sabbath).  As many people as possible are given the honor of carrying a Torah scroll in these processions.  This aspect of the holiday is known as "Simchat Torah", which means Rejoicing in the Torah.  As said before, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are separated in areas that observe an extra day of holidays, so outside of Israel, Shemini Atzeret is Tishri 22 and Simchat Torah is Tishri 23.

In some synagogues, confirmation ceremonies or ceremonies marking the beginning of a child’s Jewish education are held at this time.

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are holidays on which work is not permitted.

List of Dates

Shemini Atzeret occurs on the following days on the civil calendar:

  • 21 October 2008 (5769)
  • 10 October 2009 (5770)
  • 30 September 2010 (5771)
  • 20 October 2011 (5772)
  • 8 October 2012 (5773)

 

 

Chanukkah

Level:  Basic

Chanukkah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight-day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev.

Ironically, Chanukkah is probably one of the best known Jewish holidays, not because of any great religious significance, but because of its proximity to Christmas.  Many non-Jews (and even many assimilated Jews!) think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs, such as elaborate gift-giving and decoration.  It is bitterly ironic that this holiday, which has its roots in a revolution against assimilation and suppression of Jewish religion, has become the most assimilated, secular holiday on our calendar.

The story of Chanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great.  Alexander conquered Syria, Egypt, and the Land of Israel, but allowed the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy.  Under this relatively benevolent rule, many Jews assimilated much of Hellenistic culture, adopting the language, the customs, the dress, etc., in much the same way that Jews in the West today blend into the secular Western society.

More than a century later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV was in control of the region.  He began to oppress the Jews severely, placing a Hellenistic priest in the Temple, massacring Jews, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs (a non-kosher animal) on the altar.  Two groups opposed Antiochus:  a basically nationalistic group led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah Maccabee, and a religious traditionalist group known as the Chasidim, the forerunners of thePharisees (no direct connection to the modern movement known as Chasidism).  They joined forces in a revolt against both the assimilation of the Hellenistic Jews and oppression by the Selucid Greek government.  The revolution succeeded and the Temple was rededicated.

According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks.  Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night.  There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days.  An eight-day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle.  Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory:  Jews do not glorify war.

Chanukkah is not a very important religious holiday.  The holiday’s religious significance is far less than that of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavu’ot.  It is roughly equivalent to Purim in significance, and you will not find many non-Jews who have even heard of Purim!  Chanukkah is not mentioned in Jewish scripture; the story is told in the book of Maccabbees, which Jews do not accept as scripture.

 The main religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles.  The candles are arranged in a candelabrum called a menorah that holds nine candles:  one for each night, plus a shammus (servant) at a different height.  On the first night, one candle is placed at the far right.  The shammus candle is lit and three berakhot (blessings) are recited:  l’hadlik neir (a general prayer over candles), she-asah nisim (a prayer thanking God for performing miracles for our ancestors at this time), and she-hekhianu (a general prayer thanking God for allowing us to reach this time of year).  The first candle is then lit using the shammus candle, and the shammus candle is placed in its holder.  The candles are allowed to burn out on their own after a minimum of 1/2 hour.  Each night, another candle is added from right to left (like the Hebrew language).  Candles are lit from left to right (because you pay honor to the newer thing first).

Why the shammus candle?  The Chanukkah candles are for pleasure only; we are not allowed to use them for any productive purpose.  We keep an extra one around (the shammus), so that if we need to do something useful with a candle, we do not accidentally use the Chanukkah candles.  The shammus candle is at a different height so that it is easily identified as the shammus.

It is traditional to eat fried foods on this holiday, because of the significance of oil to the holiday.  Among Ashkenazic Jews, this usually includes latkes (pronounced "lot-kuhs" or "lot-keys" depending on where your grandmother comes from; whatever they are called, they are potato pancakes).

Gift-giving is not a traditional part of the holiday, but has been added in places where Jews have a lot of contact with Christians, as a way of dealing with our children’s jealousy of their Christian friends.  The only traditional gift of the holiday is "gelt", small amounts of money.

Another tradition of the holiday is playing dreidel (in Yiddish, or sevivon in Hebrew), a gambling game played with a square top.  Most people play for matchsticks, pennies, M&Ms or chocolate coins.  A dreidel is marked with four Hebrew letters:  Nun, Gimmel, Heh, and Shin (Pe in Israel).

This supposedly stands for the Hebrew phrase "nes gadol hayah sham (po)", a great miracle happened there (here in Israel).  Actually, it stands for the Yiddish words nit (nothing), gantz (all), halb (half), and shtell (put), which is the rules of the game!  There are some variations in the way people play the game.  A person spins the dreidel.  On Nun, nothing happens; on Gimmel (or, as kids call it, "gimme!"), you get the whole pot; on Heh, you get half of the pot; and on Shin (Pe), you put one in.  When the pot is empty, everybody puts one in.  Keep playing until one person has everything.  Then redivide it, because nobody likes a poor winner.

A traditional song of this holiday is Maoz Tzur, better known to Christians as Rock of Ages (the tune is the same as one of the more popular ones; the Christian translation takes substantial liberties).

Recipe for Latkes
  • 4 medium potatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1/2 bell pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbs.  parsley
  • 3/4 cup matzah meal (flour or bread crumbs can be substituted)
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • vegetable oil

Shred the potatoes, onion, and bell pepper into a large bowl.  Press out all excess liquid.  Add eggs and parsley and mix well.  Add matzah meal gradually while mixing until the batter is doughy, not too dry.  (you may not need the whole amount, depending on how well you drained the vegetables).  Add a few dashes of salt and black pepper.  (do not taste the batter — it is really awful!).  Do not worry if the batter turns a little orange; that will go away when it fries.

Heat about 1/2 inch of oil to a medium heat.  Form the batter into thin patties about the size of a hamburger.  Fry batter in oil.  Be patient; this takes time, and flipping too much will burn the outside.  Flip when the bottom is golden brown.

Place finished latkes on paper towels to drain.  Eat hot with sour cream or applesauce.  They reheat OK in a microwave, but not in an oven unless you cook them just right.

* The peppers and parsley are not traditional, but they are good here.  You may also put in other vegetables, like carrots and celery, and make vegetable latkes.

List of Dates

Chanukkah begins on the following days on the civil calendar:

  • 22 December 2008 (5769)
  • 12 December 2009 (5770)
  • 2 December 2010 (5771)
  • 21 December 2011 (5772)
  • 9 December 2012 (5773)

 

 

Tu B’Shevat

Level:  Basic

Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat, is a holiday also known as the New Year for Trees.  The word "Tu" is not really a word; it is the number 15 in Hebrew, as if you were to call the Fourth of July "Iv July" (IV being 4 in Roman numerals).  See Hebrew Alphabet for more information about using letters as numbers and why the number 15 is written this way.

As mentioned in Rosh Hashanah, the Torah has several different "new years".  This is not as strange a concept as it sounds at first blush; in the US, for example, there is the calendar year (January to December), the school year (September to June), and many businesses and governmental institutions have fiscal years.  It is basically the same idea with the various Jewish new years.

Tu B’Shevat is the new year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing.  See Leviticus 19,23-25, which states that fruit from trees may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year’s fruit is for God, and after that, you can eat the fruit.  A tree is considered to have aged one year as of Tu B’Shevat, only if it was already planted 44 days before Rosh Hashanah (the normal Jewish New Year on the first of Tishri); then it begins its second year on Tu B’Shevat, about six months after planting.  But if it was planted just a day later, it begins its second year about a year and a half later, on the second Tu B’Shevat after planting.

There are few customs or observances related to this holiday.  One custom is to eat fruit on this day, especially fruit from the Land of Israel.  Some people plant trees on this day.  A lot of Jewish children go around collecting money for trees for Israel at this time of year.  That is about all there is to it.

List of Dates

Tu B’Shevat occurs on the following days on the civil calendar:

  • 9 February 2009 (5769)
  • 30 January 2010 (5770)
  • 20 January 2011 (5771)
  • 8 February 2012 (5772)
  • 26 January 2013 (5773)

 

 

Purim

Level:  Basic

Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar.  It commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination.

The story of Purim is told in the Biblical Book of Esther.  The heroes of the story are Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman living in Persia, and her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his daughter.  Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, King of Persia, to become part of his harem, and he loved her more than his other women and made her queen.  But the king did not know that Esther was a Jew, because Mordecai told her not to reveal her nationality.

The villain of the story is Haman, an arrogant, egotistical advisor to the king.  Haman hated Mordecai because Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, so Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people.  In a speech that is all too familiar to Jews, Haman told the king, "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king’s laws; therefore it does not profit the king to suffer them" (Esther 3,8).  The king gave the fate of the Jewish people to Haman, to do as he pleased to them.  Haman planned to exterminate all of the Jews.

Mordecai persuaded Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people.  This was a dangerous thing for Esther to do, because anyone who came into the king’s presence without being summoned could be put to death, and she had not been summoned.  Esther fasted for three days to prepare herself, then went into the king.  He welcomed her.  Later, she told him of Haman’s plot against her people.  The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was hanged on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai.

The book of Esther is unusual in that it is the only book of the bible that does not contain a name of God.  In fact, it includes virtually no reference to God.  Mordecai makes a vague reference to the idea that the Jews will be saved by someone else, if not by Esther, but that is the closest the book comes to mentioning God.  Thus, one important message that can be gained from the story is that God often works in ways that are not apparent, in ways that appear to be chance, coincidence, or ordinary good luck.

Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which is usually in March.  The 14th of Adar is the day that the Jews rested after they had passed the day that Haman chose for the extermination of the Jews.  In leap years, when there are two months of Adar, Purim is celebrated in the second month of Adar, so it is always one month before Passover.  In cities that were walled in the time of Joshua, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, because the book of Esther says that in Shushan (a walled city) they rested on that day.

The word "Purim" means lots and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre.

The Purim holiday is preceded by a minor fast, the Fast of Esther, which commemorates Esther’s three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the king.

The primary commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the book of Esther.  The book of Esther is commonly known as the Megillah, which means scroll.  Although there are five books of Jewish scripture that are properly referred to as megillahs (Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Esther), this is the one people usually mean when they speak of The Megillah.  It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet, and rattle gragers (noisemakers) whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the service; the purpose of this custom is to "blot out the name of Haman" (unfortunately, the roudiness may interfere with hearing the reading, requiring people to read the whole thing over; this foolish custom should be abandoned!).

We are also commanded to eat, drink, and be merry.  According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordecai", though opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is.  The recommended solution is to drink just a little more than usual, and take a nap to stay out of trouble; it is wise to do this at home, not in public.

 In addition, we are commanded to send out gifts of food (some erroneously think food or drink, but only food counts), and to make gifts to charity.  The sending of gifts of food is referred to as "mishloach manot" (literally, sending out portions).  Among Ashkenazic Jews, a common treat at this time of year is "hamentaschen" (literally, Haman’s pockets).  These triangular fruit-filled cookies are supposed to represent Haman’s three-cornered hat.  A recipe is included below.

It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays and parodies, and to hold beauty contests, despite that these have no connection whatever with the commandments of Purim.  Some think that the usual Torah prohibitions against cross-dressing (men dressing up as women and women dressing up as men) are lifted during this holiday, but they certainly are not.  In the US, Purim is sometimes referred to as the Jewish "Mardi Gras" (a classical idolatrous orgy in the spirit of idolatry), which reflects poorly on the Jews there.

The kinds of Work prohibited on Shabbat and holidays are not prohibited on Purim; but it is recommended against working for living on Purim, unless that is really necessary.

Recipe for Hamentaschen
  • 2/3 cup butter or margarine
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup orange juice (the smooth kind, not the pulpy)
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (DO NOT substitute white flour!  The whole wheat flour is necessary to achieve the right texture!)
  • Various preserves, fruit butters, and/or pie fillings.

Blend butter and sugar thoroughly.  Add the egg and blend thoroughly.  Add OJ and blend thoroughly.  Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, alternating white and wheat, blending thoroughly between each.  Refrigerate batter overnight or at least a few hours.  Roll as thin as you can without getting holes in the batter (roll it between two sheets of wax paper lightly dusted with flour for best results).  Cut out 3 or 4 inch circles.  Put a tablespoon of filling in the middle of each circle.  Fold up the sides to make a triangle, overlapping the sides as much as possible so only a little filling shows through the middle.  Bake at 375 degrees for about 10-15 minutes, until golden brown but before the filling boils over!

Traditional fillings are poppy seed and prune; but apricot, apple butter, pineapple preserves, and cherry pie filling all work quite well.

List of Dates

Purim occurs on the following days on the civil calendar:

  • 10 March 2009(5769)
  • 28 February 2010 (5770)
  • 20 March 2011 (5771)
  • 8 March 2012 (5772)
  • 24 February 2013 (5773)

 

 

Pesach (Passover)

Level:  Basic

Passover is probably the best known of the Jewish holidays among Gentiles, mostly because it ties in with Christian history (the Last Supper was apparently a Passover seder), and because a lot of its observances have been reinterpreted by Christians as Messianic and signs of Jesus.

Passover begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nisan.  It is the first of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Shavu’ot and Sukkot).  Agriculturally, it represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel, but little attention is paid to this aspect of the holiday.  The primary observances of Passover are related to the Exodus from Egypt after 400 years of slavery.  This story is told in Exodus Chapters 1-15.  Many of the Passover observances are instituted in Chapters 12-15.

The name "Passover" refers to the idea that God "passed over" the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt.  In Hebrew, it is known as Pesach (that "ch" is pronounced as in the Scottish "loch"), which is based on the Hebrew root meaning pass over.  The holiday is also referred to as Chag ha-Aviv (the Spring Festival), Chag ha-Matzoth (the Festival of Matzahs), and Zeman Cherutenu (the Time of Our Freedom) (again, all with those Scottish "ch"s).

Probably the most significant observance related to Passover involves the removal of chametz (leaven; sounds like "chum it’s" with that Scottish ch) from our homes.  This commemorates the idea that the Jews leaving Egypt were in a hurry, and did not have time to let their dough rise.  It is also a symbolic way of removing the "puffiness" (arrogance, pride) from our souls.

Chametz includes anything made from the five major grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt) that has not been completely cooked within 24 minutes after coming into contact with water (many are accustomed limit this to 18 minutes).  Orthodox Jews of Ashkenazicbackground also avoid rice, corn, peanuts, and legumes (beans) as if they were chametz.  All of these items have been used to make bread, thus use of them was prohibited to avoid any confusion.  Such additional items are referred to as "kitniyot".

We may not eat chametz during Passover; we may not even own it or derive benefit from it.  We may not even feed it to our pets or cattle.  All chametz must either be disposed of or sold to a non-Jew, and utensils used to cook chametz must be properly cleaned and stored away or specially prepared for use during Passover.

The process of cleaning the home of all chametz in preparation for Passover is an enormous task.  It is often said that to do it right, you must spend several days scrubbing everything down, going over the edges of your stove and fridge with a toothpick and a Q-Tip, covering all surfaces that come in contact with foil or shelf-liner, etc., etc., etc.; while this description of the process is exaggeration, it is indeed a lot of hard work.  After the cleaning is completed, the night before the seder, a formal search of the house for chametz is undertaken, and in the morning any remaining chametz is burned.

The grain product we eat during Passover is called matzah.  Matzah is unleavened bread, made simply from flour and water and cooked very quickly.  This is the bread that the Jews made in their flight from Egypt.  We have come up with many inventive ways to use matzah; it is available in a variety of textures for cooking:  matzah flour (finely ground), matzah meal (coarsely ground), "matzah farfel" (little chunks, used as a noodle substitute), and full-sized matzahs (about 10 inches square, a bread substitute).

The day before Passover, it is customary for the firstborn to fast; this is a minor fast for all firstborn males, commemorating the idea that the firstborn Jewish males in Egypt were not killed during the final plague.  The fast is not obligatory, but it is commonly observed.

On the first night of Passover (first two nights for Jews outside Israel), we have a special family meal filled with ritual to remind us of the significance of the holiday.  This meal is called a "seder", from a Hebrew root word meaning order.  It is the same root from which we derive the word "siddur" (prayer book).  There is a specific set of acts, speeches, and blessings that must be covered in a specific order.  An overview of a traditional seder is included later in this page and our complete parallel Hebrew-English Seder according to Mishneh Torah is also available.

Passover lasts for seven days (eight days outside of Israel).  The first and last days of the holiday (first two and last two outside of Israel) are days on which no work is permitted.  See Extra Day of Holidays for more information.  Some work is permitted on the intermediate days.  These intermediate days on which work is partly permitted are referred to as Chol Ha-Mo’ed, as are the intermediate days of Sukkot.

The Passover Seder

The text of the Passover seder is generally printed in a book called the Haggadah.  Our complete parallel Hebrew-English Seder according to Mishneh Torah is available here online for study or printing out for use on the night of the Seder; if you are used to a much longer Haggadah than ours, please note that nothing that the Law requires has been left out, and some things left out of other versions of the Haggadah are left in as they were originally, but later forgotten.  The content of the typical seder can be summed up by the following Hebrew folk rhyme:

Kaddesh, Urechatz,
Karpas, Yachatz,
Maggid, Rachtzah,
Motzi, Matzah,
Maror, Korech,
Shulchan Orech,
Tzafun, Barech,
Hallel, Nirtzah

Now, what does that mean?

1.  Kaddesh:  Sanctification
The word is derived from the Hebrew root Qof-Dalet-Shin, meaning holy.  This is a series of blessings over wine in honor of the holiday, with a cup of wine poured for each person instead of the single cup for shabbat and other holidays.  After the blessings, a whole cup of wine is to be drunk by each person while reclining on the left side (the same is true of the other three obligatory cups of wine, which should each hold 5 oz. or more of wine; grape juice may be used by those who prefer not to drink so much wine).
2.  Urechatz:  Washing
A washing of the hands after a blessing just as before a meal, in preparation for eating the Karpas.
3.  Karpas:  Vegetable
A vegetable (classically karpas, celery in Hebrew, but anything but maror will do) is dipped in charoset and eaten (today, most erroneously dip in salt water or vinegar instead).  The vegetable symbolizes the lowly origins of the Jewish people.  The charoset is a thick mixture described below that symbolizes the clay and mortar used by the Jews in building during our slavery in Egypt.
4.  Yachatz:  Breaking
One of the matzahs on the table is broken.  Part is returned to the pile, the other part is set aside for the "afikomen" (see below); this step is custom and is not required.
5.  Maggid:  The Story
A second cup is poured for each person, and "the story" is told over it.  This is a retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the first Passover.  The maggid is designed to satisfy the needs of four different types of people:  the wise son, who wants to know the technical details; the wicked son, who excludes himself (and learns the penalty for doing so); the simple son, who needs to know the basics; and the son who is unable to ask, the one who does not even know enough to know what he needs to know.
At the end of the maggid, a blessing is recited over the second cup of wine and it is drunk while reclining.
6.  Rachtzah:  Washing
A second washing of the hands after a blessing, in preparation for eating the matzah.
7.  Motzi:  Blessing over Bread
The ha-motzi blessing, a generic blessing for bread (whether leavened or unleavened matzah), is recited over the matzah.
8.  Matzah:  Blessing over Matzah
A blessing specific to matzah is recited, and matzah of the volume of an average olive is eaten.
9.  Maror:  Bitter Herbs
A blessing is recited over the leaves and stems of certain bitter vegetables (most properly romaine lettuce, endive, chicory, and the like; sometimes raw horseradish root is used instead, but that is a European substitute for the original maror, probably because real maror was not locally available), and the volume of an average olive of it is eaten.  This symbolizes the bitterness of slavery.  The maror is eaten dipped in charoset, like the karpas.
10.  Korech:  The Sandwich
Then we eat a sandwich of maror, matzah, and charoset.
11.  Shulchan Orech:  Dinner
The eating continues in a festive meal.  There is no particular requirement regarding what to eat at this meal (except, of course, that chametz cannot be eaten).  Among Ashkenazic Jews, gefilte fish and matzah ball soup are traditionally eaten at the beginning of the meal.
12.  Tzafun:  The Last Matzah
At the end of the meal, each person must eat the volume of an average olive of matzah, and that is the last thing eaten till morning.  Different families have different traditions relating to this matzah, popularly known as the afikomen.  Some have the children hide it, while the parents have to either find it or ransom it back.  Others have the parents hide it.  The idea is to keep the children awake and attentive throughout the pre-meal proceedings, waiting for this part.
13.  Barech:  Grace after Meals
A third cup of wine is poured for each person, and grace after meals is recited.  This is similar to the grace that would be said after any meal, with a few additions mentioning the holiday.  At the end, a blessing is said over the third cup and it is drunk while reclining.
14.  Hallel:  Praises
The fourth cup is poured for each person.  Several more psalms and a special blessing are recited.  A blessing is recited over this last obligatory cup of wine and it is drunk while reclining.
15.  Nirtzah:  Closing
Today, a statement is made that the seder has been completed, with a wish that next year, we may celebrate Passover in Jerusalem (i.e., that the Mashiach will come within the next year); originally, this wish just opened the Magid.  This is often followed by various optional hymns and stories.  Those who spend the whole night in telling the story of the Exodus are to be praised.
Recipe for Charoset

This fruit, nut, and wine mix is eaten during the Passover seder (and often, during the whole Passover week).  It is meant to remind us of the clay and mortar used by the Jews to build during the period of slavery.  It should have a coarse texture.  The ingredient quantities listed here are at best a rough estimate.  Other nuts or fruits such as dried dates, figs, and raisins can be used.

  • 4 medium apples, 2 tart and 2 sweet
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
  • 1/4 cup sweet wine
  • 1/4 cup dry wine with a bit of vinegar
  • 1 Tbs.  cinnamon, preferably coarsely ground

Grate the apples (and grind the dry fruits, if used).  Add all other ingredients.  Allow to sit for 3-6 hours, until the liquid is absorbed by the other ingredients; you may need to add more wine, if it turns out too thick.

List of Dates

Passover begins on the following days on the civil calendar:

  • 9 April 2009 (5769)
  • 30 March 2010 (5770)
  • 19 April 2011 (5771)
  • 7 April 2012 (5772)
  • 26 March 2013 (5773)

 

 

The Counting of the Omer

Level:  Basic

According to the Torah (Leviticus 23,15), we are obligated to count the days from the second night of Passover to the day before Shavu’ot, seven full weeks.  This period is known as the Counting of the Omer.  An omer is a unit of measure.  On the second day of Passover, in the days of the Temple, an omer of barley was cut down and brought to the Temple as an offering.

Every night, from the second night of Passover to the night before Shavu’ot, we recite a blessing and state the count of the omer in both weeks and days.  So on the 16th day, you would say "Today is sixteen days, which is two weeks and two days of the Omer".

The counting is intended to remind us of the link between Passover, which commemorates the Exodus, and Shavu’ot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah.  It reminds us that the redemption from slavery was not complete until we received the Torah.

For many observant Jews, this period is a time of partial mourning, during which weddings, parties, and dinners with dancing are not conducted, in memory of a plague during the lifetime of Rabbi Akiba; haircuts during this time are also thought to be forbidden.  Since such asceticism is more in the spirit of Christian Lent than the Torah and since the Talmud recommends against such practices, we suggest that they be forgotten entirely.

The 33rd day of the Omer (the eighteenth of Iyar) is a minor holiday commemorating a break in the plague.  The holiday is known as Lag b’Omer.  The mourning practices of the omer period are stopped on that date.  The word "Lag" is not really a word; it is the number 33 in Hebrew, as if one were to call the Fourth of July "Iv July" (IV being 4 in Roman numerals).  See Hebrew Alphabet for more information about using letters as numbers.

List of Dates

Lag b’Omer occurs on the following days on the civil calendar:

  • 12 May 2009 (5769)
  • 2 May 2010 (5770)
  • 22 May 2011 (5771)
  • 10 May 2012 (5772)
  • 28 April 2013 (5773)

 

 

Shavu’ot

Level:  Basic

Shavu’ot, the Festival of Weeks, is the second of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Passover and Sukkot).  Agriculturally, it commemorates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple, and is known as Hag ha-Bikkurim (the Festival of the First Fruits).  Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is also known as Hag Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah).

The period from Passover to Shavu’ot is a time of great anticipation.  We count each of the days from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavu’ot, 49 days or 7 full weeks, hence the name of the festival.  See The Counting of the Omer.  Shavu’ot is also sometimes known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day.  The counting reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Shavu’ot:  Passover freed us physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavu’ot redeemed us spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality.

It is noteworthy that the holiday is called the time of the giving of the Torah, rather than the time of the receiving of the Torah.  The sages point out that we are constantly in the process of receiving the Torah, that we receive it every day, but it was first given at this time.  Thus it is the giving, not the receiving, that makes this holiday significant.

Shavu’ot is not tied to a particular calendar date, but to a counting from Passover.  Because the length of the months used to be variable, determined by observation (see Jewish Calendar), and there are two new moons between Passover and Shavu’ot, Shavu’ot could occur on the 5th or 6th of Sivan.  However, now that we have a mathematically determined calendar, and the months between Passover and Shavu’ot do not change length on the mathematical calendar, Shavu’ot is always on the 6th of Sivan (the 6th and 7th outside of Israel.  SeeExtra Day of Holidays.)

Work is not permitted during Shavu’ot.

It is customary to stay up the entire first night of Shavu’ot and study Torah, then pray as early as possible in the morning.

It is customary to eat a dairy meal at least once during Shavu’ot.  There are varying opinions as to why this is done.  Some say it is a reminder of the promise regarding the Land of Israel, a land flowing with "milk and honey".  According to another view, it is because our ancestors had just received the Torah (and the dietary laws therein), and did not have both meat and dairy dishes available.  See Separation of Meat and Dairy.

The book of Ruth is read at this time.  Again, there are varying reasons given for this custom, and none seems to be definitive.

List of Dates

Shavu’ot occurs on the following days on the civil calendar:

  • 29 May 2009 (5769)
  • 19 May 2010 (5770)
  • 8 June 2011 (5771)
  • 27 May 2012 (5772)
  • 15 May 2013 (5773)

 

 

Tisha B’Av

Level:  Basic

Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the Ninth of Av, is a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, many of which coincidentally have occurred on the ninth of Av.

"Tisha B’Av" means the ninth (day) of Av.  It usually occurs during late July or early August.

Tisha B’Av primarily commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av (the first by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.; the second by the Romans in 70 C.E.).

Although this holiday is primarily meant to commemorate the destruction of the Temple, it is appropriate to consider on this day the many other tragedies of the Jewish people, many of which occurred on this day, most notably the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.

For many, Tisha B’Av is the culmination of a three week period of increasing mourning, beginning with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which commemorates the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem, before the First Temple was destroyed.  During this three week period, weddings and other parties are customarily not held, and people refrain from cutting their hair; as in the case of the Christian-like ascetic practices during the Counting of the Omer, such practices are really not to be recommended.  From the first to the ninth of Av, it is customary to refrain from eating meat or drinking wine (except on the Sabbath) and from wearing new clothing; but neither meat nor wine is actually forbidden until the last meal before the fast, and only freshly-ironed clothes are prohibited to be worn in the days of the week that the fast comes in until the fast has passed.

The restrictions on Tisha B’Av are similar to those on Yom Kippur, starting a little before sunset the day before the fast and continuing until after the stars come out at the end of the fast:  to refrain from eating and drinking (even water); washing, bathing, shaving, or wearing cosmetics; wearing leather shoes; engaging in sexual relations; and studying Torah (this last item is permitted on Yom Kippur).  Work in the ordinary sense of the word is also restricted.  People who are ill need not fast on this day.  Many of the traditional mourning practices are observed:  people refrain from smiles, laughter, and idle conversation, and sit on low stools.  In synagogue, the book of Lamentations is read and mourning prayers are recited.

List of Dates

Tisha B’Av occurs on the following days on the civil calendar:

  • 30 July 2009 (5769)
  • 20 July 2010 (5770)
  • 9 August 2011 (5771)
  • 29 July 2012 (5772)
  • 16 July 2013 (5773)

 

 

Minor Fasts

Level:  Basic

There are five minor fasts on the Jewish calendar.  With one exception, these fasts were instituted by the Sages to commemorate some national tragedies.  The minor fasts (that is, all fasts except Yom Kippur and Tisha b’Av) last from dawn to nightfall.  There is a great deal of leniency practiced in these minor fasts for people who have medical conditions or other difficulties fasting.  The date of the fast is moved to Sunday if the specified date falls on a Sabbath.

Three of these five fasts commemorate events leading to the downfall of the first commonwealth and the destruction of the first Temple, which is commemorated by the major fast of Tisha B’Av (which is a required fast, unlike these minor fasts).

Following is a list of minor fasts customarily thought to be required by Jewish law, their dates, and the events they commemorate:

The Fast of Gedaliah, Tishri 3, commemorates the killing of the Jewish governor of Israel, a critical event in the downfall of the first commonwealth.

The Fast of Tevet, Tevet 10, is the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem.  It has also been proclaimed a memorial day for the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust.

The Fast of Esther, Adar 13, commemorates the three days that Esther fasted before approaching King Ahasuerus on behalf of the Jewish people.  The fast is connected with Purim.  If Adar 13 falls on a Friday or Shabbath, it is moved to the preceding Thursday, because it cannot be moved forward a day (it would fall on Purim).

The Fast of the Firstborn, Nisan 14, is a fast observed only by firstborn males, commemorating the idea that they were saved from the plague of the firstborn in Egypt.  It is observed on the day preceding Passover.

The Fast of Tammuz, Tammuz 17, is the date when the walls of Jerusalem were breached.

While these fasts are permitted, they are not required according to Mishneh Torah (and the so-called Fast of the Firstborn is not even mentioned, as it is such a new custom).  Those who wish to voluntarily practice these fasts (other than the Fast of the Firstborn), which are an honored and ancient tradition, are not engaging in forbidden ascetic practices, even though they are not strictly required.

 

 

20th Century Holidays

Level:  Basic

A few minor holidays have been added to the calendar to commemorate various significant events of the 20th century relating to the Holocaust and the modern state of Israel.  All of these holidays occur in the period between Passover and Shavu’ot.  These holidays are not universally acknowledged, the dates are not entirely agreed upon, and the observances are not yet standardized.  Nevertheless, they are worth noting.

Yom Ha-Shoah
Also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, this holiday occurs on the 27th of Nisan (on the 26th, when the 27th falls on Friday, or on the 28th, when the 27th falls on Sunday, to avoid interference with Shabbat).  "Shoah" is the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.  This is a memorial day for those who died in the Holocaust.
Yom Ha-Zikkaron
Israeli Memorial Day, observed on the 4th of Iyar (on the 5th, when the 4th falls on Sunday, on the 2nd, when the 5th falls on Shabbat, or on the 3rd, when the 5th falls on Friday, to avoid interference with Shabbat), remembers those who died in the War of Liberation.
Yom Ha-Atzma’ut
Israeli Independence Day, marking the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948.  It is observed on the 5th of Iyar (on the 6th, when the 4th falls on Sunday, on the 3rd, when the 5th falls on Shabbat, or on the 4th, when the 5th falls on Friday, to avoid interference with Shabbat).  According to some views, the restrictions of the Omer period are lifted for this day.  A few anti-Zionist Jews observe this day as a day of mourning for the sin of proclaiming the state of Israel without the Mashiach.
Yom Yerushalayim
The 28th day of Iyar commemorates the reunification of the city of Jerusalem in Israeli hands.  According to some views, the restrictions of the Omer period are lifted for this day.

 

 

Birth and the First Month of Life

Level:  Basic

Birth

In Jewish law, life begins at birth, that is, at the time when all of the child’s head has emerged from the mother’s body, or when the child is more than halfway out if the head does not come out first.  The consequences of this are discussed in more detail in the section onAbortion.

The Torah completely rejects the notion of original sin.  According to the Torah, a child is born pure, completely free from sin.  We say daily "God, the soul which you have given me is pure.  You created it, You fashioned it, You breathed it into me".

Birth by Caesarean section is permitted in Jewish law, as would be just about any procedure necessary to preserve the life of the mother or the child.

Immediately after birth, a woman is considered as a niddah and must remain sexually separated from her husband for a period of seven days after the birth of a male child and 14 days after the birth of a female child (Leviticus 12,2).  This separation is the same as the regular monthly niddah separation.  In the days of the Temple, when considerations of ritual purity were more important, a woman was considered partially impure for an additional period of 33 days after the birth of a male child and 66 days after the birth of a female child.  No reason is stated why the period is longer for a female child than for a male child; however, it appears that a female child is not more defiling than a male child, because the method of purification at the end of this period is the same for both sexes.

Naming a Child

The formal Hebrew name is used in Jewish rituals, primarily in calling the person to the Torah for an aliyah, or in the ketubah (marriage contract).  There are no formal religious requirements for naming a child.  The name has no inherent religious significance.  In fact, the child’s "Hebrew name" need not even be Hebrew; Yiddish names are often used, or even English ones.  Many in Israel only use their Hebrew names, rejecting non-Hebrew names (and, some, even family names) as a new custom imitating the Gentiles.

A girl’s name is officially given in synagogue when the father takes an aliyah after the birth, discussed above.  A boy’s name is given during the brit milah (ritual circumcision).

The standard form of a Hebrew name for a male is [child’s name] ben [father’s name], where "ben" means son of.  For a female, the form is [child’s name] bat [father’s name], where "bat" means daughter of.  If the child is a Kohein, the suffix ha-Kohein is added.  If the child is a Levi, the suffix ha-Levi is added.

It is customary among Ashkenazic Jews to name a child after a recently deceased relative.  This custom comes partly from a desire to honor the dead relative, and partly from superstition against naming a child after a living relative.  It is almost unheard of for an Ashkenazic Jew to be named after his own father, though it does occasionally happen.  Among Sephardic Jews, it is not unusual to name a child after a parent or living relative.

Brit Milah:  Circumcision

Of all of the Torah’s 613 commandments, the "brit milah" (literally, Covenant of Circumcision) is probably the one most universally observed.  It is commonly referred to as a "brit" (covenant).  Even the most secular of Jews, who observe no other part of Torah, are almost always circumcised.  In countries where all males are routinely surgically circumcised, this does not seem very surprising.  But keep in mind that there is more to the ritual of the brit milah than merely the process of physically removing the foreskin, and many otherwise non-observant Jews observe the entire ritual.

The commandment to circumcise is given at Genesis 17,10-14 and Leviticus 12,3.  The covenant was originally made with Abraham.

Like so many Jewish commandments, the brit milah is commonly perceived to be a hygienic measure; however the biblical text states the reason for this commandment quite clearly:  circumcision is an outward physical sign of the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people.  It is also a sign that the Jewish people will be perpetuated through the circumcised man.  The health benefits of this practice are merely incidental.  It is worth noting, however, that circumcised males have a lower risk of certain cancers, and the sexual partners of circumcised males also have a lower risk of certain cancers.

The commandment is binding upon both the father of the child and the child himself.  If a father does not have his son circumcised, the son is obligated to have himself circumcised as soon as he becomes an adult.  A person who is uncircumcised suffers the penalty of karet, spiritual excision; in other words, regardless of how good a Jew he is in all other ways, a man has no place in the World to Come if he is uncircumcised.

Circumcision is performed on the eighth day of the child’s life, during the day.  The day the child is born counts as the first day, thus if the child is born on a Wednesday, he is circumcised on the following Wednesday.  Keep in mind that Jewish days begin at sunset, so if the child is born on a Wednesday evening, he is circumcised the following Thursday.  Circumcisions are performed on Shabbat, even though they involve the drawing of blood which is ordinarily forbidden on the sabbath.  The Bible does not specify a reason for the choice of the eighth day; however, modern medicine has revealed that an infant’s blood clotting mechanism stabilizes on the eighth day after birth.  As with almost any commandment, circumcision can be postponed for health reasons.  Jewish law provides that where the child’s health is at issue, circumcision must wait until seven days after a serious illness.

Circumcision involves surgically removing the foreskin of the penis.  Although some cultures have a similar circumcision ritual for females, circumcision in Torah applies only to males.  The circumcision is performed by a "mohel" (literally, circumciser), a pious, observant Jew educated in the relevant Jewish law and in surgical techniques.  Circumcision performed by a regular non-observant or non-Jewish physician does not qualify as a valid brit milah, regardless of whether a rabbi says a blessing over it, because the removal of the foreskin is itself a religious ritual that must be performed by someone religiously qualified.

If the child is born without a foreskin (it happens occasionally), or if the child was previously circumcised without the appropriate religious intent or in a manner that rendered the circumcision religiously invalid, a symbolic circumcision may be performed by taking a pinprick of blood from the tip of the penis.  This is referred to as hatafat dam brit.

While the circumcision is performed, the child is held by a person called a sandak.  In English, this is often referred to as a godfather.  It is an honor to be a sandak for a brit.  The sandak is usually a grandparent or the family rabbi.  Traditionally, a chair (often an ornate one) is set aside for Elijah, who is said to preside over all circumcisions.  Various blessings are recited, including one over wine, and a drop of wine is placed in the child’s mouth.  The child is then given a formal Hebrew name.

It is not necessary to have a minyan for a brit.

As with most Jewish life events, the ritual is followed by refreshments or a festive meal.

In recent times, some psychologists have hypothesized that infant circumcision has harmful psychological effects, and may cause sexual dysfunction.  To the best of our knowledge, there is no concrete, statistical evidence that circumcision has any harmful effect.  However, some people have written asking about the Jewish opinion on this controversy.  From the traditional Jewish point of view, there is no controversy.  The ritual of circumcision was commanded by our Creator, and He certainly knows what is and is not good for us.  The God who commanded us not to harm ourselves certainly would not command us to do something harmful to ourselves, and even if He did, the observant Jew would nonetheless heed His wishes.

Pidyon ha-Ben:  Redemption of the First Born

The first and best of all things belongs to God.  This is true even of the firstborn of children.  Originally, it was intended that the firstborn would serve as the priests and Temple functionaries of Israel; however, after the incident of the Golden Calf, in which the tribe of Levi did not participate, God chose the tribe of Levi over the firstborn for this sacred role.  This is explained in Numbers 8,14-18.  However, even though their place has been taken by the Levites, the firstborn still retain a certain degree of sanctity, and for this reason, they must be redeemed.

The ritual of redemption is referred to as pidyon ha-ben, literally, Redemption of the Son.

A firstborn son must be redeemed after he reaches 31 days of age.  Ordinarily, the ritual is performed on the 31st day (the day of birth being the first day); however, the ritual cannot be performed on Shabbat because it involves the exchange of money.  The child is redeemed by paying a small sum (five silver shekels in biblical times) to a kohein (preferably a pious one familiar with the procedure) and performing a brief ritual.  This procedure is commanded at Numbers 18,15-16.

It is important to remember that rabbis are not necessarily koheins and koheins are not necessarily rabbis.  Redemption from a rabbi is not valid unless the rabbi is also a kohein.  See Rabbis, Priests, and Other Religious Functionaries for more information about this distinction.

The ritual of pidyon ha-ben applies to a relatively small portion of the Jewish people.  It applies only to the firstborn male child if it is born by natural childbirth.  Thus, if a female is the firstborn, no child in the family is subject to the ritual.  If the first child is born by Caesarean section, the ritual does not apply to that child (nor, according to most sources, to any child born after that child).  If the first conception ends in miscarriage that qualifies for the mother to be impure as if she had born a fully developed child, it does not apply to any subsequent child.  It does not apply to members of the tribe of Levi, or children born to a daughter of a member of the tribe of Levi.

Adoption

There is no formal procedure of adoption in Jewish law.  Adoption as it exists in civil law is irrelevant, because civil adoption is essentially a transfer of title from one parent to another, and in Jewish law, parents do not own their children.  However, the Torah does have certain laws that are relevant in circumstances where a child is raised by someone other than the birth parents.

Matters relevant to the child’s status are determined by the status of the birth parents, not by that of the adoptive parents.  The child’s status as a Kohein, a Levi, a Jew, and/or a firstborn, are all determined by reference to the birth parents.

This issue of status is particularly important in the case of non-Jewish children adopted by Jews.  Children born of non-Jewish parents are not Jewish, regardless of who raises them.  The status as a Jew is more a matter of citizenship than a matter of belief.  For more information about this issue, see Who is a Jew?

If Jewish parents adopt a non-Jewish child, the child must be converted.  This process is somewhat simpler for an infant than it is for an adult convert, because there is generally no need to try to talk the person out of converting, no need for prior education.  It is really more of a formality.  The conversion must be approved by a Bet Din (rabbinic court), a circumcision or hatafat dam brit must be performed, the child must be immersed in a kosher mikveh, and the parents must commit to educating the child as a Jew.  For more details about the process of conversion generally, See Conversion.

 

 

Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah, and Confirmation

Level:  Basic

"Bar Mitzvah" literally means son of the commandment.  "Bar" is son in Aramaic, which used to be the vernacular of the Jewish people.  "Mitzvah" is commandment in both Hebrew and Aramaic.  "Bat" is daughter in Hebrew and Aramaic.

Under Jewish Law, children are not obligated to observe the commandments, although they are encouraged to do so as much as possible to become used to doing the obligations they will have to do as adults (and their fathers are responsible for preparing them for Torah observance).  At the age of 13 (12 for girls), children become adults and are obligated to observe the commandments.  The Bar Mitzvah ceremony formally marks the assumption of that obligation, along with the corresponding right to take part in leading religious services, to count in a minyan (the minimum number of people needed to perform certain parts of religious services), to form binding contracts, to testify before religious courts, and to marry.

A Jewish boy automatically becomes a Bar Mitzvah upon reaching the age of 13 years.  No ceremony is needed to confer these rights and obligations.  The popular Bar Mitzvah ceremony is not required, and does not fulfill any commandment.  It is a relatively modern innovation, not mentioned in the Talmud, and the elaborate ceremonies and receptions that are commonplace today were unheard of as recently as a century ago.

In its earliest and most basic form, a Bar Mitzvah was the celebrant’s first aliyah for European Jews (Yemenite Jews always allowed even children of five or six to take an aliyah, which is the correct practice according to the Torah).  During Shabbat services shortly after the child’s 13th birthday, the celebrant is called up to the Torah to recite a blessing over the weekly reading.

Today, it is common practice for the Bar Mitzvah celebrant to do much more than just say the blessing.  It is most common for the celebrant to learn the entire haftarah portion, including its traditional chant, and recite that.  In some congregations, the celebrant reads the entire weekly torah portion, or leads part of the service, or leads the congregation in certain important prayers.  The father typically recites a blessing thanking God for removing the burden of being responsible for the son’s sins, which is based on two misunderstandings:  there is not properly any such blessing according to the Torah, and the father who utters it will be punished for saying God’s name in vain; moreover, fathers are not punished for their minor sons’ sins and the sons are not punished for their sins as minors, either (under some circumstances, sons are punished additionally for their fathers’ sins, but only when they continue the misbehavior of their fathers).

In modern times, the religious service is followed by a reception that is often as elaborate as a wedding reception.

In Orthodox and Chasidic practice, women are not permitted to participate in religious services in these ways, so a Bat Mitzvah, if celebrated at all, is usually little more than a party.  In other movements of Judaism, the girls do exactly the same thing as the boys, despite that there is no foundation for this according to the Torah.

It is important to note that a Bar Mitzvah is not the goal of a Jewish education, nor is it a graduation ceremony marking the end of a person’s Jewish education.  We are obligated to study Torah throughout our lives.  To emphasize this point, some rabbis require a Bar Mitzvah student to sign an agreement promising to continue Jewish education after the Bar Mitzvah.

The Reform movement tried to do away with the Bar Mitzvah for a while, scorning the idea that a 13 year old child was an adult.  They replaced it with a confirmation at the age of 16 or 18.  However, due to the overwhelming popularity of the ceremonies, the Reform movement has revived the practice.  We do not know of any Reform synagogues that do not encourage the practice of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs today.  In some Conservative synagogues, however, the confirmation practice continues as a way to keep children involved in Jewish education for a few more years.

The age set for Bar Mitzvah is not an outdated notion based on the needs of an agricultural society, as some suggest.  This criticism comes from a misunderstanding of the significance of the Bar Mitzvah.  Bar Mitzvah is simply the age when a person is held responsible for his actions and minimally qualified to marry, because he is normally physically and mentally able to do so; in case the child has not developed normally, his resonsibility is delayed according to his actual development, and those who have permanent mental disability are forever exempt from the commandments and their punishment.  The Torah sees normal young adults as adults, and there is really no need to be as pessimistic (and even as insulting) toward young people as modern Western society is.

If you compare this to secular law, you will find that it is not so very far from our modern notions of a child’s maturity.  In Anglo-American common law, a child of the age of 14 is old enough to assume many of the responsibilities of an adult, including minimal criminal liability.  In many states, a fourteen year old can marry with parental consent.  Children of any age are permitted to testify in court, and children over the age of 14 are permitted to have significant input into custody decisions in cases of divorce.

 

 

Marriage

Level:  Basic

The Torah provides very little guidance with regard to the procedures of a marriage.  The method of finding a spouse, the form of the wedding ceremony, and the nature of the marital relationship are all explained in the Talmud.

Acquiring a Spouse

Mishnah Kiddushin 1,1 specifies that a woman is acquired (i.e., to be a wife) in three ways:  through money, a contract, and sexual intercourse.  Ordinarily, all three of these conditions are satisfied, although only one is necessary to effect a binding marriage.

Acquisition by money is normally satisfied by the wedding ring.  It is important to note that although money is one way of "acquiring" a wife, the woman is not being bought and sold like a piece of property or a slave.  This is obvious from the fact that the amount of money involved is nominal (according to the Mishnah, a perutah, a copper coin of the lowest denomination, was sufficient).  In addition, if the woman were being purchased like a piece of property, it would be possible for the husband to resell her, and clearly it is not.  Rather, the wife’s acceptance of the money is a symbolic way of demonstrating her acceptance of the husband, just like acceptance of the contract or the sexual intercourse.

To satisfy the requirements of acquisition by money, the ring must belong to the groom.  It cannot be borrowed, although it can be a gift from a relative.  It must be given to the wife irrevocably.  In addition, the ring’s value must be known to the wife, so that there can be no claim that the husband deceived her into marrying by misleading her as to its value.

In all cases, the Talmud specifies that a woman can be acquired only with her consent, and not without it.  Kiddushin 2a-b.

As part of the wedding ceremony, the husband gives the wife a ketubah.  The word "Ketubah" comes from the root Kaf-Tav-Bet, meaning writing.  The ketubah is also called the marriage contract.  The ketubah spells out the husband’s obligations to the wife during marriage, conditions of inheritance upon his death, and obligations regarding the support of children of the marriage.  It also provides for the wife’s support in the event of divorce.  There are standard conditions; however, additional conditions can be included by mutual agreement.  Marriage agreements of this sort were commonplace in the ancient Semitic world.

The ketubah has much in common with prenuptial agreements, which are gaining popularity in the West.  Such agreements were historically disfavored, because it was believed that planning for divorce would encourage divorce, and that people who considered the possibility of divorce should not be marrying.  Although one rabbi in the Talmud expresses a similar opinion, the majority maintained that a ketubah discouraged divorce, by serving as a constant reminder of the husband’s substantial financial obligations if he divorced his wife.

The ketubah is often a beautiful work of calligraphy, framed and displayed in the home.

The Process of Marriage:  Kiddushin and Nisuin

The process of marriage occurs in two distinct stages:  kiddushin (commonly translated as betrothal) and nisuin (full-fledged marriage).  Kiddushin occurs when the woman accepts the money, contract, or sexual relations offered by the prospective husband.  The word "kiddushin" comes from the root Qof-Dalet-Shin, meaning sanctified.  It reflects the sanctity of the marital relation.  However, the root word also connotes something that is set aside for a specific (sacred) purpose, and the ritual of kiddushin sets aside the woman to be the wife of a particular man and no other.

Kiddushin is far more binding than an engagement as the term is understood in modern customs of the West.  Once the kiddushin is completed, the woman is legally the wife of the man.  The relationship created by kiddushin can only be dissolved by death or divorce.  However, the spouses do not live together at that time, and the mutual obligations created by the marital relationship do not take effect until the nisuin is complete.

The nisuin (from a word meaning elevation) completes the process of marriage.  The husband brings the wife into his home and they begin their married life together.

In the past, the kiddushin and nisuin would routinely occur as much as a year apart.  During that time, the husband would prepare a home for the new family.  There was always a risk that during this long period of separation, the woman would discover that she wanted to marry another man, or the man would disappear, leaving the woman in the awkward state of being married but without a husband.  Today, the two ceremonies are normally performed together.

Because marriage under Jewish law is essentially a private contractual agreement between a man and a woman, it does not require the presence of a rabbi or any other religious official.  It is common, however, for rabbis to officiate, partly in imitation of the Christian practice and partly because the presence of a religious or civil official is required under Western civil law.

As you can see, it is very easy to make a marriage, so the rabbis instituted severe punishments (usually flogging and compelled divorce) where marriage was undertaken without proper planning and solemnity.

A Typical Wedding Ceremony

It is customary for the bride and groom not to see each other for a week preceding the wedding.  On the Shabbat of that week, it is customary among Ashkenazic Jews for the groom to have an aliyah (the honor of reciting a blessing over the Torah reading).  This aliyah is known as an ufruf.  There are exuberant celebrations in the synagogue at this time.

The day before the wedding, both the bride and the groom customarily fast.

Before the ceremony, the bride is veiled, in remembrance of the idea that Rebecca veiled her face when she was first brought to Isaac to be his wife.

The ceremony itself lasts 20-30 minutes, and consists of the kiddushin and the nisuin.  For the kiddushin, the bride approaches and circles the groom.  Two blessings are recited over wine:  one the standard blessing over wine and the other regarding the commandments related to marriage.  The man then places the ring on the woman’s finger and says "Be sanctified (mekudeshet) to me with this ring in accordance with the law of Moses and Israel".

After the kiddushin is complete, the ketubah is read aloud.

The nisuin then proceeds.  The bride and groom today typically stand beneath the "chuppah", a canopy held up by four poles, symbolic of their dwelling together and of the husband’s bringing the wife into his home; the importance of the chuppah is so great that the wedding ceremony is sometimes referred to as the chuppah.  Jewish Law does require, however, that the groom bring the bride into the house where they will live (not under a mere symbol of it).  The groom (or, more typically, his agent or agents) recite seven blessings (sheva brakhos) in the presence of a minyan (prayer quorum of 10 adult Jewish men).  The essence of each of the seven blessings is:

  1. the standard blessing over wine.
  2. …  who has created everything for his glory
  3. …  who fashioned the Man
  4. …  who fashioned the Man in His image
  5. …  who gladdens Zion through her children
  6. …  who gladdens groom and bride
  7. …  who created joy and gladness . . . who gladdens the groom with the bride

The couple then drinks the wine.

The groom customarily smashes a glass (or a small symbolic piece of glass) with his right foot, to symbolize the destruction of the Temple; the correct original practice was to put a bit of ashes on the forehead where the tefillin are placed, as is still practiced by many in Israel today.  The destruction of usable things is actually forbidden.

The couple then retires briefly to a completely private room, symbolic of the groom bringing the wife into his home; the correct original practice was to go immediately into the home where they will live and be alone there, which is also still practiced by some in Israel today.  This is the most important part of the whole ceremony, and should not be done merely symbolically.

This is followed by a festive meal, which is followed by a repetition of the sheva brakhos.  Exuberant music and dancing traditionally accompany the ceremony and the reception.

The Marital Relationship

Marriage is vitally important in Judaism.  Refraining from marriage is not considered holy, as it is in some other religions.  On the contrary, it is considered unnatural.  The Talmud says that an unmarried man is constantly thinking of sin.  The Talmud tells of a rabbi who was introduced to a young unmarried rabbi.  The older rabbi told the younger one not to come into his presence again until he was married.

Marriage is not solely, or even primarily, for the purpose of procreation.  Traditional sources recognize that companionship, love, and intimacy are the primary purposes of marriage, noting that woman was created in Genesis 2,18 because "it is not good for man to be alone", rather than because she was necessary for procreation.

According to the Torah and the Talmud, a man is permitted to marry more than one wife, but a woman cannot be married to more than one man at a time.  Although polygyny was permitted, it was never common.  Around 1000 C.E., Ashkenazic Jewry banned polygyny because of pressure from the predominant Christian culture.  It continued to be permitted for Sephardic Jews in Islamic lands for many years.  To the present day, Yemenite and Ethiopian Jews continue to practice polygyny; however, the modern state of Israel ordinarily allows only one wife, unless you come to Israel with more than one wife, in which case you can keep the wives you have but you cannot marry new ones.

A husband is responsible for providing his wife with food, clothing, and sexual relations (Exodus 21,10), as well as anything else specified in the ketubah.  Marital sexual relations are the woman’s right, not the man’s.  A man cannot force his wife to engage in sexual relations with him, nor is he permitted to abuse his wife in any way (a practice routinely permitted in Christian countries until quite recently).

A married woman retains ownership of any property she brought to the marriage, but the husband has the right to manage the property and to enjoy profits from the property.

Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children

The minimum age for marriage under Jewish law is 13 for boys, 12 for girls; however, the kiddushin can take place before that, and often did in medieval times.  The Talmud recommends that parents marry off their children when they reach puberty, but many Jewish communities delay marriage till the age 18, or somewhere between 16 and 24, putting needless physical and mental strain on Jewish youth and often causing them to sin.

The Torah sets forth a list of prohibited relations.  Such marriages are never valid.  A man cannot marry certain close blood relatives, the ex-wives of certain close blood relatives, a woman who has not been validly divorced from her previous husband, the daughter or granddaughter of his ex-wife, or the sister of his ex-wife during the ex-wife’s life time.  For a complete list, see 613 Mitzvot (Commandments).

The offspring of such marriages are mamzerim (bastards, illegitimate), and subject to a variety of restrictions; however it is important to note that only the offspring of these incestuous or forbidden marriages are mamzerim.  Children born out of wedlock are not mamzerim in Jewish law and bear no stigma, unless the marriage would have been prohibited for the reasons above.  Children of a married man and a woman who is not his wife are not mamzerim (because the marriage between the parents would not have been prohibited), although children of a married woman and a man who is not her husband are mamzerim (because she could not have married him).

There are other classes of marriages that are not permitted, but that are valid if they occur and that do not make the children mamzerim.  The marriage of minors, of a Jew to a non-Jew, and of a kohein to the prohibited classes of women discussed below fall into this category.

A kohein is not permitted to marry a divorcee, a convert, a promiscuous woman, a woman who is the offspring of a forbidden marriage to a kohein, or a woman who is the widow of a man who died childless but who has been released from the obligation to marry her husband’s brother.  A kohein who marries such a woman is disqualified from his duties as a kohein, as are all the offspring of that marriage.

 

 

Divorce

Level:  Basic

Jewish Attitude Toward Divorce

Judaism recognized the concept of "no-fault" divorce thousands of years ago.  Judaism has always accepted divorce as a fact of life, albeit an unfortunate one.  Judaism generally maintains that it is better for a couple to divorce than to remain together in a state of constant bitterness and strife.

Under Jewish law, a man can divorce a woman for any reason or no reason.  The Talmud specifically says that a man can divorce a woman because she spoiled his dinner or simply because he finds another woman more attractive, and the woman’s consent to the divorce is not required.  In fact, Jewish law requires divorce in some circumstances:  when the wife commits a sexual transgression, a man must divorce her, even if he is inclined to forgive her.

This does not mean that Judaism takes divorce lightly.  Many aspects of Jewish law discourage divorce.  The procedural details involved in arranging a divorce are complex and exacting.  Except in certain cases of misconduct by the wife, a man who divorces his wife is required to pay her substantial sums of money, as specified in the ketubah (marriage contract).  In addition, Jewish law prohibits a man from remarrying his ex-wife after she has married another man.  Kohanim cannot marry divorcees at all.

The Process of Obtaining a Divorce

According to the Torah, divorce is accomplished simply by writing a bill of divorce, handing it to the wife, and sending her away.  To prevent husbands from divorcing their wives recklessly or without proper consideration, the rabbis created complex rules regarding the process of writing the document, delivery, and acceptance.  A competent rabbinical authority should be consulted for any divorce.

The document in question is referred to in the Talmud as a sefer k’ritut (scroll of cutting off), but it is more commonly known today as a get.  The get is not phrased in negative terms.  The traditional text does not emphasize the breakdown of the relationship, nor does it specify the reason for the divorce; rather, it states that the woman is now free to marry another man.

It is not necessary for a husband to personally hand the get to the wife.  If it is not possible or desirable for the couple to meet, a messenger may be appointed to deliver the get.

It is important to note that a civil divorce is not sufficient to dissolve a Jewish marriage.  As far as Jewish law is concerned, a couple remains married until the woman receives the get.  This has been a significant problem:  many liberal Jews have a religiously valid marriage, yet do not obtain a religiously valid divorce.  If the woman remarries after such a procedure, her second marriage is considered an adulterous one, and her children are considered mamzerim (illegitimate children that are almost completely barred from normal marriage; seeDeuteronomy 23,3 and note that "bastard" is not properly the word here, as it matters not if the child’s parents are legally married or not).

Inequality of the Sexes

The position of husband and wife with regard to divorce is not an equal one.  According to the Torah, only the husband can initiate a divorce, and the wife cannot prevent him from divorcing her.  Later "rabbinical" authorities in Europe tried to take steps to ease the harshness of these rules by prohibiting a man from divorcing a woman without her consent, but the Torah remains as it was.  A rabbinical court can, however, compel a husband to divorce his wife under certain circumstances:  when he is physically repulsive because of some medical condition or other characteristic, or when he violates or neglects his marital obligations (food, clothing, and sexual intercourse).

A grave problem arises, however, if a man disappears or deserts his wife, or is presumed dead but there is insufficient proof of death.  Divorce can only be initiated by the man; thus, if the husband cannot be found, he cannot be compelled to divorce the wife and she cannot marry another man.  A woman in this situation is referred to as an "agunah" (literally, anchored).  The rabbis have agonized over this problem, balancing the need to allow the woman to remarry with the risk of an adulterous marriage (mentioned at the end of the previous section) if the husband reappeared.  No definitive solution to this problem exists.

To prevent this problem to some extent, it is customary in many places for a man to give his wife a conditional get whenever he goes off to war, so that if he never comes home and his body is not found, his wife does not become agunah.

 

 

Life, Death, and Mourning

Level:  Basic

Life

In Judaism, life is valued above almost all else.  The Talmud notes that all people are descended from a single person, thus taking a single life is like destroying an entire world, and saving a single life is like saving an entire world.

Of the 613 commandments, only the prohibitions against murder, idolatry, incest and adultery are so important that they cannot be violated to save a life.  Judaism not only permits, but often requires a person to violate the commandments if necessary to save a life.  A person who is extremely ill, for example, or a woman in labor, is not permitted to fast on Yom Kippur, because fasting at such a time would endanger the person’s life.  Doctors are permitted to answer emergency calls on the Sabbath, even though this may violate many Sabbath prohibitions.  Abortions where necessary to save the life of a mother are mandatory (the unborn are not considered human life in Jewish law, thus the mother’s human life overrides).

Because life is so valuable, we are not permitted to do anything that may hasten death, not even to prevent suffering.  Euthanasia, suicide, and assisted suicide are strictly forbidden by Jewish law.  The Talmud states that you may not even move a dying person’s arms if that would shorten his life.

However, where death is imminent and certain, and the patient is suffering, Jewish law does permit one to cease artificially prolonging life.  Thus, in certain circumstances, Jewish law permits "pulling the plug".

Death

In Judaism, death is not a tragedy, even when it occurs early in life or through unfortunate circumstances.  Death is a natural process.  Our deaths, like our lives, have meaning and are all part of God’s plan.  In addition, we have a firm belief in an afterlife, a world to come, where those who have lived a worthy life will be rewarded.

Mourning practices in Judaism are extensive, but they are not an expression of fear or distaste for death.  Jewish practices relating to death and mourning have two purposes:  to show respect for the dead (kevod ha-met), and to comfort the living (nihum avelim), who will miss the deceased.

Care for the Dead

After a person dies, the eyes are closed, the body is laid on the floor and covered, and candles are lit next to the body.  The body is never left alone until after burial, as a sign of respect.  The people who sit with the dead body are called shomerim, from the root Shin-Mem-Resh, meaning guards or keepers.

Respect for the dead body is a matter of paramount importance.  For example, the shomerim may not eat, drink, or perform certains commandments such as prayer in the presence of the dead.  To do so would be considered mocking the dead, because the dead can no longer do these things.

Most communities have an organization to care for the dead, known as the chevra kaddisha (the holy society).  These people are volunteers.  Their work is considered extremely meritorious, because they are performing a service for someone who can never repay them.

Autopsies in general are discouraged as desecration of the body.  They are permitted, however, where it may save a life or where local law requires it.  When autopsies must be performed, they should be minimally intrusive.

The presence of a dead body is considered a source of ritual impurity.  For this reason, a kohein may not be in the presence of a corpse.  People who have been in the presence of a corpse customarily wash their hands, even though they need not.  This is done to symbolically remove spiritual impurity, not physical uncleanness:  it applies regardless of whether you have physically touched the body.

In preparation for the burial, the body is thoroughly cleaned and wrapped in a simple, plain linen shroud.  The Sages decreed that both the dress of the body and the coffin should be simple, so that a poor person would not receive less honor in death than a rich person.  The body is wrapped in a tallit with its tzitzit rendered invalid.  The body is not embalmed, and no organs or fluids may be removed.

The body must not be cremated.  It must be buried in the earth.  Coffins are not required, but they may be used.

The body is never displayed at funerals; open casket ceremonies are forbidden by Jewish law.  According to Jewish law, exposing a body is considered disrespectful, because it allows not only friends, but also enemies to view the dead, mocking their helpless state.

Jewish law requires that a tombstone be prepared, so that the deceased will not be forgotten and the grave will not be desecrated.  It is customary in some communities to keep the tombstone veiled, or to delay in putting it up, until the end of the 12-month mourning period.  The idea underlying this custom is that the dead will not be forgotten when he is being mourned every day.  In communities where this custom is observed, there is generally a formal unveiling ceremony when the tombstone is revealed.

It is also customary in many communities to place small stones on a gravesite when visiting it.  This custom has become well-known from the movie Schindler’s List, in which the children of Survivors place stones on the grave of Oscar Schindler.  It is difficult to find much information about this custom; none of the usual resources on Orthodox or Conservative practice discusses it.  The custom is not universal, even among traditional Jews, and there seems to be some doubt as to how it originated.  It seems to have superstitious origins.  As far as we can tell, it is a little like leaving a calling card for the dead person, to let them know you were there.  Some other sources suggest that it was originally done because we are required to erect a tombstone, and tombstones that actually looked like tombstones tended to get desecrated.

Mourning

Jewish mourning practices can be broken into several periods of decreasing intensity.  These mourning periods allow the full expression of grief, while discouraging excesses of grief and allowing the mourner to gradually return to a normal life.

When a close relative (parent, sibling, child, or spouse) first hears of the death of a relative, it is required to express the initial grief by tearing one’s clothing.  The tear is made over the heart if the deceased is a parent, or over the right side of the chest for other relatives.  This tearing of the clothing is referred to as "keriyah" (literally, "tearing").  The mourner recites the blessing describing God as "the true Judge", an acceptance of God’s taking of the life of a relative.

From the time of death to the burial, the mourner’s sole responsibility is caring for the deceased and preparing for the burial.  This period is known as aninut.  During this time, the mourners are exempt from all positive commandments ("thou shalt"s), because the preparations take first priority.  This period usually lasts a day or two; Judaism requires prompt burial.

During this aninut period, the family should be left alone and allowed the full expression of grief.  Condolence calls or visits should not be made during this time.

After the burial, a close relative, near neighbor, or friend prepares the first meal for the mourners, the se’udat havra’ah (meal of condolence).  This meal traditionally consists of eggs (a symbol of life) and bread.  The meal is for the family only, not for visitors.  After this time, condolence calls are permitted.

The next period of mourning is known as shiva (seven, because it lasts seven days).  Shiva is observed by parents, children, spouses, and siblings of the deceased, preferably all together in the deceased’s home.  Shiva begins on the day of burial and continues until the morning of the seventh day after burial.  Mourners sit on low stools or the floor instead of chairs, do not wear leather shoes, do not shave or cut their hair, do not wear cosmetics, do not work, and do not do things for comfort or pleasure, such as bathe, have sex, put on fresh clothing, or study Torah (including Torah related to mourning and grief, despite the custom to the contrary!).  Mourners wear the clothes that they tore at the time of learning of the death or at the funeral.  Prayer services are held where the shiva is held, with friends neighbors and relatives making up the minyan (10 people required for certain prayers).

The Sabbath that occurs during the shiva period counts toward the seven days of shiva, but is not observed as a day of mourning.  If a festival occurs during the mourning period, the mourning is terminated, but if the burial occurs during a festival, the mourning is delayed until after the festival.

The next period of mourning is known as shloshim (thirty, because it lasts until the 30th day after burial).  During that period, the mourners do not attend parties or celebrations, do not shave or cut their hair, and do not listen to music.

The final period of formal mourning is avelut, which is observed only for a parent.  This period lasts for twelve months after the burial.  During that time, mourners avoid parties, celebrations, theater, and concerts.  For eleven months of that period, starting at the time of burial, the son of the deceased customarily recites the mourner’s Kaddish every day, even though he need not say it at all.

After the avelut period is complete, the family of the deceased is not permitted to continue formal mourning; however, there are a few continuing acknowledgments of the deceased.  Every year, on the anniversary of the death, family members observe the deceased’s Yahrzeit (Yiddish, lit.  "anniversary").  Sons recite Kaddish and take an aliyah (bless the Torah reading) in synagogue if possible.  Mourners light a candle in honor of the deceased that burns for 24 hours.  In addition, during services on Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, the last day ofPassover, and Shavu’ot, after the haftarah reading in synagogue, close relatives recite the mourner’s prayer, Yizkor ("May He remember . . .") in synagogue.  Yahrzeit candles are also lit on those days.

When visiting a mourner, a guest should not try to express grief with standard, shallow platitudes.  The guest should allow the mourner to initiate conversations.  One should not divert the conversation from talking about the deceased; to do so would limit the mourner’s ability to fully express grief, which is the purpose of the mourning period.  On the contrary, the caller should encourage conversation about the deceased.

When leaving a house of mourning, it is traditional for the guest to say, "May the LORD comfort you with all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem".

Kaddish

Kaddish is commonly known as a mourner’s prayer, but in fact, variations on the Kaddish prayer are routinely recited at many other times, and the prayer itself has nothing to do with death or mourning.  The prayer begins "May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified in the world that He created as He willed.  May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days . . ." and continues in much that vein.  The real mourner’s prayer is El Molai Rachamim, which is customarily recited at grave sites and during funerals.

Why, then, is Kaddish recited by mourners?

After a great loss like the death of a parent, you might expect a person to lose faith in God, or to cry out against God’s injustice.  Instead, Judaism requires a mourner to stand up every day, publicly (i.e., in front of a minyan, a quorum of 10 adult men), and reaffirm faith in God despite this loss.  To do so inures to the merit of the deceased in the eyes of God, because the deceased must have been a very good parent to raise a child who could express such faith in the face of personal loss.

A person is permitted to recite Kaddish for other close relatives as well as parents, but only if his parents are dead.

Recommended Reading

The definitive book on Jewish mourning practices is Maurice Lamm’s The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning.  For information about the wide variety of Jewish views on what happens after death, see Simcha Paul Raphael’s book, Jewish Views of the Afterlife.  Both are available through most commercial bookstores.

 

 

Bibliography

Level:  Basic

The question most frequently asked is, "Where can I find a book on . . .".  Below is information about some of the resources used in compiling the information on this site.  With one notable exception, all of these books were purchased in regular bookstores, and should be readily available to the general public.  While the perspective of the recommended books is not our perspective, we do think that there is a great deal to learn from them, though even the Orthodox ones often recommend customs that are in contradiction to Torah requirements.

Suitable For Beginners
The Holy Scriptures, Jewish Publication Society, 1955
There can be no resource more basic than the text of the Hebrew Bible itself.  Those who cannot read Hebrew should use a translation prepared by Jews, with the Jewish understanding of the scriptures in mind (without a Christian bias).  This version, often referred to as the JPS translation, is the first and most commonly used Jewish translation into English.  The language is somewhat archaic, with a feel somewhat similar to the KJV.  We like it so well that we have two online versions of the JPS translation on this site, one in English only and one in parallel Hebrew and English verses.  The 1955 edition is essentially a reprint of the 1917 edition (now in the public domain); a later edition is available both on CD ROM (which we cannot recommend) and in print.  You should try reading in any edition of the Bible before buying it, as you may or may not like the style, even if the content is good.
The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, Soncino Press, 1985
The complete text of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, along with the haftarot that go with each parashah.  The pointed Hebrew text, along with complete cantillation (musical notation) is displayed side-by-side with the JPS English translation.  The text is extensively annotated; footnotes routinely occupy one-third of each page, compiling information from a wide variety of traditional Jewish commentaries on the Bible.  Sometimes referred to as the Soncino Chumash.
The Living Torah, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Maznayim Publishing, 1981
The five books of the Written Torah only, in a translation in plain and readable English style, with extensive notes and diagrams that we find very helpful.  This one is also on line at the Ort Bible site.
To Be a Jew, Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, Basic Books, 1972
Unquestionably the best resource on Orthodox Jewish belief and practice that is readily available to the general public.  Donin begins with an extensive discussion of Judaism’s underlying beliefs and ethical structure, then proceeds to discuss the Sabbath, kashrut, family life, holidays, marriage, divorce, death and mourning, and many other important aspects of Jewish practice.  Donin provides complete details on Orthodox customs as well as the elements necessary to fulfill the various commandments related to each of the subjects he discusses.  The companion volume, To Pray as a Jew, is also an excellent resource, but somewhat technical for a beginner.
The Jewish Primer, Rabbi Dr. Shmuel Himelstein, Facts on File, 1989
An excellent beginner’s resource on Jewish belief and observance, written in a very readable question-and-answer style.  It covers many of the same subjects that Donin does, but addresses Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist practice as well as Orthodox.  It provides far less detail on the intricacies of observance than Donin’s work does.
Basic Judaism, Milton Steinberg, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1947
A concise discussion of Jewish belief, presenting and contrasting the traditional and modern perspectives.  It discusses Torah, God, life, the Jewish people and our relation to the other nations, Jewish practice, Jewish law, and the World to Come.  One of the best things about this book is that it shows that all Jewish movements have more in common with each other than any has with any other religion.
Heritage:  Civilization and the Jews, Abba Eban, Summit Books, 1984
From the PBS series of the same name.  The history of the Jewish people from the time of Abraham to the present, relying on both biblical evidence and modern archaeological finds, with extensive illustrations.
The Artscroll Siddur (Siddur Kol Yaakov), Mesorah Publications, 1985
It is an Orthodox daily prayer book, with beautiful, easy-to-read Hebrew text, plain English translations, detailed commentary, and extensive explanation of what to do (it even tells you when to sit down, stand up, bow, etc.).  The Artscroll series has an extensive line of similar Jewish books, all of which share these fine qualities.
For More Advanced Study
The Essential Talmud, Adin Steinsaltz, Basic Books, 1976
Adin Steinsaltz is widely considered to be one of the greatest Talmudic minds of our century.  His commentaries on the Talmud are gaining wide acceptance as standard study materials.  In this relatively short book, Steinsaltz gives an overview of the Talmud, discussing its history, structure, content, and methodology.  He gives brief summaries of significant Jewish law on matters like prayer, the Sabbath, holidays, marriage and divorce, women, civil and criminal law, animal sacrifice, kashrut, ritual purity, ethics, and Jewish mysticism.
Everyman’s Talmud, A. Cohen, Schocken Books, 1949
A comprehensive summary of the Talmud’s teachings about religion, ethics, folklore, and jurisprudence.  For the most part, Cohen allows the Talmud to speak for itself, quoting extensively and providing limited commentary.  It is one of the few books that seriously addresses the folklore contained in the Talmud (although Steinsaltz talks about mysticism, and points out that it was taught to a select few).  Cohen talks extensively about demonology, angelology, magic, and dreams.
The Concise Book of Mitzvoth, The Chafetz Chayim, Feldheim Pubs, 1990
A list of all of the commandments that can be observed today, with a brief explanation of the source and meaning of the commandment.  Printed with English and pointed Hebrew side by side.
The Mishnah – a New Translation, Jacob Neusner, Yale University Press, 1988
Yes, the entire Mishnah is available in a single (albeit very large) volume, in English.  Neusner provides absolutely no commentary or explanation, but does break each passage down into phrases, which helps the reader figure out who said what and what the final decision was on each matter.
Publishers and Booksellers On Line

Note:  The links below will take you to several Jewish publishers and booksellers with sites on the Web.  Many of these sources sell materials that are not Orthodox.  Sites are listed in alphabetical order.

1-800-JUDAISM
A mail order service offering a wide variety of Judaic materials.
Artscroll/Mesorah Publications
Without a doubt the finest publisher of Orthodox Jewish materials.  Their materials are suitable for readers at all levels.
Feldheim Publishers
One of the oldest publishers of Jewish books in the U.S.  There is a lot of good material here, covering all movements of Judaism.
Jason Aronson Publishers
Their prices are a bit high, but they have an unusually broad selection of Judaic materials.  They specialize in secondary sources, not primary reference material.
KTAV Publishing House

For additional sources, see the list of Jewish book publishers on YahooNOTE: Exercise extreme caution when searching for Jewish materials on Yahoo!  They have a long history of failing to distinguish between real Judaism and Christian missionary activity targeted at Jews!

 

 

Common Prayers and Blessings

Level:  Intermediate

We see a real need for a basic prayerbook for the whole year, including only what need be said (most prayerbooks are mostly what is merely optional).  We have prepared a prayerbook in Hebrew only, and plan to try to bring as much as possible of it with English translations and explanations at this site.

Several bilingual prayerbooks are available in print.  We would recommend against any that require more than one small volume for all prayers of the full yearly cycle, including Shabbat, Holidays, and Yom Kippur.

 

 

Glossary of Jewish Terminology

Following is a partial list of Hebrew, Yiddish, and other Jewish terms used on this web site.  Unless otherwise specified, the terms are Hebrew.

We have attempted to provide pronunciations for most of these terms.  Some of the pronunciations may not be strictly, technically correct, but they are the way we usually hear the terms pronounced.  Unfortunately, what is usually heard among English speakers is a mix of Ashkenazic and Sefardic pronunciations.  We have tried to present the Sefardic pronunciation as much as possible, but some things are never heard pronounced that way!

Guide to pronunciation:

  • ‘ – a vowel that is not quite pronounced; a very short e
  • a – as in at
  • ah – as in father
  • ahy – as in my
  • aw -as in awe (often used as awr to sound like or)
  • ay – as in way
  • e – as in bet
  • ee – as in me
  • i – as in it
  • oh – as in hope
  • oo – as in food
  • uh – as in up
  • u – as in put
  • kh – as in Scottish or German, a throat clearing noise
  • tsch – as in chair
  • ts – as in paints

– # –

13 Principles of Faith
The most widely accepted list of Jewish beliefs, compiled by Maimonides.
613 Commandments
Judaism teaches that God gave the Jews 613 commandments, which are binding on Jews but not on non-Jews.  See Halakhah:  Jewish Law; A List of the 613 Mitzvot.

– A –

Abortion
See Kosher Sex – Abortion.
Adar
The twelfth month of the Jewish year, occurring in February/March.  See Months of the Jewish Year.
Adoption
There is no formal procedure for adoption in Judaism, but one who raises another person’s child is acknowledged as the parent in many important ways.
Adoshem
A substitute for a name of God.  See The Name of God.
Agunah
Literally, anchored.  A woman whose husband disappeared without divorcing her.
Akiba (uh-KEE-buh)
One of the greatest rabbis recorded in the Talmud.
Al Cheit (AHL CHAYT)
Literally, for the sin.  A confession of community sins recited repeatedly on Yom Kippur.  See Yom Kippur Liturgy.
Alef-Bet (AH-lef-bet)
The Hebrew alphabet.  The name is derived from the first two letters of the Hebrew Alphabet.
Aliyah (uh-LEE-uh; ah-lee-AH)
Literally, ascension.  1) Reading from the Torah; (or reciting a blessing over the reading) during services, which is considered an honor (generally referred to in English as having or getting an aliyah and pronounced uh-LEE-uh).  See also Bar Mitzvah.  2) Emigrating to Israel (generally referred to in English as making aliyah and pronounced ah-lee-AH).
Amidah (uh-MEE-duh)
Literally, standing.  A prayer that is the center of any Jewish religious service.  Also known as the Shemoneh Esrei or the Tefillah.  See Jewish Liturgy.
Animals
See Treatment of Animals; Qorbanot:  Sacrifices and Offerings.
Aninut
The period of mourning between the time of death and the time of burial.
Arbah Minim
Literally, four species.  Fruit and branches used to fulfill the commandment to "rejoice before the LORD" during Sukkot.
Ark
An acronym of aron kodesh, lit., holy chest.  The cabinet where the Torah scrolls are kept.  The word has no connection with Noah’s Ark, which is "teyvat" in Hebrew.
Aron Kodesh (AH-rohn KOH-desh)
Literally, holy chest.  The cabinet where the Torah scrolls are kept.
Asham (ah-SHAHM)
A guilt offering.  A type of sacrifice used to atone for sins of stealing things from the altar, for when you are not sure whether you have committed a sin or what sin you have committed, or for breach of trust.
Ashkenazic Jews (ahsh-ken-AH-zik)
Jews from eastern France, Germany, and Eastern Europe, and their descendants.
Av
The fifth month of the Jewish year, occurring in July/August.  See Months of the Jewish Year.
Avelut
The period of mourning after the burial of a parent, child, sibling, or spouse.

– B –

Baal Shem Tov (bahl shem tohv)
Literally, Master of the Good Name.  Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer.  The founder of Chasidic Judaism.
Bagel (BAY-g’l)
Donut-shaped bread that is boiled before it is baked.
Bar Kokhba (BAHR KOHKH-buh)
Aramaic:  Son of a Star.  Simeon ben Kosiba, the leader of the last and most successful Jewish rebellion against Rome in 132-135 C.E.  He died in battle when the rebellion was defeated.  Rabbi Akiba believed he was the Mashiach (Messiah).
Bar Mitzvah (BAHR MITS-vuh)
Literally, son of the commandment.  A boy who has reached the age of 13 and is consequently obligated to observe the commandments.  Also, a ceremony marking the fact that a boy has reached this age.
Bat Mitzvah (BAHT MITS-vuh)
Literally, daughter of the commandment.  A girl who has reached the age of 12 and is consequently obligated to observe the commandments.  Also, a ceremony marking the fact that a girl has reached this age.
B.C.E.
Before the Common (or Christian) Era.  An alternative way of saying B.C. (before Christ), since we know that Jesus was not the Christ (messiah).
Beginning of Day
A day on the Jewish calendar begins at sunset.  When a date is given for a Jewish holiday, the holiday actually begins at sunset on the preceding day.  See When Holidays Begin.
Beit Din (BAYT DIN)
Literally, house of judgment.  A rabbinical court made up of three observant Jews who resolve business disputes under Jewish law and determine whether a prospective convert is ready for conversion.
Beit Hillel (BAYT HIL-el; BAYT hil-EL)
Literally, House of Hillel.  A school of thought during the Talmudic period, generally contrasted with the stricter views of Beit Shammai.
Beit Knesset (BAYT K’NESS-et)
Literally, house of assembly.  A Hebrew term for a synagogue.
Beit Midrash (BAYT MID-rahsh)
Literally, house of study.  A place set aside for study of sacred texts such as the Torah and the Talmud, generally a part of the synagogue or attached to it.
Beit Shammai (BAYT SHAH-mahy)
Literally, House of Shammai.  A school of thought during the Talmudic period, generally contrasted with the more lenient views of Beit Hillel.
Beliefs
See What Do Jews Believe?; The Nature of God; Human Nature; Kabbalah.
Bentsch (BENTSCH)
Yiddish:  bless.  To recite a blessing.  Usually refers to the recitation of the birkat ha-mazon (grace after meals).  See Prayers and Blessings.
Berakhah (B’RUHKH-khah; b’ruhkh-KHAH); pl:  Berakhot (b’ruhkh-KHOHT)
A blessing.  A prayer beginning with the phrase "barukh atah . . ." (blessed art Thou . . .).
Bible
See Torah.
Bimah (BEE-muh)
The pedestal on which the Torah scrolls are placed when they are being read in the synagogue; i.e., the pulpit.
Binah (bee-NAH)
Intuition, understanding, intelligence.  A quality that women supposedly have in greater degree than men.  Also, in kabbalistic thought, one of the Ten Sefirot.
Birkat Ha-Mazon (BEER-kaht hah mah-ZOHN)
Literally, blessing of the food.  Grace after meals.  The recitation of birkat ha-mazon is commonly referred to as bentsching.
Birth
See Birth and the First Month of Life.
Birth Control
See Kosher Sex – Birth Control.
Blessing
See Prayers and Blessings.
Blintz (BLINTS)
Yiddish.  A thin, crepe-like pancake rolled around a filling of potato and onion, cheese, or fruit.
Books
See Bibliography; Torah.
Brit Milah (BRIT MEE-lah)
Literally, covenant of circumcision.  The ritual circumcision of a male Jewish child on the 8th day of his life or of a male convert to Judaism.  Frequently referred to as a brit or bris.
Burial
See Care for the Dead.
Burnt Offering
A type of sacrifice that represents complete submission to God’s will.  It is completely consumed by fire on the altar.  In Hebrew, it is called an olah.

– C –

Calendar
See Jewish Calendar.
C.E.
Common (or Christian) Era.  Used instead of A.D., because A.D.  means the Year of the Lord, and we know that Jesus is not the LORD.
Chai (KHAHY, rhymes with Hi!)
Literally, living or life.  The word is often used as a design on jewelry and other ornaments.  Donations to charity are often made in multiples of 18, the numerical value of the word.
Challah (KHAH-luh)
A sweet, eggy, yellow bread, usually braided, which is served on Sabbaths and holidays.
Chametz (KHUH-mitz)
Literally, leaven.  Leavened grain products, which may not be owned or consumed during Passover.
Chanukkah (KHAH-nik-uh; KHAH-noo-kah)
Literally, dedication.  An eight day holiday celebrating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by the Selucid Greeks.
Chanukkat Ha-Bayit (KHAH-noo-KAHT hah BAHY-eet)
Literally, dedication of the house.  A brief ceremony dedicating a Jewish household, during which the mezuzah is affixed to the doorposts.
Charity
See Tzedakah.
Charoset (khah-ROH-set)
A mixture of fruit, wine, and nuts eaten at the Passover seder to symbolize mortar used by the Jewish slaves in Egypt.
Chasidism (KHAH-sid-ism); Chasidic (khah-SID-ic)
From the word "Chasid" meaning pious.  A branch of Orthodox Judaism that maintains a lifestyle separate from the non-Jewish world.  See Movements of Judaism.
Chatat (khah-TAHT)
A sin offering.  A type of sacrifice used to atone for and expiate unintentional sins.
Chazzan (KHAH-zen)
Cantor.  The person who leads the congregation in prayer.  May be a professional or a member of the congregation.
Chelev (KHE-lev)
The fat surrounding organs, as distinguished from the fat surrounding muscles.  Forbidden to be eaten under the dietary laws.
Chevra Kaddisha (KHEV-ruh kah-DEESH-uh)
Literally, holy society.  An organization devoted to caring for the dead.
Chillul Ha-Shem (khil-LOOL hah SHEM)
Literally, profanation of the Name.  Causing God or Judaism to come into disrespect, or causing a person to violate a commandment.  See The Name of God.
Chol Ha-Mo’ed (KHOHL hah MOH-ed; KHOHL hah moh-AYD)
The intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot, when work is permitted.
Cholent (TSCHUH-lent)
A slow cooked stew of beef, beans, and barley, which is served on Sabbaths.
Chukkim (khook-EEM)
Jewish religious laws for which no reason is given in the Torah.  Some believe that they are meant to show our obedience to God.
Chumash (KHUH-mish)
Literally, five.  A compilation of the first five books of the Bible and readings from the prophets, organized in the order of the weekly Torah portions.
Chuppah (KHU-puh)
Today, the wedding canopy, symbolic of the groom’s home, under which the main part of the wedding ceremony is performed.
Circumcision
Removal of the foreskin, a commandment in Judaism performed on the 8th day of a male child’s life or upon conversion to Judaism.  See Brit Milah:  Circumcision.
Clothing
See Tzitzit and Tallit; Yarmulke.
Commandments
See Halakhah:  Jewish Law; A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments).
Confirmation
A ceremony performed in some Reform and Conservative synagogues to replace or supplement the Bar Mitzvah.
Conservative
One of the major movements of Judaism, accepting the binding nature of Jewish law but believing that the law can change.
Contraception
See Kosher Sex – Birth Control.
Conversion
See Who is a Jew?; Jewish Attitudes Towards Non-Jews; Conversion.
Cooking
See Jewish Cooking; Kashrut.
Counting of the Omer
The counting of the days between Passover and Shavu’ot.

– D –

Dati (DAH-tee)
The Hebrew word for religious Jews, used in Israel.
Daven (DAH-ven)
Yiddish:  Pray.  See Prayers and Blessings; Jewish Liturgy.
Days of Awe
Ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, a time for introspection and considering the sins of the previous year.
Divorce
See Divorce; Marriage.
Dreidel
A top-like toy used to play a traditional Chanukkah game.

– E –

Ein Sof (ayn sohf)
Literally, without end.  In Jewish mysticism, the true essence of God, which is so transcendent that it cannot be described and cannot interact directly with the universe.
Elokeynu
A substitute for a name of God.  See The Name of God.
Essenes
A movement of Judaism that existed around the time of the dawn of Christianity.  It died out shortly after the destruction of the Temple.
Esther
One of the heroes of the story of Purim.  Also, the book in the Bible that tells her story.
Ethiopian Jews
The Jews of Ethiopia, whose customs and practices are somewhat different from those of Ashkenazic or Sephardic Jews.  See Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews.
Etrog (ET-rohg)
A citrus fruit native to Israel, used to fulfill the commandment to "rejoice before the LORD" during Sukkot.
Evil Impulse
See Human Nature – The Dual Nature.

– F –

Family Purity
Laws relating to the separation of husband and wife during the woman’s menstrual period.  Also referred to as the laws of niddah or taharat ha-mishpachah.
Fast Days
See Yom Kippur; Tisha B’Av; Minor Fasts.
Firstborn
See Pidyon Ha-Ben:  Redemption of the Firstborn.
Fleishig (FLAHYSH-ig)
Yiddish:  meat.  Used to describe foods that contain meat and therefore cannot be eaten with dairy.  See Kashrut – Separation of Meat and Dairy.
Food
See Jewish Cooking; Kashrut.
Four Species
Fruit and branches used to fulfill the commandment to "rejoice before the LORD" during Sukkot.
Free Will
See Human Nature – The Dual Nature.

– G –

G-d
A way of avoiding writing a Name of God, to avoid the risk of the sin of erasing or defacing the Name.  See The Name of God, The Nature of God.
Gefilte Fish (g’-FIL-tuh)
Yiddish:  lit.stuffed fish.  A traditional Jewish dish consisting of a ball or cake of chopped up fish.
Gemara (g’-MAHR-uh)
Commentaries on the Mishnah.  The Mishnah and Gemara together are the Talmud.
Gematria (g’-MAH-tree-uh)
A field of Jewish mysticism finding hidden meanings in the numerical value of words.
Gentiles
See Jewish Attitudes Toward Non-Jews.
Get (GET)
A writ of divorce.  Also called a sefer k’ritut.
Gezeirah (g’-ZAY-ruh)
A law instituted by the rabbis to prevent people from unintentionally violating commandments.
Gossip
Gossiping is a serious sin in Judaism.  See Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra.
Goy
Literally, nation.  A non-Jew, that is, a member of one of the other nations.  There is nothing inherently insulting about the term; the word "goy" is used in the Torah to describe Israel.  See Jewish Attitudes Toward Non-Jews.
Grace After Meals
See Birkat Ha-Mazon.
Grager (GREG-er; GRAG-er)
A noisemaker used to blot out the name of Haman during the reading of the Megillah on Purim.
Guide for the Perplexed
Maimonides‘ masterpiece of Jewish philosophy and theology, written from the perspective of a Torah scholar conversant in Arab and Greek sciences and philosophy.
Guilt Offering
A type of sacrifice used to atone for sins of stealing things from the altar, for when you are not sure whether you have committed a sin or what sin you have committed, or for breach of trust.

– H –

Haftarah (hahf-TOH-ruh)
Literally, conclusion.  A reading from the Prophets, read along with the weekly Torah portion.
Haggadah (huh-GAH-duh)
The book read during the Passover Seder, telling the story of the holiday.
Halakhah (huh-LUHKH-khuh)
Literally, the path that one walks.  Jewish law.  The complete body of rules and practices that Jews are bound to follow, including biblical commandments, commandments instituted by the rabbis, and binding customs.  See also Torah, A List of the 613 Mitzvot.
Hallel
Literally, praise God.  Psalms 113-118, in praise of God, which are recited on certain holidays.  See Jewish Liturgy.
Haman (HAY-men)
The villain of the story of Purim.
Hamentaschen (HAH-men-TAH-shen)
Literally, Haman’s pockets.  Triangular, fruit-filled cookies traditionally served or given as gifts during Purim.
Haredi
The Hebrew word for Ultra-Orthodox Jews, used in Israel.
Ha-Shem (hah SHEM)
Literally, The Name.  The Name of God, which is not pronounced.  The phrase "ha-Shem" is often used as a substitute for God’s Name.
Hatafat Dam Brit (hah-tah-FAHT DAHM BRIT)
A symbolic circumcision of a person who has already been circumcised or who was born without a foreskin.  It involves taking a pinprick of blood from the part of the penis where the foreskin would normally have been attached.  See Brit Milah:  Circumcision.
Havdalah (Hahv-DAH-luh)
Literally, separation, division.  A ritual marking the end of the Sabbath or a holiday.
Hebrew
See Hebrew Alphabet; Hebrew Language:  Root Words.
Hillel (HIL-el; hil-EL)
One of the greatest rabbis recorded in the Talmud.  His views of Jewish law are often contrasted with the stricter views of Shammai.  Also:  a Jewish college student organization under the auspices of B’nai Brith.
Hiloni
The Hebrew word for secular Jews, used in Israel.
Holidays
See Jewish Holidays and pages following it.
Holishkes (HOH-lish-kuhs)
Cabbage leaves stuffed with meatballs served in a tomato-based sweet and sour sauce.
Hoshanah Rabba (hoh-SHAH-nuh RAH-buh)
Literally, great hosanna.  The seventh day of Sukkot, on which seven circuits are made around the synagogue reciting a prayer with the refrain, "Hosha na!" (please save us!).
Human Nature
See Human Nature.

– I –

Image of God
See Human Nature – In the Image of God; The Nature of God.
Interfaith Marriage
Marriage to a non-Jew is not recognized as "marriage" in Jewish law.  The increasing frequency of intermarriage is a source of great concern to traditional Jews.  See also Marriage.
Iyar
The second month of the Jewish year, occurring in April/May.  See Months of the Jewish Year.

– J –

Jew
A person whose mother was a Jew or who has converted to Judaism.  According to the Reform movement, a person whose father is a Jew is also a Jew.  See Who Is a Jew?
Jewish Law
See Halakhah.
Jewish Star
The six-pointed star emblem commonly associated with Judaism, also known as the Magen David, the Shield of David, or the Star of David.
Judah Ha-Nasi (JOO-duh hah NAH-see)
Compiler of the Mishnah.

– K –

Kabbalah (kuh-BAH-luh)
Literally, tradition.  Jewish mystical tradition.
Kaddish (KAH-dish)
Aramaic:  holy.  A prayer in Aramaic praising God, commonly associated with mourning practices.  See also Jewish Liturgy.
Kapparot
Literally, atonements.  A custom during the Days of Awe.
Karet (KAH-reht)
The penalty of spiritual excision, imposed by God.  Certain sins, such as failure to circumcise, are so severe that one who violates them has no place in the World to Come.
Kashrut (KAHSH-rut; KAHSH-root; kahsh-ROOT)
From a root meaning fit, proper, or correct.  In English, mostly refers to Jewish dietary laws.
Kavanah (kuh-VAH-nuh; kah-vah-NAH)
Concentration, intent.  The frame of mind required for prayer or performance of a mitzvah.
Kavod Ha-Met (kuh-VOHD hah MAYT)
Literally, respect for the dead.  One of the purposes of Jewish practices relating to death and mourning.
Keriyah (KREE-yuh)
Literally, tearing.  The tearing of one’s clothes upon hearing of the death of a close relative.  See Mourning.
Ketubah (KTOO-buh)
Literally, writing.  The Jewish marriage contract.
Kiddush (KID-ish)
Literally, sanctification.  A prayer recited over wine sanctifying the Sabbath or a holiday.
Kiddush Ha-Shem (ki-DOOSH hah SHEM)
Literally, sanctification of The Name.  Any deed that increases the respect accorded to God or Judaism, especially martyrdom.  See The Name of God.
Kiddushin
Literally, sanctification.  The first part of the two-part process of Jewish marriage, which creates the legal relationship without the mutual obligations.
Kippah (KEY-puh)
The skullcap worn by Jews, more commonly known as a yarmulke in English.
Kislev
The ninth month of the Jewish year, occurring in November/December.  See Months of the Jewish Year.
Kittel (KIT-‘l, rhymes with little, but the t is pronounced distinctly)
The white robes in which the dead are buried, worn by some during Yom Kippur services.
Knaydelach (KNAY-duhl-ahkh)
Yiddish:  dumplings.  Commonly refers to matzah balls.  Can also be used as a term of affection for small children.  See Jewish Cooking.
Knish (KNISH)
Yiddish.  A potato and flour dumpling stuffed with potato and onion, chopped liver, or cheese.
Kohein; (KOH-hayn) pl:  Kohanim (koh-HAHN-eem)
Priest.  A descendant of Aaron, charged with performing various rites in the Temple.  This is not the same thing as a rabbi.
Kol Nidre (KOHL NID-ray)
Literally, all vows.  The evening service of Yom Kippur, or the prayer that begins that service.
Kosher (KOH-sher)
Literally, fit, proper, or correct.  Describes food that is permissible to eat under Jewish dietary laws.  Can also describe any other ritual object that is fit for use according to Jewish law.
Kugel (KOO-gul; KI-gul)
Yiddish:  pudding.  A casserole of potatoes, eggs, and onion, or a dessert of noodles, fruits, and nuts in an egg based pudding.

– L –

Ladino (Luh-DEE-noh)
The "international language" of Sefardic Jews, based primarily on Spanish, with words taken from Hebrew, Arabic, and other languages, and originally written in the Hebrew Alphabet; today, written in Latin letters like Spanish.
Latkes (LAHT-kuhs; LAHT-kees)
Potato pancakes traditionally eaten during Chanukkah.
Lashon Ha-Ra (LAH-shohn HAH-rah; luh-SHOHN hah-RAH)
Literally, the evil tongue.  Sins against other people committed by speech, such as defamation, gossip, swearing falsely, and scoffing.
L’Chayim (l’-KHAHY-eem)
Literally, to life.  A common Jewish toast.
Leap Year
A year with an extra month, to realign the Jewish lunar calendar with the solar year.  See Jewish Calendar.
Levi (LAY-vee); Levite (LEE-vahyt)
A descendant of the tribe of Levi, which was set aside to perform certain duties in connection with the Temple.
Liberal
One of the most liberal movements of Judaism in the United Kingdom, but somewhat more traditional than the US Reform Movement.
Life
See Life, Death, and Mourning.
Liturgy
See Prayers and Blessings; Jewish Liturgy.
L-rd
A way of avoiding writing a Name of God, to avoid the risk of the sin of erasing or defacing the Name.  See The Name of God.
Love
See Love and Brotherhood.
Lox (LAHKS)
Smoked salmon.  Commonly served on a bagel.
L’Shanah Tovah (li-SHAH-nuh TOH-vuh; li-shah-NAH toh-VAH)
Literally, for a good year.  A common greeting during Rosh Hashanah and Days of Awe.
Lulav (LOO-lahv)
Literally, palm branch.  A collection of palm, myrtle, and willow branches, used to fulfill the commandment to "rejoice before the LORD" during Sukkot.

– M –

Ma’ariv (MAH-reev)
Evening prayer services.  See Jewish Liturgy.
Magen David (mah-GAYN dah-VEED; MAH-gen DAH-vid; MOH-gen DAY-vid)
Literally, shield of David.  The six-pointed star emblem commonly associated with Judaism.
Maimonides (mahy-MAH-ni-dees)
Rabbenu Moshe ben Maimon, one of the greatest medieval Jewish scholars.
Mamzer (MAHM-zer)
The child of a marriage that is prohibited and invalid under Jewish law, such as an incestuous union.
Marriage
See Marriage; Interfaith Marriages; Kosher Sex; Divorce.
Masekhtot
A subdivision of the Mishnah and Talmud.
Matzah (MAHTZ-uh)
Unleavened bread eaten during Passover.
Matzah Ball Soup
Thin chicken soup with dumplings made from matzah meal.
Matzah Meal
Crumbs of matzah, commonly used in Jewish Cooking in much the same way that other cultures use flour or bread crumbs.
Meal Offerings
An offering of meal or grain.
Mechitzah (m’-KHEETZ-uh)
The wall or curtain separating men from women during religious services.
Megillah (m’-GILL-uh)
Literally, scroll.  One of five books of the Bible (Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Esther).  The remaining books are referred to as sefers (books).  Usually refers to the book of Esther.  See Purim.
Melachah (m’-LUH-khuh)
Literally, work.  Work involving creation or exercise of control over the environment, which is prohibited on Shabbat and certain holidays.
Menorah (m’-NAW-ruh; me-NOH-ruh)
A candelabrum.  Usually refers to the nine-branched candelabrum used to hold the Chanukkah candles.  Can also refer to the seven-branched candelabrum used in the Temple.
Masorti
The Hebrew word for Jews who are traditionally observant but not Orthodox, used in Israel.
Mezuzah (m’-ZOO-zuh; m’-ZU-zuh)
Literally, doorpost.  A case attached to the doorposts of houses, containing a scroll with passages of scripture written on it.
Midrash (MID-rash)
From a root meaning to study, to seek out, or to investigate.  Stories elaborating on incidents in the Bible, to derive a principle of Jewish law or provide a moral lesson.
Mikveh (MIK-vuh)
Literally, gathering.  A ritual bath used for spiritual purification.  It is used primarily in conversion rituals and after the period of sexual separation during a woman’s menstrual periods, but many Chasidim immerse themselves in the mikveh regularly for general spiritual purification.
Milchig (MIL-khig)
Yiddish:  dairy.  Used to describe kosher foods that contain dairy products and therefore cannot be eaten with meat.  See Kashrut – Separation of Meat and Dairy.
Minchah (MIN-khuh)
1) Afternoon prayer services.  See Jewish Liturgy.  2) An offering of meal or grain.  See Food and Drink Offerings.
Minhag (MIN-hahg)
Literally, custom.  A custom that has become a binding religious practice.  The word is also used more loosely to describe any customary religious practice.
Minyan (MIN-yahn; MIN-yin)
The quorum necessary to recite certain prayers, consisting of ten adult Jewish men.  See Group Prayer.
Mishloach Manot (mish-LOahkh mah-NOHT)
Literally, sending out portions.  The sending gifts of food to friends during Purim.
Mishnah (MISH-nuh)
An early written compilation of Jewish oral tradition, the basis of the Talmud.
Mishneh Torah (MISH-ne TOH-ruh; MISH-nay TOH-ruh)
The code of Jewish law written by Maimonides.  One of the most respected compilations of Jewish law ever written, and the only one to cover the full scope of Jewish law.
Mitnagdim (mit-NAG-deem)
Literally, opponents.  Orthodox Jews who are not Chasidic.  See Movements of Judaism.
Mitzvah (MITS-vuh); pl:  Mitzvot (mits-VOHT)
Literally, commandment.  Any of the 613 commandments that Jews are obligated to observe.  It can also refer to any Jewish religious obligation, or more generally to any good deed.  See Halakhah:  Jewish Law – The 613 Mitzvot; A List of the 613 Mitzvot.
Mohel (Maw-y’l; rhymes with oil)
Literally, circumciser.  One who performs the ritual circumcision of an 8-day-old male Jewish child or of a convert to Judaism.  See Brit Milah:  Circumcision.
Mordecai (MOR-duh-khahy)
One of the heroes of the story of Purim.
Mashiach (mah-SHEE-ahkh or moh-SHEE-ahkh)
Literally, anointed.  A descendant of King David who will be chosen by God to put an end to all evil in the world, rebuild the Temple, bring the exiles back to Israel, and reestablish an independent Torah state in the Land of Israel.  Generally translated as "messiah", but the Jewish concept is very different from the Christian one.
Motzi Sheim Ra (MOH-tsee SHAYM RAH)
A person who "spreads a bad report"; that is, who tells disparaging lies.  It is the worst of the sins involving speech.  See Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra.
Mourning
See Life, Death, and Mourning – Mourning.
Movement
Roughly equivalent to "denomination", although the distinctions between Jewish movements are not as great as those between Christian denominations.
Musaf (MOO-sahf; MU-sahf)
An additional prayer service for Sabbaths and holidays.  See Jewish Liturgy.
Mysticism
See Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism.

– N –

Name of God
See The Name of God.
Names
Jewish children are ordinarily given a formal Hebrew name to be used for religious purposes.  See Naming a Child.
Navi (nah-VEE); pl.  N’vi-im (n’-vee-EEM)
From "niv sefatayim" meaning fruit of the lips.  A prophet.  A spokesman for God, chosen to convey a message or teaching.  Prophets were role models of holiness, scholarship, and closeness to God.  Also:  A section of the Tanakh containing the writings of the prophets.
Ne’ilah (n’-EE-luh)
Literally, closing.  The closing service of Yom Kippur.
Ner Tamid (NAYR tah-MEED)
Literally, continual lamp.  Usually translated "eternal flame".  A candelabrum or lamp near the ark in the synagogue that symbolizes the menorah in the Temple.
Nesekh
An offering of undiluted wine.
New Year
See Rosh Hashanah.
Niddah (nee-DAH)
The separation of husband and wife during the woman’s menstrual period.  Also refers to a woman so separated.  Also referred to as taharat ha-mishpachah or family purity.
Nihum Avelim
Literally, comforting mourners.  One of the Jewish practices relating to death and mourning.
Nisan
The first month of the Biblical Jewish year and the seventh month of the regular Jewish year, occurring in March/April.  See Months of the Jewish Year.
Nisuin
Literally, elevation.  The second part of the two-part Jewish marriage process, after which the bride and groom begin to live together as husband and wife.
Noahic Commandments
Seven commandments given to Noah after the flood, which are binding on both non-Jews to observe and Jews to administer.
Numbers
In Hebrew, all letters have a numerical value, and numbers are written using letters.  See Numerical Values of Words.

– O –

Offerings
See Qorbanot:  Sacrifices and Offerings.
Olah (oh-LAH)
Derived from a root meaning ascention.  A burnt offering, a type of sacrifice that represents complete submission to God’s will.  It is completely consumed by fire on the altar.
Old Testament
An offensive Christian term for the Hebrew Bible.  See Torah.
Omer (OH-mayr)
A unit of measure.  The period between Passover and Shavu’ot is known as the Omer period, because we count the days from the time that the first omer of barley is to be brought to the Temple.  See The Counting of the Omer.
Onah
The wife’s right to have regular sexual relations with her husband, a right that is fundamental to every Jewish marriage and that cannot be diminished by the husband.  See Kosher Sex; Marriage.
Oral Torah (TOH-ruh)
Jewish teachings explaining and elaborating on the Written Torah, handed down orally until the 2d century C.E.
Order
A division of the Mishnah and Talmud.
Original Sin
Judaism completely rejects the doctrine of original sin.  See Birth; The Dual Nature.
Orthodox
One of the major movements of Judaism, believing that Jewish law comes from God and cannot be changed.

– P –

Parah Adumah (Pahr-AH ah-doo-MAH)
Literally, red heifer.  An animal used as an offering in an unusual and mysterious ritual to purify from the defilement of contact with the dead.
Pareve (PAHR-ev)
Yiddish:  neutral.  Used to describe kosher foods that contain neither meat nor dairy and therefore can be eaten with either.  See Kashrut – Separation of Meat and Dairy.
Parshah (PAHR-shah) or parashah
A weekly Torah portion read in synagogue.
Passover
Holiday commemorating the Exodus from Egypt.  The holiday also marks the beginning of the harvest season.
Peace Offering
A type of sacrifice expressing thanks or gratitude.
Pentecost
See Shavu’ot.
Perutah (pe-ROO-tuh)
A small copper coin, sufficient to acquire a wife by money.
Pharisees (PHAR-i-sees)
A movement of Judaism that existed around the time of the dawn of Christianity.  It is the forerunner of rabbinic Judaism, which encompasses all of the movements of Judaism in existence today.
Phylacteries
See Tefillin.
Pidyon Ha-Ben (peed-YOHN hah-BEHN)
Literally, redemption of the son.  A ritual redeeming the firstborn son of any Jewish mother by payment to a kohein.
Pirkei Avot (PEER-kay ah-VOHT)
Literally, Ethics of the Fathers.  A tractate of the Mishnah devoted to ethical advice from many of the greatest rabbis of the early Talmudic period.
Priest
A descendant of Aaron, charged with performing various rites in the Temple.  This is not the same thing as a rabbi.  See Kohein.
Prophet
A spokesman for God, chosen to convey a message or teaching.  Prophets were role models of holiness, scholarship, and closeness to God.
Prophets
A section of Jewish scripture containing the writings of the Prophets.  See Torah – Written Torah.
Purim (PAWR-im)
Literally, lots (as in "lottery").  A holiday celebrating the rescue of the Jews from extermination at the hands of the chief minister to the King of Persia.
Prayer
See Prayers and Blessings; Jewish Liturgy.
Pushke (PUSH-kuh)
A box in the home or the synagogue used to collect money for donation to charity.

– Q –

Qorban (Kawr-BAHN); pl.  Qorbanot (kawr-BAHN-oht)
From a root meaning to draw near.  A sacrifice or offering.

– R –

Rabbi (RA-bahy)
A religious teacher and person authorized to make decisions on issues of Jewish law.
Rabbinical Judaism (ruh-BIN-i-kul)
A general term encompassing all movements of Judaism descended from Pharisaic Judaism; that is, all movements in existence today.
Rakheel (Rah-KHEEL)
A tale-bearer.  Derived from a word meaning trader or merchant.  Tale-bearing is a serious sin in Judaism.  See Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra.
Rashi (RAH-shee)
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, one of the greatest medieval Jewish scholars.
Rebbetzin (REB-i-tsin)
The wife of a rabbi.  See The Role of Women.
Rebbi (REB-bee)
Usu.  translated Grand Rabbi.  The leader of a Chasidic community, often believed to have special, mystical power.  Also called a tzaddik.
Recipes
See Jewish Cooking.
Reconstructionism
One of the major movements of Judaism, an outgrowth of Conservative that does not believe in a personified deity and believes that Jewish law was created by men.
Red Heifer (Red Cow)
An animal used as an offering in an unusual and mysterious ritual to purify from the defilement of contact with the dead.
Red Magen David (mah-GAYN dah-VEED; MAH-gen DAH-vid; MOH-gen DAY-vid)
This Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross.  "Magen David" is the Hebrew name of the six-pointed Jewish star.
Reform
One of the major movements of Judaism, believing that Jewish law was inspired by God and one can choose which laws to follow.
Rosh Chodesh (ROHSH CHOH-desh)
Literally, first of the month.  The first day of a month, on which the first sliver of the new moon appears.  See Jewish Calendar.
Rosh Hashanah (ROHSH hah SHAH-nuh; RUSH-uh SHAH-nuh)
Literally, first of the year.  The new year for the purpose of counting years.

– S –

Sabbath
See Shabbat.
Sacrifice
See Qorbanot:  Sacrifices and Offerings.
Sadducees (SAD-yoo-sees)
A movement of Judaism that existed around the time of the dawn of Christianity.  It died out shortly after the destruction of the Temple.
Sages
Refers generally to the greatest Jewish minds of all times.  See Sages and Scholars.
Sandak (SAN-dak)
The person given the honor of holding the baby during a ritual circumcision.  Sometimes referred to as a godfather.
Scriptures
See Torah.
Second Day of Holidays
An extra day is added to many holidays because in ancient times, there was doubt as to which day was the correct day.
Seder (SAY-d’r)
Literally, order.  1) The family home ritual conducted as part of the Passover observance.  2) A division of the Mishnah and Talmud.
Sefer K’ritut (SAY-fayr KREE-toot)
Literally, scroll of cutting off.  A writ of divorce.  Also called a get.
Sefirot (se-fee-ROHT)
Literally, emanations.  In Jewish mysticism, the emanations from God’s essence that interact with the universe.
Sekhakh (s’-KHAHKH)
Literally, covering.  Material used for the roof of a sukkah during the holiday of Sukkot.
Semikhah (s’-MIKH-uh)
Essentially, a rabbinical degree, authorizing a person to answer questions and resolve disputes regarding Jewish law.
Sephardic Jews (s’-FAHR-dic)
Jews from Spain, Portugal, North Africa, and the Middle East, and their descendants.
Services
See Jewish Liturgy, Yom Kippur Liturgy, Synagogues, Shuls, and Temples.
Se’udat Havra’ah
Literally, the meal of condolence.  The first meal that a family eats after the burial of a relative, prepared by a neighbor.  See Mourning.
Sex
See Kosher Sex; Marriage.
Shabbat (shah-BAT; SHAH-bis)
Literally, end, cease, rest.  The Jewish Sabbath, a day of rest and spiritual enrichment.
Shacharit (SHAHKH-reet)
Morning prayer services.  See Jewish Liturgy.
Shammai (SHAH-mahy)
One of the great rabbis of the Talmud.  His stricter views of Jewish law are often contrasted with those of Hillel.
Shammus (SHAH-mis)
Literally, servant.  1) The candle that is used to light other Chanukkah candles; 2) the janitor or caretaker of a synagogue.
Shavu’ot (shuh-VOO-oht; shah-VOO-uhs)
Literally, weeks.  A festival commemorating the giving of the Torah and the harvest of the first fruits.
Shechinah (sh’-KHEE-nuh)
The Divine Presence of God, generally represented as a feminine quality.  See The Nature of God; Prophets and Prophecy.
Shechitah (sh’-KHEE-tuh)
Literally, slaughtering or killing.  Kosher slaughter.
Shema (sh’-MAH)
One of the basic Jewish prayers.  See Jewish Liturgy; Signs and Symbols.
Shemini Atzeret (sh’MEE-nee aht-ZE-ret)
Literally, the eighth (day) of assembly.  The day (or two days) after Sukkot.
Shemoneh Esrei (sh’MOH-nuh ES-ray)
Literally, eighteen.  A prayer that is the center of any Jewish religious service.  Also known as the Amidah or the Tefillah.  See Jewish Liturgy.
Sheva Brakhos (SHE-vuh BRUH-khohs)
Literally, seven blessings.  The seven blessings recited during the nisuin portion of the Jewish wedding ceremony.
Shevarim (she-vahr-EEM)
One of four characteristic blasts of the shofar (ram’s horn).  See Rosh Hashanah.
Shevat
The eleventh month of the Jewish year, occurring in January/February.  See Months of the Jewish Year.
Shield of David
The six-pointed star emblem commonly associated with Judaism.
Shiksa
A derogatory term for a non-Jewish female.  See Jewish Attitudes Toward Non-Jews.
Shiva (SHI-vuh)
Literally, seven.  The seven-day period of mourning after the burial of a close relative.
Shkutz
A derogatory term for a non-Jewish male.  See Jewish Attitudes Toward Non-Jews.
Sh’lamim (shlah-MEEM)
Literally, peace [offering].  A type of sacrifice expressing thanks or gratitude.
Shloshim (shlohsh-EEM)
Literally, thirty.  The thirty-day period of mourning after the burial of a close relative.
Shochet (SHOH-khet)
Kosher slaughterer.
Shofar (sho-FAHR)
A ram’s horn, blown like a trumpet as a call to repentance.  See Rosh Hashanah.
Shomerim (shohm-REEM)
Literally, guards, keepers.  People who sit with a body between the time of death and burial.  See Care for the Dead.
Shul (SHOOL)
The Yiddish term for a Jewish house of worship.  The term is used primarily by Orthodox Jews.
Siddur (SID-r; sid-AWR)
Literally, order.  Prayer book.  See Jewish Liturgy.
Sidrah (SID-ruh)
Literally, order.  A weekly Torah portion read in synagogue.
Simchat Torah (SIM-khat TOH-ruh)
Literally, rejoicing in the law.  A holiday celebrating the end and beginning of the cycle of weekly Torah readings.
Sin Offering
A type of sacrifice used to atone for and expiate unintentional sins.
Sivan
The third month of the Jewish year, occurring in May/June.  See Months of the Jewish Year.
Slander
Slander is a serious sin in Judaism, even if the disparaging comment is true.  See Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra.
Speech
For information about the power of speech and sins committed through speech, see Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra.  For information about pronouncing the Name of God, see The Name of God.
Star of David
The six-pointed star emblem commonly associated with Judaism.
Sukkah (SUK-uh)
Literally, booth.  The temporary dwellings we live in during the holiday of Sukkot.
Sukkot (soo-KOHT; SUK-uhs)
Literally, booths.  A festival commemorating the wandering in the desert and the final harvest.
Symbols
See Signs and Symbols.
Synagogue (SIN-uh-gahg)
From a Greek root meaning assembly.  The most widely accepted term for a Jewish house of worship.

– T –

Taharat Ha-Mishpachah (tah-HAH-raht hah-meesh-PAH-khah)
Literally, family purity.  Laws relating to the separation of husband and wife during the woman’s menstrual period.  Also referred to as the laws of niddah.
Takkanah (t’-KAH-nuh)
A law instituted by the rabbis and not derived from any biblical commandment.
Tale-Bearing
Tale-bearing is a serious sin in Judaism.  See Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra.
Tallit (TAH-lit; TAH-lis)
A shawl-like garment worn during morning services, with tzitzit (long fringes) attached to the corners as a reminder of the commandments.
Tallit Katan (TAH-lit kuh-TAHN)
Literally, small tallit.  A four-cornered, poncho-like garment worn under a shirt so that we may have the opportunity to fulfill the commandment to put tzitzit (fringes) on the corners of our garments.
Talmud (TAHL-mud)
The most significant collection of the Jewish oral tradition interpreting the Torah.
Tammuz
The fourth month of the Jewish year, occurring in June/July.  See Months of the Jewish Year.
Tanakh (tuhn-AHKH)
Acronym of Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).  Written Torah; what non-Jews call the Old Testament.
Tashlikh (TAHSH-likh)
Literally, casting off.  A custom of going to a river and symbolically casting off one’s sins.  See Rosh Hashanah.
Tefillah (t’-FEE-luh)
Prayer.  Sometimes refers specifically to the Shemoneh Esrei prayer.  See Prayers and Blessings; Jewish Liturgy.
Tefillin (t’-FIL-lin)
Phylacteries.  Leather pouches containing scrolls with passages of scripture, used to fulfill the commandment to bind the commandments to our hands and between our eyes.
Tekiah (t’-KEE-uh)
One of four characteristic blasts of the shofar (ram’s horn).  See Rosh Hashanah.
Temple
The central place of worship in ancient Jerusalem, where sacrifices were offered, destroyed in 70 C.E.  Reform Jews commonly use the term "temple" to refer to their houses of worship.
Teruah (t’-ROO-uh)
One of four characteristic blasts of the shofar (ram’s horn).  See Rosh Hashanah.
Teshuvah (t’-SHOO-vuh)
Literally, return.  repentance.
Tevet
The tenth month of the Jewish year, occurring in December/January.  See Months of the Jewish Year.
Tisha B’Av (TISH-uh BAHV)
Literally, The Ninth of Av.  A fast day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples, as well as other tragedies.
Tishri
The seventh month of the Biblical Jewish year and the first month of the regular Jewish year, during which many important holidays occur.  See also Months of the Jewish Year.
Torah (TOH-ruh)
In its narrowest sense, Torah is Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  In its broadest sense, Torah is the entire body of Jewish teachings.
Torah Readings
Each week, a different portion of the Torah and the Prophets are read in synagogue.
Torah Scroll
The Torah (Bible) that is read in synagogue is written on a leather scroll.
Tractate
A subdivision of the Mishnah and Talmud.
Transliteration
The process of writing Hebrew using the Roman (English) alphabet.  More an art than a science.
Treyf (TRAYF)
Literally, torn.  A term loosely used to refer to food that is not kosher.
Tu B’Shevat (TOO bish-VAHT)
Literally, 15th of Shevat.  The new year for the purpose of counting the age of trees for purposes of tithing.
Tzaddik (TSAH-deek)
Literally, righteous person.  The leader of a Chasidic community, often believed to have special, mystical power.  Also called a rebbi.
Tzedakah (tsi-DUH-kuh)
Literally, righteousness.  Generally refers to charity.
Tzimmes (TSIM-is)
Yiddish.  A sweet stew.  The word can also refer to making a big fuss over something.
Tzitzit (TZIT-sit)
Fringes attached to the corners of garments as a reminder of the commandments.

– U –

Ufruf (UF-ruf)
The groom’s aliyah on the Shabbat before his wedding.
Unpointed Text
Hebrew text written without vowel points.  Hebrew should be written without vowels; however, many texts add vowel points to aid pronunciation and comprehension.  See Hebrew Alphabet.

– W –

Wedding
See Marriage; A Typical Wedding Ceremony.
Women
See The Role of Women; Marriage.
Work
Activities involving creation or exercise of control over the environment, which are prohibited on Shabbat and certain holidays.
Writings
A section of Jewish scripture containing various writings.  See Torah – Written Torah.
Written Torah (TOH-ruh)
The scripture that non-Jews call the Old Testament.

– Y –

Yad (YAHD)
Literally, hand.  Hand-shaped pointer used while reading from Torah scrolls.
Yahrzeit (YAHR-tsahyt)
Yiddish:  literally, anniversary.  The anniversary of the death of a close relative.  See Mourning.
Yarmulke (YAH-mi-kuh)
From Tartar "skullcap", or from Aramaic "Yirei Malka" (fear of the King).  The skullcap worn by Jews during services, and by some Jews at all times.
Year
See Jewish Calendar.
Yemenite Jews
The Jews of the Middle Eastern country of Yemen, whose customs and practices are somewhat different from those of Ashkenazic or Sephardic Jews.  See Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews.
Yetzer Ra (YAY-tser RAH)
Literally, evil impulse.  The selfish desire for satisfaction of personal needs, which can lead a person to do evil if not restrained by the yetzer tov.  See Human Nature; Kosher Sex.
Yetzer Tov (YAY-tser TOHV)
Literally, good impulse.  The moral conscience, which motivates us to follow God’s law.  See Human Nature.
Yiddish (YID-ish)
The "international language" of Ashkenazic Jews, based primarily on German with words taken from Hebrew and many Slavic languages, and written in the Hebrew Alphabet.
Yizkor (YIZ-kawr)
Literally, may He remember.  Prayers said on certain holidays in honor of deceased close relatives.  See Mourning.
Yom Ha-Atzmz’ut (YOHM hah ahts-mah-OOT)
Israeli Independence Day.
Yom Ha-Shoah (YOHM hah shoh-AH)
Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Yom Ha-Zikkaron (YOHM hah zee-kah-ROHN)
Israeli Memorial Day.
Yom Kippur (YOHM ki-PAWR)
Literally, Day of Atonement.  A day set aside for fasting, depriving oneself of pleasures, and repenting from the sins of the previous year.
Yom Yerushalayim (YOHM y’-roo-shah-LAH-yeem)
Holiday celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem in the hands of the modern state of Israel.

– Z –

Zealots
A movement of Judaism that existed around the time of the dawn of Christianity.  It died out shortly after the destruction of the Temple.
Zebach Sh’lamim (zeh-BAKH shlah-MEEM)
Literally, peace offering.  A type of sacrifice expressing thanks or gratitude.
Zohar (ZOH-hahr)
The primary written work in the mystical tradition of Kabbalah.

________________________________________________________________

In the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God
(Genesis 21,33)

THE COMPLETE RESTATEMENT
OF THE ORAL LAW
(Mishneh Torah)

The Law as it should actually be practiced by all in our day

by the Master Teacher Moshe son of Maimon

(also known as RaMBaM or Maimonides)

translated from the Hebrew text
reconstructed according to the Yemenite manuscripts
by the staff of Mechon Mamre

Copyright © 2003
by Mechon Mamre,
12 Hayyim Vital St,
Jerusalem, Israel.


Then, should I not be ashamed–
when I have regard, unto all Thy commandments
(Psalms 119,6).

Introduction

1  All the commandments that were given to Moshe at Sinai were given together with their interpretation, as it is written "and I will give thee the Tables of Stone, and the Law, and the Commandment" (Exodus 24,12).  "Law" is the Written Law; and "Commandment" is its interpretation:  We were commanded to fulfill the Law, according to the Commandment.  And this Commandment is what is called the Oral Law.

2  The whole of the Law was written down by Moshe Our Teacher before his death, in his own hand.  He gave a scroll of the Law to each tribe; and he put another scroll by the Ark for a witness, as it is written "take this book of the Law, and put it by the side of the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee" (Deuteronomy 31,26).

3  But the Commandment, which is the interpretation of the Law–he did not write it down, but gave orders concerning it to the elders, to Yehoshua, and to all the rest of Israel, as it is written "all this word which I command you, that shall ye observe to do . . ." (Deuteronomy 13,1).  For this reason, it is called the Oral Law.

4  Although the Oral Law was not written down, Moshe Our Teacher taught all of it in his court to the seventy elders; and El`azar, Pinehas, and Yehoshua, all three received it from Moshe.  And to his student Yehoshua, Moshe Our Teacher passed on the Oral Law and ordered him concerning it.  And so Yehoshua throughout his life taught it orally.

5  Many elders received it from Yehoshua, and Eli received it from the elders and from Pinehas; Shemuel received it from Eli and his court, and David received it from Shemuel and his court.  Ahiyah the Shilonite was among those who had come out of Egypt, and was a Levite, and had heard it from Moshe, but was a child in Moshe’s time; and he received it from David and his court.

6  Eliyahu received it from Ahiyah the Shilonite and his court, Elisha received it from Eliyahu and his court, Yehoyada the Priest received it from Elisha and his court, Zecharyahu received it from Yehoyada and his court, Hoshea received it from Zecharyah and his court, Amos received it from Hoshea and his court, Yeshayahu received it from Amos and his court, Michah received it from Yeshayah and his court, Yoel received it from Michah and his court, Nahum received it from Yoel and his court, Havaqquq received it from Nahum and his court, Tsefanyah received it from Havaqquq and his court, Yirmiyah received it from Tsefanyah and his court, Baruch son of Neriyah received it from Yirmiyah and his court, and Ezra and his court received it from Baruch and his court.

7  The members of Ezra’s court are called the Men of the Great Assembly, and they were Haggai, Zecharyah, Mal’achi, Daniyel Hananyah Mishael and Azaryah, Nehemyah son of Hachalyah, Mordochai, and Zerubavel; and many other sages were with them, numbering altogether one hundred twenty elders.  The last of them was Shim`on the Righteous, who was included among the hundred twenty, and received the Oral Law from all of them; he was high priest after Ezra.

8  Antignos of Socho and his court received the Oral Law from Shim`on the Righteous and his court, Yosef son of Yoezer of Tseredah and Yosef son of Yohanan of Jerusalem and their court received it from Antignos and his court, Yehoshua son of Perahyah and Nittai the Arbelite and their court received it from Yosef and Yosef and their court, Yehudah son of Tabbai and Shim`on son of Shatah and their court received it from Yehoshua and Nittai and their court.  Shemayah and Avtalyon, righteous converts, and their court received it from Yehudah and Shim`on and their court.  Hillel and Shammai and their court received it from Shemayah and Avtalyon and their court, and Rabban Yohanan son of Zakkai and Rabban Shim`on the son of Hillel received it from Hillel and his court.

9  Rabban Yohanan son of Zakkai had five students, and they were the greatest among the Torah scholars who received it from him; they were Rabbi Eliezer the Great, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Yose the Priest, Rabbi Shim`on son of Netan’el, and Rabbi El`azar son of Arach.  Rabbi Aqivah son of Yosef received it from Rabbi Eliezer the Great, and his father, Yosef, was a righteous convert.  Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Meir, the son of a righteous convert, received it from Rabbi Aqivah.  Rabbi Meir and his colleagues also received it from Rabbi Yishmael.

10  Rabbi Meir’s colleagues were Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Yose, Rabbi Shim`on, Rabbi Nehemyah, Rabbi El`azar son of Shammua, Rabbi Yohanan the sandal maker, Shim`on son of Azzai, and Rabbi Hananya son of Teradyon.  Rabbi Aqivah’s colleagues also received it from Rabbi Eliezer the Great; Rabbi Aqivah’s colleagues were Rabbi Tarfon, the teacher of Rabbi Yose the Galilean, Rabbi Shim`on son of El`azar, and Rabbi Yohanan son of Nuri.

11  Rabban Gamliel the Elder received it from his father, Rabban Shim`on son of Hillel; his son, Rabban Shim`on, received it from him; his son, Rabban Gamliel, received it from him; and his son, Rabban Shim`on, received it from him.  Rabbi Yehudah son of Rabban Shim`on is called Our Holy Teacher, and he received it from his father, and from Rabbi El`azar son of Shammua and from Rabbi Shim`on, his colleague.

12  Our Holy Teacher wrote the Mishnah.  From the time of Moshe to Our Holy Teacher, no one had written a work from which the Oral Law was publicly taught.  Rather, in each generation, the head of the then-existing court or the prophet of the time wrote down for his private use notes on the traditions he had heard from his teachers, and he taught in public from memory.

13  So too, each one wrote down, according to his ability, parts of the explanation of the Torah and of its laws that he had heard, as well as the new matters that developed in each generation, which had not been received by oral tradition, but had been deduced by applying the Thirteen Principles for Interpreting the Torah, and had been agreed upon by the Great Rabbinical Court.  Such had always been done, until the time of Our Holy Teacher.

14  He gathered together all the traditions, all the enactments, and all the explanations and interpretations that had been heard from Moshe Our Teacher or had been deduced by the courts of all the generations in all matters of the Torah; and he wrote the Book of the Mishnah from all of them.  And he taught it in public, and it became known to all Israel; everyone wrote it down and taught it everywhere, so that the Oral Law would not be forgotten by Israel.

15  Why did Our Holy Teacher do so, and did not leave things as they were?  Because he saw that the number of students was continuing to go down, calamities were continually happening, wicked government was extending its domain and increasing in power, and the Israelites were wandering and emigrating to remote places.  He thus wrote a work to serve as a handbook for all, so that it could be rapidly studied and would not be forgotten; throughout his life, he and his court continued giving public instruction in the Mishnah.

16  Among the greatest Torah scholars who were in Our Holy Teacher’s court and who received Torah from him were his sons Shim`on and Gamliel, Rabbi Afes, Rabbi Hananya son of Hama, Rabbi Hiyya, Rav, Rabbi Yannai, bar Qappara, Shemuel, Rabbi Yohanan, and Rabbi Hoshaya.  These were the greatest who received it from him, and besides them were thousands and tens of thousands of other Torah scholars.

17  Although these eleven received it from Our Holy Teacher and attended his house of study, Rabbi Yohanan was a child at the time, and later was a student of Rabbi Yannai and received Torah from him.  Rav also received it from Rabbi Yannai, and Shemuel received it from Rabbi Hananya son of Hama.

18  Rav wrote the Sifra and the Sifre to explain and expound the principles of the Mishnah, and Rabbi Hiyya wrote the Tosefta to explain the matters of the Mishnah.  So too, Rabbi Hoshaya and bar Qappara wrote alternative oral traditions to explain the text of the Mishnah.  Rabbi Yohanan wrote the Jerusalem Talmud in the Land of Israel about three hundred years after the destruction of the Temple.

19  Among the greatest Torah scholars who received from Rav and Shemuel were Rav Huna, Rav Yehudah, Rav Nahman, and Rav Kahana; and among the greatest Torah scholars who received from Rabbi Yohanan were Rabbah grandson of Hanah, Rabbi Ame, Rabbi Ase, Rav Dime, and Rabbun.

20  Among the Torah scholars who received from Rav Huna and Rav Yehudah were Rabbah and Rav Yosef.  And among the Torah scholars who received from Rabbah and Rav Yosef were Abaye and Rava; both of them received from Rav Nahman as well.  And among the Torah scholars who received from Rava were Rav Ashe and Rabbina; and Mar son of Rav Ashe received from his father and from Rabbina.

21  Thus, from Rav Ashe back to Moshe Our Teacher, there were forty [generations of] great men; that is to say:  (1) Rav Ashe, (2) from Rava, (3) from Rabbah, (4) from Rav Huna, (5) from Rabbi Yohanan, Rav, and Shemuel, (6) from Our Holy Teacher, (7) from his father, Rabban Shim`on, (8) from his father, Rabban Gamliel, (9) from his father, Rabban Shim`on, (10) from his father, Rabban Gamliel the Elder, (11) from his father, Rabban Shim`on, (12) from his father, Hillel, and Shammai, (13) from Shemayah and Avtalyon, (14) from Yehudah and Shim`on, (15) from Yehoshua and Nittai, (16) from Yosef and Yosef, (17) from Antignos, (18) from Shim`on the Righteous, (19) from Ezra, (20) from Baruch, (21) from Yirmiyah, (22) from Tsefanyah, (23) from Havaqquq, (24) from Nahum, (25) from Yoel, (26) from Michah, (27) from Yeshayah, (28) from Amos, (29) from Hosea, (30) from Zecharyah, (31) from Yehoyada, (32) from Elisha, (33) from Eliyahu, (34) from Ahiyah, (35) from David, (36) from Shemuel, (37) from Eli, (38) from Pinehas, (39) from Yehoshua, (40) from Moshe Our Teacher, the greatest of all of the prophets, from the LORD God of Israel.

22  All of the Torah scholars mentioned here were the great men of the generations:  some of them were heads of Torah colleges, some were exilarchs, and some were members of great sanhedria.  Besides them in each generation were thousands and tens of thousands who learned from them and with them.

23  And Rabbina and Rav Ashe are the last of the [authoritative] Torah scholars in the Talmud; it was Rav Ashe who wrote the Babylonian Talmud in the Land of Babylon, about a hundred years after Rabbi Yohanan wrote the Jerusalem Talmud.

24  The subject matter of the two Talmuds is the interpretation of the text of the Mishnah and explanation of its profoundest points and the matters that developed in the various courts from the time of Our Holy Teacher until the writing of the Talmud.  From the two Talmuds, and from the Tosefta, and from the Sifra and from the Sifre, and from the Toseftot–from them all–are to be found what is forbidden and what is permitted, what is unclean and what is clean, what is punishable and what is not punishable, what is fit for use and what is unfit for use, according to the unbroken oral tradition from Moshe as received from Sinai.

25  From them are also found the restrictive legislations enacted by the Torah scholars and prophets in each generation, to serve as a protecting fence around the Law, as learned from Moshe in the interpretation of "ye shall keep my preventive measure" (Leviticus 18,30), which said take preventive measures to preserve my preventive measure.

26  From them are found as well the customs and affirmative legislations that were enacted or brought into use during the various generations, as the court of each generation saw fit.  For it is forbidden to deviate from them, as it is written "thou shalt not turn aside from whatever they shall declare unto thee, neither to the right hand nor to the left" (see Deuteronomy 17,11).

27  So too [from them are found] extraordinary interpretative judgments and rules that were not received from Moshe, but that the Great Rabbinical Court of its generation deduced by applying the Principles for Interpreting the Torah and the Elders judged to be appropriate, and decided that such shall be the Law.  All of this, from the time of Moshe to his own time, Rav Ashe wrote in the Talmud.

28  The Mishnah scholars wrote other works to interpret the words of the Torah:  Rabbi Hoshayah, a student of Our Holy Teacher, wrote an explanation of the Book of Genesis.  Rabbi Yishmael wrote a commentary [on the Biblical text] from the beginning of the book of Exodus to the end of the Torah, which is called the Mechilta; and Rabbi Aqivah also wrote a Mechilta.  Other Torah scholars later wrote collections of sermonic materials on the Bible.  All these were written before the Babylonian Talmud.

29  Rabbina and Rav Ashe and their colleagues were thus the last of the great Torah scholars of Israel who wrote down the Oral Law, enacted restrictive legislations, enacted affirmative legislations, and enacted binding customs; and their legislations and customs gained universal acceptance among the people of Israel in all of the places where they settled.

30  After the court of Rav Ashe, who wrote the Talmud in the time of his son and completed it, the people of Israel scattered throughout all the nations most exceedingly and reached the most remote parts and distant isles, armed struggle became prevalent in the World, and the public ways became clogged with armies.  The study of the Torah declined, and the people of Israel ceased to gather in places of study in their thousands and tens of thousands as before.

31  But there gathered together a few individuals, the remnant whom the LORD calls in each city and in each town, and occupied themselves with the Torah, understood all the works of the sages, and knew from them the correct way of the Law.

32  The enacted legislations or enacted customs of the courts that were established in any town after the time of the Talmud for the town’s residents or for several towns’ residents did not gain the acceptance of all Israel, because of the remoteness of their settlements and the difficulties of travel, and because the members of the court of any particular town were just individuals, and the Great Rabbinical Court of seventy members had ceased to exist several years before the writing of the Talmud.

33  So a town’s residents are not forced to observe the customs of another town, nor is one court told to enact the restrictive legislations of another court in its town.  So too, if one of the Geonim understood that the correct way of the Law was such and such, and it became clear to another court afterwards that this was not the correct way of the Law written in the Talmud, the earlier court is not to be obeyed, but rather what seems more correct, whether earlier or later.

34  These matters apply to rulings, enactments, and customs that arose after the Talmud had been written.  But whatever is in the Babylonian Talmud is binding on all of the people of Israel; and every city and town is forced to observe all the customs observed by the Talmud’s scholars and to enact their restrictive legislations and to observe their positive legislations.

35  For all those matters in the Talmud received the assent of all of Israel, and those sages who enacted the positive and negative legislations, enacted binding customs, ruled the rulings, and found that a certain understanding of the Law was correct constituted all of Israel’s Torah scholars, or most of them, and it was they who received the traditions of the Oral Law concerning the fundamentals of the whole Law in unbroken succession back to Moshe Our Teacher.

36  All the Torah scholars who arose after the writing of the Talmud, who studied it deeply, and who became famous for their wisdom are called the Geonim.  All those Geonim who arose in the Land of Israel, the Land of Babylon, Spain, and France taught the way of the Talmud, clarified its obscurities, and explained its various topics, for its way is exceedingly profound.  And further, the Talmud is written in Aramaic mixed with other languages:  for that language had been clearly understood by all in Babylon, at the time when it was written, but in other places as well as in Babylon in the time of the Geonim, no one understood that language until he was taught it.

37  Many questions were asked of each Gaon of the time by the people of various cities, to comment on difficult matters in the Talmud, and they answered according to their wisdom; those who had asked the questions collected the answers, and made them into books for study.

38  The Geonim in every generation also wrote works to explain the Talmud:  Some of them commented on a few particular laws, some of them commented on particular chapters that presented difficulties in their time, and some of them commented on Tractates or Orders.

39  They also wrote collections of settled laws as to what is forbidden and permitted, liable and exempt, according to the needs of the time, so that they could be easily learned by one who is not able to fathom the depths of the Talmud.  That is the work of the LORD that all the Geonim of Israel did, from the time the Talmud was written to the present day, which is 1108 years from the Destruction of the Temple [which is 4937 years from Creation, or 1177 C.E.].

40  In our times, severe troubles come one after another, and all are in distress; the wisdom of our Torah scholars has disappeared, and the understanding of our discerning men is hidden.  Thus, the commentaries, the responses to questions, and the settled laws that the Geonim wrote, which had once seemed clear, have in our times become hard to understand, so that only a few properly understand them.  And one hardly needs to mention the Talmud itself–the Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud, the Sifra, the Sifre, and the Toseftot–which all require a broad mind, a wise soul, and considerable study, before one can correctly know from them what is forbidden or permitted and the other rules of the Torah.

41  For this reason, I, Moshe son of the Rav Maimon the Sephardi, found that the current situation is unbearable; and so, relying on the help of the Rock blessed be He, I intently studied all these books, for I saw fit to write what can be determined from all of these works in regard to what is forbidden and permitted, and unclean and clean, and the other rules of the Torah:  Everything in clear language and terse style, so that the whole Oral Law would become thoroughly known to all, without bringing problems and solutions or differences of view, but rather clear, convincing, and correct statements in accordance with the legal rules drawn from all of these works and commentaries that have appeared from the time of Our Holy Teacher to the present.

42  This is so that all the rules should be accessible to the small and to the great in the rules of each and every commandment and in the rules of the legislations of the Torah scholars and prophets:  in short, so that a person should need no other work in the World in the rules of any of the laws of Israel; but that this work might collect the entire Oral Law, including the positive legislations, the customs, and the negative legislations enacted from the time of Moshe Our Teacher until the writing of the Talmud, as the Geonim interpreted it for us in all of the works of commentary they wrote after the Talmud.  Thus, I have called this work the [Complete] Restatement of the [Oral] Law (Mishneh Torah), for a person reads the Written Law first and then reads this work, and knows from it the entire Oral Law, without needing to read any other book between them.

43  I have seen fit to divide this work into groups of laws according to topics, and I divide the groups into chapters dealing with one topic; and I divide each chapter into paragraphs, so that they may be learned by heart.

44  Among the groups in the various topics, some groups include the detailed laws relating to a single Biblical commandment, when the commandment comes with many oral traditions that make up a single topic; and other groups include the detailed laws of many Biblical commandments, when all the commandments are on one topic:  For the organization of this work is according to topics, and is not according to the counting of commandments, as will be clear to one who reads it.

45  The total number of Torah commandments that are obligatory for all generations is 613:  248 of them are positive commandments, whose mnemonic is the number of parts in the human body; 365 of them are negative commandments, whose mnemonic is the number of days in the solar year.

Positive Commandments

1  The first of the positive commandments is to know that there exists God, as it is written "I am the LORD, thy God" (Exodus 20,2; Deuteronomy 5,6).

2  To acknowledge His Oneness, as it is written "the LORD our God, the LORD is One" (Deuteronomy 6,4).

3  To love Him, as it is written "and thou shalt love the LORD thy God" (Deuteronomy 6,5; Deuteronomy 11,1).

4  To fear Him, as it is written "thou shalt fear the LORD thy God" (Deuteronomy 6,13; Deuteronomy 10,20).

5  To pray to Him, as it is written "and ye shall serve the LORD your God" (Exodus 23,25); this service is prayer.

6  To cleave to Him, as it is written "and to Him shalt thou cleave" (Deuteronomy 10,20).

7  To swear by His Name, as it is written "and by His name, shalt thou swear" (Deuteronomy 6,13; Deuteronomy 10,20).

8  To imitate His good and upright ways, as it is written "and walk in His ways" (Deuteronomy 28,9).

9  To sanctify His Name, as it is written "but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel" (Leviticus 22,32).

10  To read the Shema` twice daily, as it is written "and thou shalt talk of them . . . when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deuteronomy 6,7).

11  To learn Torah and to teach it, as it is written "thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children" (Deuteronomy 6,7).

12  To bind tefillin on the head, as it is written "and they shall be for frontets between thine eyes" (Deuteronomy 6,8).

13  To bind tefillin on the arm, as it is written "and thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand" (Deuteronomy 6,8).

14  To make tzitzit, as it is written "and they shall make for themselves fringes" (Numbers 15,38).

15  To fasten a mezuzah, as it is written "and thou shalt write them upon the door-posts" (Deuteronomy 6,9; Deuteronomy 11,20).

16  To assemble the people to hear Torah after the end of the Sabbatical year, as it is written "assemble the people" (Deuteronomy 31,12).

17  For every man to write a Torah scroll for himself, as it is written "write ye this song for you" (Deuteronomy 31,19).

18  For the king to write a Torah scroll for himself, besides the one for every man, so that he shall have two Torah scrolls, as it is written "and he shall write for himself a second copy of this Torah" (Deuteronomy 17,18).

19  To say a blessing after meals, as it is written "thou shalt eat and be satisfied, and bless" (Deuteronomy 8,10).

20  To build the Sanctuary, as it is written "and they shall make Me a sanctuary" (Exodus 25,8).

21  To revere this house, as it is written "and reverence My sanctuary" (Leviticus 19,30; Leviticus 26,2).

22  To stand guard over this house continually, as it is written "thou and thy sons with thee being before the tent of the testimony" (Numbers 18,2).

23  For the Levite to serve in the Sanctuary, as it is written "and the Levite shall serve" (Numbers 18,23).

24  For the priest to wash his hands and feet at the time of service, as it is written "and Aharon and his sons shall wash . . ." (Exodus 30,19).

25  To arrange lamps in the Sanctuary, as it is written "Aaron and his sons shall set it in order" (Exodus 27,21).

26  For the priests to bless Israel, as it is written "thus shall ye bless the children of Israel" (Numbers 6,23).

27  To set in order bread and frankincense before the LORD every Sabbath, as it is written "thou shalt set upon the table showbread" (Exodus 25,30).

28  To offer incense twice daily, as it is written "and Aharon shall burn thereon incense of spices" (Exodus 30,7).

29  To arrange a fire always on the Altar of the Burnt Offering, as it is written "fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually" (Leviticus 6,6).

30  To remove the ashes from the Altar daily, as it is written "and he shall take up the ashes" (Leviticus 6,3).

31  To send the unclean out of the Camp of the Holy Presence, that is, out of the Sanctuary, as it is written "that they put out of the camp every leper, and every one that hath a defiling issue" (Numbers 5,2).

32  To show honor to the descendant of Aharon and to give him priority in all things holy, as it is written "and thou shalt sanctify him" (Leviticus 21,8).

33  For the priests to wear priestly garments for their service, as it is written "and thou shalt make holy garments" (Exodus 28,2).

34  To bear the Ark on the shoulder when carrying it, as it is written "they shall bear upon the shoulder" (Numbers 7,9).

35  To anoint high priests and kings with the anointing oil, as it is written "this shall be a holy anointing oil" (Exodus 30,31).

36  For the priests to serve in the Sanctuary in divisions, but on festivals to serve together, as it is written "and if a Levite come . . ." (Deuteronomy 18,6) "beside that which is his due according to the fathers’ houses" (Deuteronomy 18,8).

37  For the priests to become unclean for their deceased relatives and mourn for them like the rest of Israel who are commanded to mourn on their dead, as it is written "for her, he shall defile himself" (Leviticus 21,3).

38  For the high priest to marry a virgin, as it is written "and he shall take a wife in her virginity" (Leviticus 21,13).

39  To offer the continual sacrifices daily, as it is written "two a day, for a continual burnt-offering" (Numbers 28,3).

40  For the high priest to offer a meal offering daily, as it is written "this is the offering of Aharon and of his sons" (Leviticus 6,13).

41  To offer an additional sacrifice every Sabbath, as it is written "and on the Sabbath day, two he-lambs" (Numbers 28,9).

42  To offer an additional sacrifice at the beginning of each new month, as it is written "and in your new moons" (Numbers 28,11).

43  To offer an additional sacrifice on the Festival of Pesach, as it is written "seven days ye shall bring an offering by fire" (Leviticus 23,36).

44  To bring the meal offering of the Omer on the day after the first day of Pesach together with one lamb, as it is written "then ye shall bring an Omer" (Leviticus 23,10).

45  To offer an additional sacrifice on the Festival of Shavu`ot, as it is written "and on the day of the first-fruits . . . and ye shall present a burnt-offering" (Numbers 28,26-27).

46  To bring two loaves of bread together with the sacrifices that are offered because of the loaves on the Festival of Shavu`ot, as it is written "ye shall bring out of your dwelling places wave loaves . . . and ye shall present sacrifices with the bread" (Leviticus 23,17-18).

47  To offer an additional sacrifice on Rosh Hashanah, as it is written "and in the seventh month, on the first day of the month . . . and ye shall prepare a burnt-offering" (Numbers 29,1-2).

48  To offer an additional sacrifice on the Day of the Fast, as it is written "and on the tenth day of the seventh month . . ." (Numbers 29,7).

49  To do the service of the day on the Day of the Fast, as it is written "with this shall Aharon come . . . and of the congregation of the children of Israel" (Leviticus 16,3-5), and the whole service as described in the portion for "after the death" (Leviticus Chapter 16).

50  To offer an additional sacrifice on the Festival of Sukkot, as it is written "and ye shall present a burnt-offering, an offering made by fire . . ." (Numbers 29,13).

51  To offer an additional sacrifice on the day of Shemini Atzeret, for this day is a pilgrimage festival in itself, as it is written "on the eighth day, a solemn assembly" (Numbers 29,35).

52  To celebrate the pilgrimage festivals, as it is written "three times thou shalt keep a feast unto Me" (Exodus 23,14).

53  To appear on the pilgrimage festivals, as it is written "three times in a year shall all thy males appear" (Exodus 23,17; Exodus 34,23; Deuteronomy 16,16).

54  To rejoice on the pilgrimage festivals, as it is written "and thou shalt rejoice on thy festival" (Deuteronomy 16,14).

55  To slaughter the Pesach lamb, as it is written "and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter it" (Exodus 12,6).

56  To eat the flesh of the Pesach sacrifice on the night of the Fifteenth, as it is written "and they shall eat the flesh in that night" (Exodus 12,8).

57  To keep the second Pesach, as it is written "the second month on the fourteenth day" (Numbers 9,11).

58  To eat the Pesach sacrifice then, as it is written "eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs" (Numbers 9,11).

59  To sound the trumpets over sacrifices and in times of troubles, as it is written "ye shall blow with the trumpets" (Numbers 10,10).

60  To bring sacrifices of animals only when they are eight days old or older, as it is written "and from the eighth day and thenceforth" (Leviticus 22,27).

61  For every animal offered to be perfect, as it is written "it shall be perfect to be accepted" (Leviticus 22,21).

62  To salt every sacrifice, as it is written "with all thy offerings thou shalt offer salt" (Leviticus 2,13).

63  The procedure for the burnt offering, as it is written "if his offering be a burnt-offering" (Leviticus 1,3).

64  The procedure for the sin offering, as it is written "this is the law of the sin-offering" (Leviticus 6,18).

65  The procedure for the guilt offering, as it is written "this is the law of the guilt-offering" (Leviticus 7,1).

66  The procedure for the peace offering, as it is written "and this is the law of the sacrifice of peace-offerings" (Leviticus 7,11).

67  The procedure for the meal offering, as it is written "and when any one bringeth a meal-offering" (Leviticus 2,1).

68  For the Great Rabbinical Court to offer a sacrifice, if they have erred in instruction, as it is written "and if the whole congregation of Israel shall err" (Leviticus 4,13).

69  For an individual to bring a sin offering, if he has sinned unintentionally in a negative commandment punishable by excision, as it is written "if any one sin" (Leviticus 5,1).

70  For an individual to bring an offering, if he is in doubt as to whether he has committed a sin for which one brings a sin offering or not, as it is written "though he know it not . . . and he shall bring his guilt-offering" (see Leviticus 5,17-18); this is called a conditional guilt offering.

71  For one who has unintentionally benefited from consecrated things, or sinned in robbery or with a bondmaid betrothed to another, or denied what was deposited with him and swore falsely, to bring a guilt offering; and this is called an unconditional guilt offering.

72  To offer a sacrifice according to means, as it is written "and if his means suffice not" (Leviticus 5,7), "but if his means suffice not" (Leviticus 5,11).

73  To confess before the LORD for any sin that one has committed, whether bringing a sacrifice or not bringing a sacrifice, as it is written "they shall confess their sin which they have done" (Numbers 5,7).

74  For a man having an unclean issue to bring a sacrifice after he becomes clean, as it is written "and when he that hath an issue is cleansed . . ." (Leviticus 15,13).

75  For a woman having an unclean issue to bring a sacrifice after she becomes clean, as it is written "and if she be cleansed of her issue" (Leviticus 15,28).

76  For a woman after childbirth to bring a sacrifice after she becomes clean, as it is written "and when the days of her purification are fulfilled" (Leviticus 12,6).

77  For a leper to bring a sacrifice after he becomes clean, as it is written "and on the eighth day" (Leviticus 14,10).

78  To tithe animals, as it is written "and all of the tithe of the herd or the flock" (Leviticus 27,32).

79  To sanctify the first-born of clean animals and bring them as a sacrifice, as it is written "all the first-born that are born" (Deuteronomy 15,19).

80  To redeem the first-born of man, as it is written "howbeit the first-born of man shalt thou surely redeem" (Numbers 18,15).

81  To redeem the first-born of an ass, as it is written "and the first-born of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb" (Exodus 34,20).

82  To decapitate the first-born of an ass, as it is written "and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt decapitate it" (Exodus 13,13;Exodus 34,20).

83  To bring all of a person’s sacrifices, whether obligatory or voluntary, on the first pilgrimage festival that comes, as it is written "and thither shalt thou come" (Deuteronomy 12,5), "and thither shall ye bring" (Deuteronomy 12,6).

84  To offer all sacrifices in the Sanctuary, as it is written "and there shalt thou do all that I command thee" (Deuteronomy 12,14).

85  To take the trouble to bring sacrifices to the Sanctuary from outside the Land of Israel, as it is written "only thy holy things which thou hast, and thy vows, thou shalt take and come" (Deuteronomy 12,26); it was learned from the oral tradition that this specifically refers to sacrifices that come from outside the Land of Israel.

86  To redeem consecrated animals that have disqualifying blemishes, and then they may be eaten, as it is written "notwithstanding thou mayest slaughter and eat flesh, after all the desire of thy soul" (Deuteronomy 12,15); it was learned from the oral tradition that this specifically refers to consecrated animals that have become unfit that shall be redeemed.

87  For an animal substituted for one consecrated for sacrifice to be holy, as it is written "then both it and that for which it is changed shall be holy" (Leviticus 27,33).

88  To eat the remainder of the meal offerings, as it is written "and that which is left thereof shall Aharon and his sons eat" (Leviticus 6,9).

89  To eat the flesh of a sin offering and guilt offering, as it is written "and they shall eat those things wherewith atonement was made" (Exodus 29,33).

90  To burn the flesh of a sacrifice that has become unclean, as it is written "and the flesh that toucheth any unclean thing" (Leviticus 7,19).

91  To burn the flesh of a sacrifice that has been left over, as it is written "but that which remaineth of the flesh of the sacrifice on the third day shall be burnt with fire" (Leviticus 7,17).

92  For the Nazarite to let his hair grow, as it is written "he shall let the hair of his head grow long" (Numbers 6,5).

93  For the Nazarite to shave his hair when he brings his sacrifices at the completion of his Nazariteship, or within his Nazariteship if he has become unclean, as it is written "and if any man die beside him" (Numbers 6,9).

94  For a man to fulfill whatever he has uttered, whether a sacrifice or charity and the like, as it is written "that which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt observe and do" (Deuteronomy 23,24).

95  To judge in annulment of vows according to the rules in the matter.

96  For one who touches the carcass of a beast that died without slaughtering to be unclean, as it is written "and if any beast die" (Leviticus 11,39).

97  For eight specific species of creeping things to defile, as it is written "and these are they which are unclean unto you" (Leviticus 11,29).

98  For foods to be susceptible to becoming unclean, as it is written "of all food which may be eaten" (Leviticus 11,34).

99  For a menstruating woman to be unclean and to defile.

100  For a woman after childbirth to be unclean like a menstruating woman.

101  For a leper to be unclean and to defile.

102  For a leprous garment to be unclean and to defile.

103  For a leprous house to defile.

104  For a man having a unclean issue to defile.

105  For seminal fluid to defile.

106  For a woman having an unclean issue to defile.

107  For a corpse to defile.

108  For the waters of sprinkling to defile one who is clean, and to cleanse only those defiled by a corpse.  Most of the regulations for each of the above kinds of uncleanness are set out in the Written Torah.

109  For purification from all kinds of uncleanness to be effected by immersion in the waters of a ritual bath, as it is written "then he shall bathe all his flesh in water" (Leviticus 15,16); so was it learned from the oral tradition, that this bath must be in enough water so that the whole body is immersed at the same time.

110  For the cleansing from leprosy, whether leprosy of a man or leprosy of a house, to be done with cedar wood, hyssop, scarlet wool, two birds, and spring water, as it is written "this shall be the law of the leper" (Leviticus 14,2).

111  For the leper to shave all of his hair, as it is written "on the seventh day, he shall shave all his hair" (Leviticus 14,9).

112  For the leper to be known to all by the things written about him, "his clothes shall be rent, and the hair of his head shall go loose, and he shall cover his upper lip, and shall cry: ‘unclean, unclean’" (Leviticus 13,45).  So too, all other unclean persons must declare themselves.

113  To prepare a red heifer so that its ashes are ready, as it is written "and it shall be for the congregation of the children of Israel" (Numbers 19,9).

114  For one who vows the value of a person to pay the amount fixed in the Torah, as it is written "when a man shall clearly utter a vow" (Leviticus 27,2).

115  For one who vows the value of an unclean animal to pay its value, as it is written "then he shall set the beast" (Leviticus 27,11).

116  For one who vows the value of his house to give according to the evaluation of the priest, as it is written "and when a man shall sanctify his house" (Leviticus 27,14).

117  For one who consecrates a portion of his land to give according to the amount fixed in the Torah, as it is written "if part of the field of his possession" (Leviticus 27,16).

118  For he who unintentionally benefits from consecrated things or eats a heave offering to add a fifth onto the value and restore it, as it is written "and he shall make restitution for that which he hath done amiss in the holy thing" (Leviticus 5,16).

119  For the fruit of fruit-bearing trees in the fourth year of their planting to be holy, as it is written "all the fruit thereof shall be holy, for giving praise" (Leviticus 19,24).

120  To leave the edge of the field unharvested.

121  To leave the gleanings of the harvest.

122  To leave the forgotten sheaves.

123  To leave the gleanings of the vineyard.

124  To leave the fallen grapes of the vineyard.  For on all these it is said "thou shalt leave them for the poor and for the stranger" (Leviticus 19,10; Leviticus 23,22); that is their positive commandment.

125  To bring the first fruits to the Sanctuary, as it is written "the choicest first-fruits of thy land" (Exodus 23,19; Exodus 34,26).

126  To set apart a heave offering for the priest, as it is written "the first-fruits of thy grain . . ." (Deuteronomy 18,4).

127  To set apart a tithe of grain for the Levites, as it is written "and all the tithe of the land" (Leviticus 27,30).

128  To set apart a second tithe to be eaten by its owner in Jerusalem, as it is written "thou shalt surely tithe all the increase of they seed" (Deuteronomy 14,22); it was learned from the oral tradition that this is the second tithe.

129  For the Levites to set apart a tithe of the tithes taken from the Israelites and to give it to the priests, as it is written "and thou shalt speak unto the Levites" (Numbers 18,26).

130  To set apart a tithe for the poor in the third and sixth year of the seven year cycle, as it is written "at the end of every three years, thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase" (Deuteronomy 14,28).

131  To make the tithe declaration, as it is written "then thou shalt say before the LORD thy God, I have put away the hallowed things" (Deuteronomy 26,13).

132  To make the declaration on bringing the first fruits, as it is written "and thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God" (Deuteronomy 26,5).

133  To set apart a portion of the dough for the priest, as it is written "of the first part of your dough ye shall set apart a cake for a gift" (Numbers 15,20).

134  To let the land rest in the Sabbatical year, as it is written "but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie fallow" (Exodus 23,11).

135  To rest from working the land, as it is written "in plowing time and in harvest thou shalt rest" (Exodus 34,21).

136  To sanctify the Jubilee year by resting as in the Sabbatical year, as it is written "and ye shall hallow the fiftieth year" (Leviticus 25,10).

137  To sound the shofar in the Jubilee year, as it is written "then shalt thou make proclamation with the blast of the horn" (Leviticus 25,9).

138  To grant redemption to the land in the Jubilee year, as it is written "and in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land" (Leviticus 25,24).

139  For houses sold within a walled city to be redeemable for a year, as it is written "and if a man sell a dwelling-house in a walled city" (Leviticus 25,29).

140  To count the years of the Jubilee by years and by Sabbaths of years, as it is written "and thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years" (Leviticus 25,8).

141  To release debts in the Sabbatical year, as it is written "every creditor shall release that which he hath lent" (Deuteronomy 15,2).

142  To exact the debt of a Gentile, as it is written "of a foreigner thou mayest exact it; but whatsoever of thine is" (Deuteronomy 15,3).

143  To give to the priest the foreleg, the jaw, and the stomach of a slaughtered animal, as it is written "and they shall give to the priest the foreleg" (Deuteronomy 18,3).

144  To give the first of the fleece to the priest, as it is written "and the first of the fleece of thy sheep, shalt thou give him" (Deuteronomy 18,4).

145  To judge in devoted property, whether to the LORD or to the priest, as it is written "notwithstanding, no devoted thing . . ." (Leviticus 27,28).

146  To slaughter animals, beasts, and fowl and then eat their flesh, as it is written "thou shalt slaughter of thy herd and of thy flock" (Deuteronomy 12,21).

147  To cover the blood of beasts and of fowl, as it is written "he shall pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust" (Leviticus 17,13).

148  To set the mother bird free, as it is written "thou shalt in any wise let the dam go, but the young thou mayest take unto thyself" (Deuteronomy 22,7).

149  To examine the identifying signs in animals, as it is written "these are the living things which ye may eat" (Leviticus 11,2).

150  To examine the identifying signs in fowl to distinguish between the unclean among them and the clean among them, as it is written "of all clean birds ye may eat" (Deuteronomy 14,11).

151  To examine the identifying signs in locusts to tell the the clean from the unclean, as it is written "which have jointed legs" (Leviticus 11,21).

152  To examine the identifying signs in fishes, as it is written "these may ye eat of all that are in the waters" (Leviticus 11,9;Deuteronomy 14,9).

153  To sanctify the new month and to calculate months and years in court only, as it is written "this month shall be unto you the beginning of months" (Exodus 12,2).

154  To rest on the Sabbath, as it is written "but on the seventh day thou shalt rest" (Exodus 23,12; Exodus 34,21).

155  To hallow the Sabbath, as it is written "remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20,7).

156  To get rid of leaven, as it is written "on the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses" (Exodus 12,15).

157  To tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt on the first night of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, as it is written "and thou shalt tell thy son" (Exodus 13,8).

158  To eat unleavened bread on this night, as it is written "at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread" (Exodus 12,18).

159  To rest on the first day of Pesach, as it is written "on the first day, a holy convocation" (Exodus 12,16).

160  To rest on its seventh day, as it is written "and on the seventh day, a holy convocation" (Exodus 12,16; Numbers 28,25).

161  To count forty nine days from the time of harvesting the Omer, as it is written "and ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the day of rest" (Leviticus 23,15).

162  To rest on the fiftieth day, as it is written "and ye shall make proclamation on the selfsame day; a holy convocation" (Leviticus 23,21).

163  To rest on the first day of the seventh month, as it is written "on the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you" (Leviticus 23,24).

164  To fast on its tenth day, as it is written "and on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls" (see Leviticus 16,29;Numbers 29,7).

165  To rest on the day of the Fast, as it is written "it shall be unto you a sabbath of solemn rest" (Leviticus 23,32).

166  To rest on the first day of the Festival of Sukkot, as it is written "on the first day shall be a holy convocation" (Leviticus 23,35).

167  To rest on the eighth day of that festival, as it is written "and on the eighth day shall be a holy convocation" (see Leviticus 23,36).

168  To dwell in sukkot seven days, as it is written "ye shall dwell in booths seven days" (Leviticus 23,42).

169  To take up a lolav, as it is written "and ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees" (Leviticus 23,40).

170  To hear the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, as it is written "it is a day of blowing the horn unto you" (Numbers 29,1).

171  To give half a Sheqel every year, as it is written "this they shall give, everyone that passeth" (Exodus 30,13).

172  To obey every prophet in each generation provided he neither adds to nor takes away from the Torah, as it is written "unto him ye shall hearken" (Deuteronomy 18,15).

173  To appoint a king, as it is written "thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee" (Deuteronomy 17,15).

174  To obey every Great Rabbinical Court established for Israel, as it is written "and according to the judgment which they tell thee, thou shalt do" (Deuteronomy 17,11).

175  To give decisions according to the majority, when there is a difference of opinion in the Sanhedrin in matters of judgment, as it is written "to incline after many" (Exodus 23,2).

176  To appoint judges and officers in every community of Israel, as it is written "judges and officers shalt thou make thee" (Deuteronomy 16,18).

177  To treat parties in a judgment impartially, as it is written "in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour" (Leviticus 19,15).

178  For one who has evidence to testify in court, as it is written "he being a witness, whether he hath seen or known" (Leviticus 5,1).

179  To examine witnesses thoroughly, as it is written "then shalt thou inquire, and make search, and ask diligently" (Deuteronomy 13,15).

180  To do to false witnesses as they had plotted to do, as it is written "then shall ye do unto him, as he had purposed to do" (Deuteronomy 19,19).

181  To decapitate the heifer as commanded, as it is written "and shall break the heifer’s neck there in the valley" (Deuteronomy 21,4).

182  To prepare six cities of refuge, as it is written "thou shalt prepare thee the way, and divide the borders of thy land into three parts" (Deuteronomy 19,3).

183  To give the Levites cities to dwell in, and these too serve as cities of refuge, as it is written "that they give unto the Levites . . . cities" (Numbers 35,2).

184  To make a parapet, as it is written "thou shalt make a parapet for thy roof" (Deuteronomy 22,8).

185  To destroy any object of idolatry and its appurtenances, as it is written "ye shall surely destroy all the places" (Deuteronomy 12,2).

186  To kill the inhabitants of a city that has been proselytized over to idolatry and to burn that city, as it is written "and shalt burn with fire . . ." (Deuteronomy 13,17).

187  To destroy the seven Canaanite nations from the Land of Israel, as it is written "thou shalt utterly destroy them" (Deuteronomy 20,17).

188  To completely destroy the seed of Amalek, as it is written "thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek" (Deuteronomy 25,19).

189  To constantly remember what Amalek did, as it is written "remember what Amalek did unto thee" (Deuteronomy 25,17).

190  To wage a voluntary war according to the law written in the Torah, as it is written "when thou drawest nigh unto a city" (Deuteronomy 20,10).

191  To anoint a priest for war, as it is written "and it shall be, when ye draw nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach" (Deuteronomy 20,2).

192  To prepare a place outside the camp for a latrine, as it is written "thou shalt have a place also without the camp" (Deuteronomy 23,13).

193  To prepare a stake for digging, as it is written "and thou shalt have a paddle among thy weapons" (Deuteronomy 23,14).

194  To restore that which one took by robbery, as it is written "he shall restore that which he took by robbery" (Leviticus 5,23).

195  To give charity, as it is written "thou shalt surely open thy hand" (Deuteronomy 15,11).

196  To give gifts to the Hebrew bondman, as it is written "thou shalt furnish him liberally" (Deuteronomy 15,14); and similarly, to a Hebrew bondmaid.

197  To lend to the poor, as it is written "if thou lend money to any of My people, even to the poor with thee" (Exodus 22,24); "if" here is not permissive but obligatory, as it is written "and shalt surely lend him" (Deuteronomy 15,8).

198  To lend to a Gentile at interest, as it is written "unto a foreigner, lend upon interest" (Deuteronomy 23,21); it was learned from the oral tradition that this is a positive commandment.

199  To return a pledge to its owner, as it is written "thou shalt surely restore to him the pledge" (Deuteronomy 24,13).

200  To pay wages to a hired worker on time, as it is written "in the same day thou shalt give him his hire" (Deuteronomy 24,15).

201  For the hired worker to be permitted to eat while working, as it is written "when thou comest into thy neighbour’s vineyard" (Deuteronomy 23,25), "when thou comest into thy neighbour’s standing corn" (Deuteronomy 23,26).

202  To help another unload his burden or his beast’s burden, as it is written "thou shalt surely release it with him" (Exodus 23,5).

203  To help in reloading the beast, as it is written "thou shalt surely help him to lift them up again" (Deuteronomy 22,4).

204  To return lost property, as it is written "thou shalt surely bring them back unto thy brother" (Deuteronomy 22,1).

205  To rebuke the sinner, as it is written "thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbour" (Leviticus 19,17).

206  To love all persons of the covenant, as it is written "thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Leviticus 19,18).

207  To love the convert, as it is written "love ye the stranger" (Deuteronomy 10,19).

208  To ensure that scales and weights are correct, as it is written "just balances, just weights" (Leviticus 19,36).

209  To honor the wise, as it is written "thou shalt rise up before the hoary head" (Leviticus 19,32).

210  To honor one’s father and mother, as it is written "honour thy father and thy mother" (Exodus 20,11; Deuteronomy 5,15).

211  To fear one’s father and mother, as it is written "ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father" (Leviticus 19,3).

212  To be fruitful and multiply, as it is written "be ye fruitful, and multiply" (Genesis 9,7).

213  To take a wife by marriage ceremony, as it is written "if any man take a wife, and go in unto her" (Deuteronomy 22,13; and see Deuteronomy 24,1).

214  For a newly married husband to rejoice with his wife one year, as it is written "he shall be free for his house one year" (Deuteronomy 24,5).

215  To circumcise the son, as it is written "and on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised" (Leviticus 12,3).

216  To marry the widow of a brother who has died childless, as it is written "her husband’s brother shall go in unto her" (Deuteronomy 25,5).

217  For the widow to formally release the brother-in-law, as it is written "and loose his shoe from off his foot" (Deuteronomy 25,9).

218  For the rapist to marry his victim, as it is written "and she shall be his wife" (Deuteronomy 22,29).

219  For one who defames his wife as a non-virgin at marriage to live with her all his days, as it is written "and she shall be his wife" (Deuteronomy 22,19).

220  To judge the seducer with a penalty of fifty Sheqels and the rest of the rules for him, as it is written "if a man entice" (Exodus 22,15).

221  To deal with a beautiful woman taken captive in war as prescribed in the Torah, as it is written "and seest amongst the captives" (Deuteronomy 21,11).

222  To divorce by a written document, as it is written "that he writeth her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand" (Deuteronomy 24,1; Deuteronomy 24,3).

223  To deal with a woman suspected of adultery as prescribed in the Torah, as it is written "and the priest shall execute upon her all this law" (Numbers 5,30).

224  To whip the wicked, as it is written "that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten" (Deuteronomy 25,2).

225  To exile one who committed an accidental homicide, as it is written "and he shall dwell there until the death of the priest" (see Numbers 35,25).

226  For the court to execute by decapitation with a sword, as it is written "he shall surely be avenged" (Exodus 21,20).

227  For the court to execute by strangulation, as it is written "both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death" (Leviticus 20,10).

228  For the court to execute by burning, as it is written "they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they" (Leviticus 20,14).

229  For the court to execute by stoning, as it is written "and ye shall stone them" (Deuteronomy 22,24).

230  To hang the corpse of one who requires hanging, as it is written "and thou hang him on a tree" (Deuteronomy 21,22).

231  To bury the executed on the day of execution, as it is written "but thou shalt surely bury him the same day" (Deuteronomy 21,23).

232  To deal with a Hebrew bondman according to the laws for him, as it is written "if thou buy a Hebrew servant" (Exodus 21,2).

233  To betroth a Hebrew bondmaid, as it is written "who hath espoused her to himself" (Exodus 21,8), "and if he espouse her unto his son" (Exodus 21,9).

234  To redeem a Hebrew bondmaid, as it is written "then shall he let her be redeemed" (Exodus 21,8).

235  To use the Canaanite slave forever, as it is written "of them may ye take your bondmen for ever" (Leviticus 25,46).

236  For he who inflicts bodily injury to pay damages, as it is written "and if men contend, and smite" (Exodus 21,18).

237  To judge in injuries by a animal, as it is written "and if one man’s ox hurt another’s ox" (Exodus 21,35).

238  To judge in injuries by an uncovered pit, as it is written "if a man shall open a pit" (Exodus 21,33).

239  To judge a thief to payment of compensation or death, as it is written "and if a man steal" (see Exodus 21,37), "if breaking in" (Exodus 22,1), "and he that stealeth a man" (Exodus 21,16).

240  To judge in injuries by grazing, as it is written "if a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten" (Exodus 22,4).

241  To judge in injuries by fire, as it is written "if fire break out, and catch in thorns" (Exodus 22,5).

242  To judge in the case of an unpaid depositary, as it is written "if a man deliver to his neighbour money or stuff" (Exodus 22,6).

243  To judge in the case of a paid carrier or lessee, as it is written "if a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox" (Exodus 22,9).

244  To judge in the case of a borrower, as it is written "and if a man borrow aught of his neighbour" (Exodus 22,13).

245  To judge in the case of purchase and sale, as it is written "and if thou sell aught" (Leviticus 25,14).

246  To judge in the case between a claimant and respondent, as it is written "for every matter of trespass" (Exodus 22,8).

247  To save the pursued even at the cost of the life of the pursuer, as it is written "then thou shalt cut off her hand" (Deuteronomy 25,12).

248  To judge in cases of inheritances, as it is written "if a man die, and have no son . . . and it shall be unto the children of Israel" (Numbers 27,8-11).


 

Negative Commandments

1  The first of the negative commandments is not to entertain the thought that there is any god but the LORD, as it is written "thou shalt have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20,2; Deuteronomy 5,6).

2  Not to make a graven image, neither to make oneself nor to have made for oneself by others, as it is written "thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image" (Exodus 20,3; and see Deuteronomy 5,7).

3  Not to make an idol even for others, as it is written "nor make to yourselves molten gods" (Leviticus 19,4).

4  Not to make figures for decoration, even if they are not worshipped, as it is written "ye shall not make with Me–gods of silver" (Exodus 20,19).

5  Not to bow down to an object of idolatry, even if that is not its normal way of worship, as it is written "thou shalt not bow down unto them" (Exodus 20,4; Deuteronomy 5,8).

6  Not to worship an object of idolatry in its normal ways of worship, as it is written "nor serve them" (Exodus 20,4; Exodus 23,24;Deuteronomy 5,8).

7  Not to turn over to Molech, as it is written "and thou shalt not give any of thy seed to set them apart to Molech" (Leviticus 18,21).

8  Not to divine by consulting ghosts, as it is written "turn ye not unto the ghosts" (Leviticus 19,31).

9  Not to resort to familiar spirits as it is written "nor unto familiar spirits" (Leviticus 19,31).

10  Not to turn to idolatry, as it is written "turn ye not unto the idols" (Leviticus 19,4).

11  Not to set up a pillar, as it is written "neither shalt thou set thee up a pillar" (Deuteronomy 16,22).

12  Not to set down a stone for prostration, as it is written "neither shall ye place any figured stone in your land" (Leviticus 26,1).

13  Not to plant a tree in the Sanctuary, as it is written "thou shalt not plant thee an Asherah of any kind of tree" (Deuteronomy 16,21).

14  Not to swear by an idolatry to its worshipers nor cause them to swear by it, as it is written "and make no mention of the name of other gods" (Exodus 23,13).

15  Not to proselytize the children of Israel to idolatry, as it is written "neither let it be heard out of thy mouth" (Exodus 23,13); this is a warning to the proselytizer.

16  Not to entice an Israelite to idolatry, as it is written "and shall do no more any such wickedness" (Deuteronomy 13,12).

17  Not to love the enticer to idolatry, as it is written "thou shalt not consent unto him" (Deuteronomy 13,9).

18  Not to leave off hating the enticer, as it is written "nor hearken unto him" (Deuteronomy 13,9).

19  Not to save the enticer but to stand by at his death, as it is written "neither shall thine eye pity him" (Deuteronomy 13,9).

20  For a person whom he attempted to entice not to plead for acquittal of the enticer, as it is written "neither shalt thou spare" (Deuteronomy 13,9).

21  For a person whom he attempted to entice not to refrain from pleading for conviction of the enticer, as it is written "neither shalt thou conceal him" (Deuteronomy 13,9).

22  Not to benefit from the coverings of any object of idolatrous worship, as it is written "thou shalt not covet the silver or the gold that is on them" (Deuteronomy 7,25).

23  Not to rebuild a city that has been proselytized over to idolatry, as it is written "it shall not be built again" (Deuteronomy 13,17).

24  Not to benefit from the property of a city that has been proselytized over to idolatry, as it is written "and there shall cleave nought of the devoted thing to thy hand" (Deuteronomy 13,18).

25  Not to benefit from an object of idolatry, its accessories, or its offerings or wine given as a libation to it, as it is written "and thou shalt not bring an abomination into thy house" (Deuteronomy 7,26).

26  Not to prophesy in its name, as it is written "or that shall speak in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die" (Deuteronomy 18,20).

27  Not to prophesy falsely, as it is written "that shall speak a word presumptuously in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak" (Deuteronomy 18,20).

28  Not to obey one who prophesies in the name of idolatry, as it is written "thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet" (Deuteronomy 13,4).

29  Not to refrain from killing a false prophet nor be in fear of him, as it is written "thou shalt not be afraid of him" (Deuteronomy 18,22).

30  Not to adopt the institutions of idolaters nor their customs, as it is written "and ye shall not walk in the customs of the nation" (Leviticus 20,23).

31  Not to practice black magic, as it is written "there shall not be found among you . . . one that useth divination" (Deuteronomy 18,10).

32  Not to practice soothsaying, as it is written "nor soothsaying" (Leviticus 19,26).

33  Not to practice divination, as it is written "neither shall ye practise divination" (Leviticus 19,26).

34  Not to practice sorcery, as it is written "there shall not be found among you . . . a sorcerer" (Deuteronomy 18,10).

35  Not to practice the charmer’s art, as it is written "or a charmer" (Deuteronomy 18,11).

36  Not to consult a ghost, as it is written "or one that consulteth a ghost" (Deuteronomy 18,11).

37  Not to consult a familiar spirit, as it is written "or one that consulteth a ghost or a familiar spirit" (Deuteronomy 18,11).

38  Not to enquire of the dead in a dream, as it is written "or a necromancer" (Deuteronomy 18,11).

39  That a woman shall not wear the attire of a man, as it is written "a woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man" (Deuteronomy 22,5).

40  That a man shall not wear the attire of a woman, as it is written "neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment" (Deuteronomy 22,5); for this was a custom of idol worshipers, as is explained in books on its worship.

41  Not to tattoo the body like idolaters, as it is written "nor imprint any marks upon you" (Leviticus 19,28).

42  Not to wear garments of both wool and linen as idolatrous priests wear, as it is written "thou shalt not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together" (Deuteronomy 22,11).

43  Not to shave the corners of the head like idolatrous priests, as it is written "ye shall not round the corners of your heads" (Leviticus 19,27).

44  Not to remove the whole beard like the idolaters, as it is written "neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard" (Leviticus 19,27).

45  Not to cut oneself like the idolaters, as it is written "ye shall not cut yourselves" (Deuteronomy 14,1); cutting oneself and making incisions in the flesh are the same.

46  Not to dwell in the Land of Egypt ever, as it is written "ye shall henceforth return no more that way" (Deuteronomy 17,16).

47  Not to stray after thoughts of the heart and sights of the eyes, as it is written "and that ye go not about after your own heart and your own eyes" (Numbers 15,39).

48  Not to make a covenant with the seven Canaanite nations, as it is written "thou shalt make no covenant with them" (Deuteronomy 7,2).

49  Not to keep alive any person of the seven Canaanite nations, as it is written "thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth" (Deuteronomy 20,16).

50  Not to have mercy on idolaters, as it is written "nor show mercy unto them" (Deuteronomy 7,2).

51  Not to allow idolaters to settle in our land, as it is written "they shall not dwell in thy land" (Exodus 23,33).

52  Not to intermarry with idolaters, as it is written "neither shalt thou make marriages with them" (Deuteronomy 7,3).

53  That an Ammonite or Moabite shall never marry the daughter of an Israelite, as it is written "an Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the LORD" (Deuteronomy 23,4).

54  Not to exclude the seed of Esau from the community of Israel more than three generations, as it is written "thou shalt not abhor an Edomite" (Deuteronomy 23,8).

55  Not to exclude an Egyptian from the community of Israel more than three generations, as it is written "thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian" (Deuteronomy 23,8).

56  Not to offer peace to Ammon and Moab before waging war on them as with other nations, as it is written "thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity" (Deuteronomy 23,7).

57  Not to destroy fruit trees, nor may anything else be pointlessly destroyed, as it is written "thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof" (Deuteronomy 20,19).

58  That warriors shall not fear their enemies nor be frightened of them in battle, as it is written "thou shalt not be affrighted at them" (Deuteronomy 7,21), "ye shall not fear them" (Deuteronomy 3,22).

59  That the evil deeds done to us by Amalek shall not depart from our hearts, as it is written "thou shalt not forget" (Deuteronomy 25,19).

60  That we are warned against blasphemy, as it is written "thou shalt not revile God" (Exodus 22,27); and on the penalty it is written "and he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death" (Leviticus 24,16).  The general rule is that wherever Scripture prescribes the penalty of excision or capital punishment, there is a negative commandment, aside from circumcision and the Pesach sacrifice, which are punished by excision though they are affirmative commandments.

61  Not to violate an oath, as it is written "and ye shall not swear by My name falsely" (Leviticus 19,12).

62  Not to take an oath in vain, as it is written "thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain" (Exodus 20,6;Deuteronomy 5,10).

63  Not to profane the name of the Holy One blessed be He, as it is written "and shall not profane My holy name" (Leviticus 22,32).

64  Not to test the word of the LORD, as it is written "ye shall not try the LORD your God" (Deuteronomy 6,16).

65  Not to destroy the Sanctuary, synagogues, or houses of study; similarly, it is forbidden to erase the holy names or destroy the holy Scriptures, as it is written "ye shall surely destroy . . . and burn their Asherim" (Deuteronomy 12,2-3), "ye shall not do so unto the LORD your God" (Deuteronomy 12,4).

66  That a hanged corpse shall not remain on the tree overnight, as it is written "his body shall not remain all night upon the tree" (Deuteronomy 21,23).

67  Not to cease the watch around the Sanctuary, as it is written "and ye shall keep the charge of the holy things" (Numbers 18,5).

68  That the priest shall not enter the Sanctuary at all times, as it is written "that he come not at all times into the holy place" (Leviticus 16,2).

69  That a priest with a disqualifying blemish shall not enter the Temple up to the Altar or beyond, as it is written "only he shall not go in unto the veil" (Leviticus 21,23).

70  That a priest with a disqualifying blemish shall not serve, as it is written "that hath a blemish, let him not approach" (Leviticus 21,17).

71  That a priest with a temporary disqualifying blemish shall not serve, as it is written "no man that hath a blemish shall come nigh" (Leviticus 21,21).

72  That the Levites shall not engage in the service of the priests nor the priests in the service of the Levites, as it is written "only they shall not come nigh unto the holy furniture and unto the altar . . . neither they, nor ye" (Numbers 18,3).

73  That a wine-intoxicated person shall not enter the Sanctuary nor give decisions in matters of Torah, as it is written "drink no wine nor strong drink . . . when ye go into . . . and that ye may teach the children of Israel" (Leviticus 10,9-11).

74  That a non-priest shall not serve in the Sanctuary, as it is written "but a common man shall not draw nigh unto you" (Numbers 18,4).

75  That a priest who is unclean shall not serve, as it is written "that they separate themselves from the holy things of the children of Israel" (Leviticus 22,2).

76  That a priest who took a purifying ritual bath shall not serve in the Sanctuary before the stars come out on the following evening, as it is written "and not profane the name of their God" (Leviticus 21,6).

77  That a priest who is unclean shall not enter the Courtyard, as it is written "that they defile not their camp" (Numbers 5,3); this is the camp of the Holy Presence.

78  That one who is unclean shall not enter the Camp of the Levites, and corresponding to it for all time is the Temple Mount, as it is written "he shall not come within the camp" (Deuteronomy 23,11); this is the Camp of the Levites.

79  Not to build an altar of hewn stones, as it is written "thou shalt not build it of hewn stones" (Exodus 20,21).

80  Not to take steps upon the Altar, as it is written "neither shalt thou go up by steps unto Mine altar" (Exodus 20,22).

81  Not to extinguish the fire of the Altar, as it is written "fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out" (Leviticus 6,6).

82  Not to offer incense or any sacrifice upon the Golden Altar, as it is written "ye shall offer no strange incense thereon" (Exodus 30,9).

83  Not to make a duplicate of the formula of the anointing oil, as it is written "neither shall ye make any like it, according to the composition thereof" (Exodus 30,32).

84  Not to anoint an improper person with the anointing oil, as it is written "upon the flesh of man shall it not be poured" (Exodus 30,32).

85  Not to make a duplicate of the formula of the incense, as it is written "and according to the composition thereof ye shall not make for yourselves" (see Exodus 30,37).

86  Not to take out the staves of the Ark, as it is written "they shall not be taken from it" (Exodus 25,15).

87  That the breastplate shall not be loosened from the ephod, as it is written "and that the breastplate be not loosed from the ephod" (Exodus 28,28; Exodus 39,21).

88  That a high priest’s robe not be torn, as it is written "as it were the hole of a coat of mail that it be not rent" (Exodus 28,32).

89  Not to offer sacrifices outside the Sanctuary, as it is written "take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt-offerings" (Deuteronomy 12,13).

90  Not to slaughter consecrated animals outside the Sanctuary, as it is written "that killeth an ox, or lamb . . . and hath not brought it unto the door of the tent of meeting . . . and shall be cut off" (Leviticus 17,3-4).

91  Not to consecrate animals with disqualifying blemishes for sacrifice, as it is written "whatsoever hath a blemish, that shall ye not bring" (Leviticus 22,20); this forbids consecration for sacrifice.

92  Not to slaughter animals with disqualifying blemishes as sacrifices, as it is written "ye shall not offer these unto the LORD" (Leviticus 22,22).

93  Not to sprinkle the blood of animals with disqualifying blemishes on the Altar, as it is written on blemished animals "ye shall not offer unto the LORD" (Leviticus 22,24); this forbids the sprinkling of their blood.

94  Not to burn the choice portions from animals with disqualifying blemishes upon the Altar, as it is written "nor make an offering by fire of them upon the altar" (Leviticus 22,22).

95  Not to sacrifice an animal with temporary disqualifying blemishes, as it is written "thou shalt not sacrifice unto the LORD thy God an ox, or a sheep, wherein is a blemish" (Deuteronomy 17,1); this is a temporary blemish.

96  Not to sacrifice an animal with disqualifying blemishes from Gentiles, as it is written "neither from the hand of a foreigner shall ye offer " (Leviticus 22,25).

97  Not to inflict a blemish in consecrated animals, as it is written "there shall be no blemish therein" (Leviticus 22,21); that is, thou shalt not inflict a blemish in it.

98  Not to offer leaven or honey, as it is written "for ye shall make no leaven, nor any honey, smoke as an offering" (Leviticus 2,11).

99  Not to bring any offering unsalted, as it is written "neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking" (Leviticus 2,13).

100  Not to bring sacrifices of animals taken in exchange for services of a prostitute or in exchange for a dog, as it is written "thou shalt not bring the hire of a harlot, or the price of a dog" (Deuteronomy 23,19).

101  Not to slaughter an animal and its young on the same day, as it is written "ye shall not kill it and its young both in one day" (Leviticus 22,28).

102  Not to put olive oil on the meal offering of a sinner, as it is written "he shall put no oil upon it" (Leviticus 5,11).

103  Not to put frankincense on it, as it is written "neither shall he put any frankincense thereon" (Leviticus 5,11).

104  Not to put olive oil on the meal offering of a woman suspected of adultery, as it is written "he shall pour no oil upon it" (Numbers 5,15).

105  Not to put frankincense on it, as it is written "nor put frankincense thereon" (Numbers 5,15).

106  Not to substitute for a consecrated animal, as it is written "he shall not alter it, nor change it, a good for a bad" (Leviticus 27,10).

107  Not to change a consecrated animal from one sacrifice to another, as it is written on the first-born "no man shall sanctify it" (Leviticus 27,26); that is, not to sanctify it as another kind of sacrifice.

108  Not to redeem the first-born of a clean animal, as it is written "but the firstling of an ox . . . thou shalt not redeem" (Numbers 18,17).

109  Not to sell the tithe of animals, as it is written "it shall not be redeemed" (Leviticus 27,33).

110  Not to sell a field devoted to the LORD, as it is written "no devoted thing . . . shall be sold" (Leviticus 27,28).

111  Not to redeem a field devoted to the LORD, as it is written "or redeemed" (Leviticus 27,28).

112  Not to sever the head of a fowl brought as a sin offering, as it is written "and pinch off its head close by its neck, but shall not divide it asunder" (Leviticus 5,8).

113  Not to do work with consecrated animals, as it is written "thou shalt do no work with the firstling of thine ox" (Deuteronomy 15,19).

114  Not to shear consecrated animals, as it is written "nor shear the firstling of thy flock" (Deuteronomy 15,19).

115  Not to slaughter the Pesach sacrifice while in possession of leaven, as it is written "thou shalt not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread" (Exodus 34,25).

116  Not to leave the choice parts of the Pesach sacrifice overnight so that they become unfit for burning on the Altar, as it is written "neither shall the fat of My feast remain all night until the morning" (Exodus 23,18).

117  Not to leave the flesh of the Pesach sacrifice overnight, as it is written "and ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning" (Exodus 12,10).

118  Not to leave any of the festival offering of the Fourteenth of Nisan over until the third day, as it is written "neither shall any of the flesh remain all night . . ." (Deuteronomy 16,4); it was learned from the oral tradition that this specifically refers to the festival offering brought on the Fourteenth of Nisan, and "until the morning" (ibid.) means until the morning of the second day of Pesach, which is the third day from slaughtering.

119  Not to leave any flesh of the Second Pesach sacrifice until the morning, as it is written "they shall leave none of it unto the morning" (Numbers 9,12).

120  Not to leave any flesh of the thanksgiving offering until the morning, as it is written "and ye shall leave none of it until the morning" (see Leviticus 22,30); and the same applies to the other sacrifices, which must not be left over beyond the time for their eating.

121  Not to break a bone of the Pesach sacrifice, as it is written "neither shall ye break a bone thereof" (Exodus 12,46).

122  Not to break a bone of the Second Pesach sacrifice, as it is written "nor break a bone thereof" (Numbers 9,12).

123  Not to take out any flesh of the Pesach sacrifice from the place of the group eating it, as it is written "thou shalt not carry forth abroad out of the house" (Exodus 12,46).

124  Not to allow the remainder of the meal offerings to become leavened, as it is written "it shall not be baked with leaven" (Leviticus 6,10).

125  Not to eat the flesh of the Pesach sacrifice raw or boiled, as it is written "eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water" (Exodus 12,9).

126  Not to feed the flesh of the Pesach sacrifice to a resident alien, as it is written "a sojourner and a hired servant shall not eat thereof" (Exodus 12,45).

127  That the uncircumcised shall not eat the flesh of the Pesach sacrifice, as it is written "but no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof" (Exodus 12,48).

128  Not to feed the flesh of the Pesach sacrifice to an apostate Israelite, as it is written "there shall no alien eat thereof" (Exodus 12,43); that is, an Israelite who has associated himself with Gentiles and worshipped idolatry like them shall not eat it.

129  That a person who is unclean shall not eat consecrated food, as it is written "but the soul that eateth of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace-offerings, that pertain unto the LORD, having his uncleanness upon him, shall be cut off" (Leviticus 7,20).

130  Not to eat consecrated foods that have become unclean, as it is written "and the flesh that toucheth any unclean thing shall not be eaten" (Leviticus 7,19).

131  Not to eat a sacrifice that has been left over, as it is written "but every one that eateth it shall bear his iniquity . . . and that soul shall be cut off from his people" (Leviticus 19,8).

132  Not to eat the abomination of intended delay, as it is written "neither shall it be imputed unto him that offereth it; it shall be an abhorred thing, and the soul that eateth of it shall bear his iniquity" (Leviticus 7,18); it is punished by excision.

133  That an unauthorized person shall not eat the heave offerings, as it is written "there shall no common man eat of the holy thing" (Leviticus 22,10).

134  That even the tenant of a priest or his hired worker shall not eat a heave offering, as it is written "a tenant of a priest, or a hired servant, shall not eat of the holy thing" (Leviticus 22,10).

135  That the uncircumcised shall not eat a heave offering, and the same applies to other consecrated food.  This rule is implied by the Scripture in the Pesach offering by an analogy from similarity of wording, but it is not explicit in the Torah; it was learned from the oral tradition that the prohibition of the uncircumcised in consecrated foods is a commandment of the Torah itself, and not a rabbinical enactment.

136  That a priest who is unclean shall not eat a heave offering, as it is written "whosoever he be of thy seed . . . shall not eat of the holy things" (see Leviticus 21,17; Leviticus 22,4).

137  That a profaned woman shall not eat consecrated food, neither heave offerings nor the breast and foreleg, as it is written "and if a priest’s daughter be married unto a common man, she shall not eat of that which is set apart from the holy things" (Leviticus 22,12).

138  Not to eat the priest’s meal offering, as it is written "and every meal-offering of the priest shall be wholly made to smoke; it shall not be eaten" (Leviticus 6,16).

139  Not to eat the flesh of sin offerings brought inside, as it is written "and no sin-offering, whereof any of the blood is brought . . . shall be eaten" (Leviticus 6,23).

140  Not to eat the flesh of unfit consecrated animals in which a blemish has been inflicted intentionally, as it is written "thou shalt not eat any abominable thing" (Deuteronomy 14,3); it was learned from the oral tradition that this refers to unfit consecrated animals in which a blemish was inflicted.

141  Not to eat the second tithe of grain outside Jerusalem, as it is written "thou mayest not eat within thy gates the tithe of thy corn" (Deuteronomy 12,17).

142  Not to eat the second tithe of wine outside Jerusalem, as it is written "thy wine" (Deuteronomy 12,17).

143  Not to eat the second tithe of oil outside Jerusalem, as it is written "or of thine oil" (Deuteronomy 12,17).

144  Not to eat an unblemished first-born animal outside Jerusalem, as it is written "thou mayest not eat . . . or the firstlings" (Deuteronomy 12,17).

145  That the priests shall not eat the flesh of the sin offering or trespass offering outside the Courtyard, as it is written "thou mayest not eat . . . of thy herd or of thy flock" (Deuteronomy 12,17); it was learned from the oral tradition that this prohibits the flesh of the sin offering or the trespass offering outside the Courtyard, since anything eaten outside the proper place of its eating comes within "thou mayest not eat within thy gates" (ibid.).

146  Not to eat the flesh of the burnt offering, as it is written "thou mayest not eat . . . nor any of thy vows which thou vowest" (see Deuteronomy 12,17); that is, you shall not eat the sacrifices you vow.  This is a warning against anyone who would benefit from consecrated property, that one must not benefit from any of the consecrated items forbidden to be benefited from; if one does benefit, he becomes responsible for the forbidden benefit.

147  Not to eat the flesh of the minor sacrifices before the sprinkling of the blood, as it is written "thou mayest not eat . . . thy freewill-offerings" (Deuteronomy 12,17); that is, you must not eat your free-will offerings, until their blood has been sprinkled.

148  That the non-priest shall not eat the flesh of the most holy sacrifices, as it is written "but a stranger shall not eat thereof, because they are holy" (Exodus 29,33).

149  That the priest shall not eat the first fruits before they are set down in the Courtyard, as it is written "thou mayest not eat . . . nor the offering of thy hand" (Deuteronomy 12,17); these are the first fruits.

150  Not to eat the second tithe while unclean, even in Jerusalem, until it has been redeemed, as it is written "neither have I put away thereof, being unclean" (Deuteronomy 26,14).

151  Not to eat the second tithe while mourning, as it is written "I have not eaten thereof in my mourning" (Deuteronomy 26,14).

152  Not to spend redemption money of the second tithe for anything but food and drink, as it is written "nor given thereof for the dead", (Deuteronomy 26,14); anything other than necessities of the living body comes within "given thereof for the dead".

153  Not to eat produce from which priestly portions have not yet been removed; it is produce of the soil from which heave offering and tithes have to be separated, before taking out the heave offering to the LORD:  as it is written "and they shall not profane the holy things of the children of Israel, which they set apart unto the LORD" (Leviticus 22,15); that is, what is to be separated out for the LORD must not be treated as profane and eaten before the separation.

154  Not to take out heave offerings before the first fruits, nor the first tithe before the heave offering, nor the second tithe before the first tithe, but take them out in the proper order:  first fruits at the start, then the great heave offering, then the first tithe, and then the second tithe, as it is written "thou shalt not delay to offer of the fulness of thy harvest, and of the outflow of thy presses" (Exodus 22,28); that is, do not to delay what should be earlier.

155  Not to delay vowed offerings or free-will offerings, as it is written "thou shalt not be slack to pay it" (Deuteronomy 23,22).

156  Not to go up on a pilgrimage festival without an offering, as it is written "and none shall appear before Me empty" (Exodus 23,15).

157  Not to transgress in matters that one has forbidden himself, as it is written "he shall not break his word" (Numbers 30,3).

158  That a priest shall not marry a harlot, as it is written "they shall not take a wife that is a harlot" (Leviticus 21,7).

159  That a priest shall not marry a profaned woman, as it is written "they shall not take a woman that is . . . or profaned" (Leviticus 21,7).

160  That a priest shall not marry a divorced woman, as it is written "neither shall they take a woman put away from her husband" (Leviticus 21,7).

161  That a high priest shall not marry a widow, as it is written "a widow, or one divorced, or a profaned woman, or a harlot, these shall he not take" (Leviticus 21,14).

162  That a high priest shall not have sexual relations with a widow, even without marriage, because he profanes her, and it is written "and he shall not profane his seed among his people" (Leviticus 21,15); thus, he is warned against profaning one who would be otherwise fit.

163  That a priest shall not enter the Sanctuary with unkempt hair, as it is written "let not the hair of your heads go loose" (Leviticus 10,6).

164  That a priest shall not enter the Sanctuary in torn clothing, as it is written "neither rend your clothes" (Leviticus 10,6).

165  That a priest shall not leave the Courtyard during the service, as it is written "and ye shall not go out from the door of the tent of meeting" (Leviticus 10,7).

166  That an ordinary priest shall not become unclean by contact with the dead [other than certain relatives], as it is written "there shall none defile himself for the dead among his people" (Leviticus 21,1).

167  That a high priest shall not become unclean even for relatives, as it is written "nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother" (Leviticus 21,11).

168  That a high priest shall not go into the place of a corpse, as it is written "neither shall he go in to any dead body" (Leviticus 21,11); thus it was learned from the oral tradition, that he is prohibited both from going into the place of a corpse and from becoming unclean.

169  That none of the tribe of Levi shall take any portion in the Land of Israel, as it is written "and they shall have no inheritance" (Deuteronomy 18,2).

170  That none of the tribe of Levi shall take any share of the spoils in the conquest of the Land of Israel, as it is written "the priests the Levites . . . shall have no" (Deuteronomy 18,1).

171  Not to make a bald spot for the dead, as it is written "nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead" (Deuteronomy 14,1).

172  Not to eat unclean animals, as it is written "nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that only chew the cud" (Leviticus 11,4;Deuteronomy 14,7).

173  Not to eat unclean fish, as it is written "and they shall be a detestable thing unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh" (Leviticus 11,11).

174  Not to eat unclean fowl, as it is written "and these ye shall have in detestation among the fowls; they shall not be eaten" (Leviticus 11,13).

175  Not to eat winged swarming things, as it is written "all winged swarming things are unclean unto you; they shall not be eaten" (Deuteronomy 14,19).

176  Not to eat things that creep upon the earth, as it is written "and every swarming thing that swarmeth upon the earth is a detestable thing; it shall not be eaten" (Leviticus 11,41).

177  Not to eat things that swarm upon the earth, as it is written "neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of swarming thing that moveth upon the earth" (Leviticus 11,44).

178  Not to eat a worm found in fruit once it has come out into the air, as it is written "even all swarming things that swarm upon the earth, them ye shall not eat" (Leviticus 11,42).

179  Not to eat things that swarm in the water, as it is written "ye shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarmeth" (Leviticus 11,43).

180  Not to eat an animal that died without slaughtering, as it is written "ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself" (Deuteronomy 14,21).

181  Not to eat an animal that is fatally injured, as it is written "ye shall not eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field" (Exodus 22,30).

182  Not to eat a limb removed from a living animal, as it is written "and thou shalt not eat the life with the flesh" (Deuteronomy 12,23).

183  Not to eat the sinew of the thigh, as it is written "therefore the children of Israel eat not the sinew of the thigh-vein" (Genesis 32,33).

184  Not to eat blood, as it is written "and ye shall eat no manner of blood" (Leviticus 3,17; Leviticus 7,26).

185  Not to eat suet, as it is written "ye shall eat no fat, of ox, or sheep, or goat" (Leviticus 7,23).

186  Not to cook meat with milk, as it is written "thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23,19; Exodus 34,26;Deuteronomy 14,21).

187  Not to eat meat with milk, as it is written a second time "thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk" (Exodus 34,26); thus was it learned from the oral tradition, that one is to prohibit cooking and one is to prohibit eating.

188  Not to eat the flesh of an ox condemned to be stoned, as it is written "and its flesh shall not be eaten" (Exodus 21,28).

189  Not to eat bread of the new crop before Pesach, as it is written "and ye shall eat neither bread" (Leviticus 23,14).

190  Not to eat roasted grain of the new crop, as it is written "and ye shall eat neither . . . nor parched corn" (Leviticus 23,14).

191  Not to eat fresh grain of the new crop, as it is written "and ye shall eat neither . . . nor fresh ears" (Leviticus 23,14).

192  Not to eat fruit of a tree in the first three years from planting, as it is written "three years shall it be as forbidden unto you; it shall not be eaten" (Leviticus 19,23).

193  Not to eat grains or vegetables sown in a vineyard, as it is written "lest the fulness of the seed which thou hast sown be forfeited together with the increase of the vineyard" (Deuteronomy 22,9); this is a prohibition to eat.

194  Not to drink wine of libation to idolatry, as it is written "who did eat the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink-offering (Deuteronomy 32,38).

195  Not to eat and drink like a glutton and a drunkard, as it is written "this our son . . . is a glutton, and a drunkard" (Deuteronomy 21,20).

196  Not to eat on the Day of the Fast, as it is written "for whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted" (Leviticus 23,29).

197  Not to eat leaven on Pesach, as it is written "there shall no leavened bread be eaten" (Exodus 13,3).

198  Not to eat a mixture containing leaven, as it is written "ye shall eat nothing leavened" (Exodus 12,20).

199  Not to eat leaven after noon on the Fourteenth of Nisan, as it is written "thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it" (Deuteronomy 16,3).

200  That leaven shall not be seen during Pesach, as it is written "and there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee" (Exodus 13,7).

201  That leaven shall not be found during Pesach, as it is written "seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses" (Exodus 12,19).

202  That a Nazarite shall not drink wine, nor anything mixed with wine having the taste of wine, as it is written "neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes" (Numbers 6,3); and even if the wine or the mixture of wine has turned into vinegar, it is prohibited to him, as it is written "he shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink" (ibid.).

203  That he shall not eat fresh grapes, as it is written "nor eat fresh grapes" (Numbers 6,3).

204  That he shall not eat raisins, as it is written "nor eat dried" (Numbers 6,3).

205  That he shall not eat grape seeds, as it is written "he shall not eat grape seeds" (Numbers 6,4).

206  That he shall not eat grape skins, as it is written "he shall not eat grapeskins" (Numbers 6,4).

207  That a Nazarite shall not become unclean from a corpse, as it is written "he shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother . . . when they die" (Numbers 6,7).

208  That he shall not enter under any covering where there is a corpse, as it is written "he shall not come near to a dead body" (Numbers 6,6).

209  That the Nazarite shall not cut his hair, as it is written "there shall no razor come upon his head" (Numbers 6,5).

210  Not to reap the whole field, as it is written "thou shalt not wholly reap the corner of thy field" (Leviticus 23,22).

211  Not to gather the stalks fallen while reaping, as it is written "neither shalt thou gather the gleaning of thy harvest" (Leviticus 19,9; Leviticus 23,22).

212  Not to harvest the imperfect clusters of the vineyard, as it is written "and thou shalt not glean thy vineyard" (Leviticus 19,10).

213  Not to gather individual fallen grapes, as it is written "neither shalt thou gather the fallen fruit of thy vineyard" (Leviticus 19,10).

214  Not to take a forgotten sheaf, as it is written "thou shalt not go back to fetch it" (Deuteronomy 24,19); this also applies to all fruit trees, as it is written "thou shalt not go over the boughs again" (Deuteronomy 24,20).

215  Not to sow different kinds of seed together, as it is written "thou shalt not sow thy field with two kinds of seed" (Leviticus 19,19).

216  Not to sow grain or vegetables in a vineyard, as it is written "thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with two kinds of seed" (Deuteronomy 22,9).

217  Not to crossbreed animals of different species, as it is written "thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind" (Leviticus 19,19).

218  Not to work with animals of different species together, as it is written "thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together" (Deuteronomy 22,10).

219  Not to muzzle an animal while working in produce it can eat and enjoy, as it is written "thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn" (Deuteronomy 25,4).

220  Not to till the ground in the Sabbatical year, as it is written "thou shalt neither sow thy field" (Leviticus 25,4).

221  Not to work the trees in the Sabbatical year, as it is written "nor prune thy vineyard" (Leviticus 25,4).

222  Not to harvest what grows by itself in the Sabbatical year in the way it is harvested in other years, as it is written "that which groweth of itself of thy harvest thou shalt not reap" (Leviticus 25,5).

223  Not to gather the fruit of trees in the Sabbatical year in the way it is gathered in all the other years, as it is written "and the grapes of thy undressed vine thou shalt not gather" (Leviticus 25,5).

224  Not to work in the Jubilee year either in the ground or in the trees, as it is written on it "ye shall not sow" (Leviticus 25,11).

225  Not to harvest what grows by itself in the Jubilee year as in the other years, as it is written on it "neither reap that which groweth of itself in it" (Leviticus 25,11).

226  Not to gather fruit of the trees in the Jubilee year in the way of gathering of other years, as it is written on it "nor gather the grapes in it of the undressed vines" (Leviticus 25,11).

227  Not to sell land in the Land of Israel in perpetuity, as it is written "and the land shall not be sold in perpetuity" (Leviticus 25,23).

228  Not to change the open lands and fields of cities of the Levites, as it is written "but the fields of the open land about their cities may not be sold" (Leviticus 25,34); it was learned from the oral tradition that this is a warning against change.

229  Not to forsake the Levites, as it is written "take heed to thyself that thou forsake not the Levite" (Deuteronomy 12,19); but rather their gifts are to be given them, and they are to be gladdened on each and every pilgrimage festival.

230  Not to demand return of a loan after the Sabbatical year has passed, as it is written "he shall not exact it of his neighbour and his brother" (Deuteronomy 15,2).

231  Not to refrain from loaning a poor man because of the Sabbatical year, as it is written "beware that there be not a base thought in thy heart . . ." (Deuteronomy 15,9).  The general rule is that wherever it is written "beware", "lest", or "do not", there is a negative commandment.

232  Not to refrain from maintaining a poor man and giving him whatever he needs, as it is written "thou shalt not harden thy heart . . ." (Deuteronomy 15,7); thus, whoever bestows charity fulfills an affirmative commandment, and one who shuts his eyes and refrains from giving charity not only neglects a positive commandment, but also violates a negative commandment.

233  Not to send away a Hebrew bondman empty handed when he goes free, as it is written "thou shalt not let him go empty" (Deuteronomy 15,13).

234  Not to demand from a poor man repayment of his debt when one knows that he is poor, nor cause him grief, as it is written "thou shalt not be to him as a creditor" (Exodus 22,24).

235  Not to loan to an Israelite on interest, as it is written "thou shalt not give him thy money upon interest" (Leviticus 25,37).

236  Not to borrow on interest, as it is written "thou shalt not lend upon interest to thy brother" (Deuteronomy 23,20); thus it was learned from the oral tradition, that this is a warning to the borrower not to give the lender interest.

237  Not to intermediate between a borrower and lender on interest, either as guarantor, or as witness, or as scribe of the document between them, as it is written "neither shall ye lay upon him interest" (Exodus 22,24).

238  Not to delay payment of a hired worker’s wages, as it is written "the wages of a hired servant shall not abide all night" (Leviticus 19,13).

239  That a creditor shall not exact a pledge by force, as it is written "thou shalt not go into his house to fetch his pledge" (Deuteronomy 24,10).

240  Not to keep the pledge from its poor owner at the time when he needs it, as it is written "thou shalt not sleep with his pledge" (Deuteronomy 24,12); that is, you shall not go to sleep while the debtor’s pledge is with you, but you shall return it to him at night, since he needs it at night.

241  Not to take a pledge from a widow, as it is written "nor take the widow’s raiment to pledge" (Deuteronomy 24,17).

242  Not to take in pledge utensils used in preparing food, as it is written "no man shall take the mill or the upper millstone to pledge" (Deuteronomy 24,6).

243  Not to kidnap any person of Israel, as it is written "thou shalt not steal" (Exodus 20,12; Deuteronomy 5,16); this is theft of a person.

244  Not to steal property, as it is written "ye shall not steal" (Leviticus 19,11); this is theft of property.

245  Not to rob, as it is written "nor rob" (Leviticus 19,13).

246  Not to move landmarks, as it is written "thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s landmark" (Deuteronomy 19,14).

247  Not to exploit, as it is written "thou shalt not oppress thy neighbour" (Leviticus 19,13).

248  Not to falsely deny another’s claim to property, as it is written "neither shall ye deal falsely" (Leviticus 19,11).

249  Not to swear falsely in denial of another’s claim to property, as it is written "nor lie one to another" (Leviticus 19,11); that is, do not swear falsely as to your neighbor’s property that is in your possession.

250  That one shall not wrong in buying and selling, as it is written "ye shall not wrong one another" (Leviticus 25,14).

251  That one shall not wrong others in speech, as it is written "and ye shall not wrong one another; but thou shalt fear thy God" (Leviticus 25,17); this is wronging in speech.

252  Not to wrong converts in speech, as it is written "and a stranger shalt thou not wrong" (Exodus 22,20).

253  Not to wrong the convert in buying and selling, as it is written "neither shalt thou oppress him" (Exodus 22,20).

254  Not to return a slave that fled to the Land of Israel to his master outside Israel, as it is written "thou shalt not deliver unto his master a bondman" (Deuteronomy 23,16).

255  Not to oppress such a slave, as it is written "he shall dwell with thee, in the midst of thee . . . where it liketh him best; thou shalt not wrong him" (Deuteronomy 23,17).

256  Not to afflict an orphan or widow, as it is written "ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child" (Exodus 22,21).

257  Not to work a Hebrew bondman in the work of a slave, as it is written "thou shalt not make him to serve as a bondservant" (Leviticus 25,39).

258  Not to sell him as slaves are sold, as it is written "they shall not be sold as bondmen" (Leviticus 25,42).

259  Not to subjugate a Hebrew bondman to strenuous work, as it is written "thou shalt not rule over him with rigour" (Leviticus 25,43; Leviticus 25,46).

260  Not to allow a Gentile to work a Hebrew bondman sold to him in strenuous work, as it is written "he shall not rule with rigour over him in thy sight" (Leviticus 25,53).

261  Not to sell a Hebrew bondmaid to another, as it is written "to sell her he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her" (Exodus 21,8).

262  Not to withhold from an espoused Hebrew bondmaid food, clothing, or conjugal rights, as it is written "her food, her raiment, and her conjugal rights, shall he not diminish" (Exodus 21,10); and the same applies to other women.

263  Not to sell a beautiful woman taken captive in war, as it is written "but thou shalt not sell her at all for money" (Deuteronomy 21,14).

264  Not to subject a beautiful woman taken captive in war to be a bondmaid, as it is written "thou shalt not deal with her as a slave" (Deuteronomy 21,14).

265  Not to covet, as it is written "thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife" (Exodus 20,13; Deuteronomy 5,17).

266  Not to desire, as it is written "neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s house" (Deuteronomy 5,17).

267  That a hired worker shall not eat of produce of the land where he is working other than at the time when he is at work, as it is written "but thou shalt not move a sickle" (Deuteronomy 23,26)

268  That the hired worker shall not take more than he eats, as it is written "then thou mayest eat grapes until thou have enough at thine own pleasure; but thou shalt not put any in thy vessel" (Deuteronomy 23,25).

269  Not to ignore a lost object, as it is written "thou mayest not hide thyself" (Deuteronomy 22,3).

270  Not to leave an animal fallen down beneath its burden on the way unaided, as it is written "thou shalt not see the ass of him that hateth thee" (see Exodus 23,5; Deuteronomy 22,4).

271  Not to do injustice in measuring, as it is written "ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard" (Leviticus 19,35); it was learned from the oral tradition that this warns against unrighteousness in judging of measurements.

272  Not to have in our possession diverse measures and weights, as it is written "thou shalt not have in thy house diverse measures, a great and a small" (Deuteronomy 25,14).

273  Not to do injustice in a judgment, as it is written "ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment" (Leviticus 19,15)).

274  Not to take a bribe, as it is written "and thou shalt take no gift" (Exodus 23,8)

275  Not to show favoritism toward an important man when judging, as it is written "nor favour the person of the mighty" (Leviticus 19,15).

276  That the judge not be afraid of a bad man when judging, as it is written "ye shall not be afraid of any man" (Deuteronomy 1,17).

277  Not to take pity on a poor man when judging, as it is written "thou shalt not respect the person of the poor" (Leviticus 19,15).

278  Not to pervert the judgment of a sinner, as it is written "thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor" (Exodus 23,6); it was learned from the oral tradition that this is one poor in observance of commandments.

279  Not to pity the injuring party in imposing penalties, as it is written "thine eye shall not pity him" (Deuteronomy 19,13).

280  Not to pervert the judgment of converts and orphans, as it is written "thou shalt not pervert the justice due to the stranger, or to the fatherless" (Deuteronomy 24,17).

281  Not to hear one of the parties to a case in the absence of the other, as it is written "thou shalt not accept a false report" (Exodus 23,1).

282  Not to decide according to a majority in capital cases, if those for conviction are only one more than those for acquittal, as it is written "thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil" (Exodus 23,2).

283  That one who has first argued for acquittal shall not later argue for conviction in capital cases, as it is written "neither shalt thou bear witness in a cause to turn aside" (Exodus 23,2).

284  Not to appoint as judge one who is not learned in the laws of the Torah, even if he is learned in other disciplines, as it is written "ye shall not respect persons in judgment" (Deuteronomy 1,17).

285  Not to testify falsely, as it is written "thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour" (Exodus 20,12).

286  That a habitual transgressor shall not testify, as it is written "put not thy hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness" (Exodus 23,1).

287  That a relative shall not testify, as it is written "the fathers shall not be put to death for the children" (Deuteronomy 24,16); it was learned from the oral tradition that parents are not to be put to death on the evidence of their children, and the same applies to other relatives.

288  Not to decide a case on the evidence of a single witness, as it is written "one witness shall not rise up against a man" (Deuteronomy 19,15).

289  Not to kill an innocent person, as it is written "thou shalt not murder" (Exodus 20,12; Deuteronomy 5,16).

290  Not to decide a case based on conjecture, but on the evidence of two eye witnesses, as it is written "and the innocent and righteous slay thou not" (Exodus 23,7).

291  That a witness who testified in a capital case shall not give instruction on the law for that case, as it is written "but one witness shall not testify against any person" (Numbers 35,30).

292  Not to execute one guilty of a capital offence before he has stood trial, as it is written "that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation" (Numbers 35,12).

293  Not to pity the pursuer, but to kill him before he can kill or rape the pursued, as it is written "then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall have no pity" (Deuteronomy 25,12).

294  Not to punish one who sinned under duress, as it is written "but unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing" (Deuteronomy 22,26).

295  Not to take ransom from a murderer, as it is written "and ye shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer" (Numbers 35,31).

296  Not to take ransom from one who killed another accidentally to free him from exile, as it is written "and ye shall take no ransom for him that is fled to his city of refuge" (Numbers 35,32).

297  Not to stand by idly when life is in danger, as it is written "thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbour" (Leviticus 19,16).

298  Not to leave harmful objects about, as it is written "that thou bring not blood upon thy house" (Deuteronomy 22,8).

299  Not to cause the innocent to stumble on the way, as it is written "nor put a stumbling-block before the blind" (Leviticus 19,14).

300  Not to exceed the maximum for one liable to whipping, as it is written "he shall not exceed; lest, if he should exceed" (Deuteronomy 25,3).

301  Not to gossip, as it is written "thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people" (Leviticus 19,16).

302  Not to hate another in one’s heart, as it is written "thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart" (Leviticus 19,17).

303  Not to shame any person of Israel, as it is written "thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbour, and not bear sin because of him" (Leviticus 19,17).

304  Not to take revenge, as it is written "thou shalt not take vengeance" (Leviticus 19,18).

305  Not to bear a grudge, as it is written "nor bear any grudge" (Leviticus 19,18).

306  Not to take the mother bird with the young, as it is written "thou shalt not take the dam with the young" (Deuteronomy 22,6).

307  Not to shave off the hair of the scall, as it is written "but the scall shall he not shave" (Leviticus 13,33).

308  Not to remove the signs of leprosy, as it is written "take heed in the plague of leprosy" (Deuteronomy 24,8).

309  Not to till nor sow the riverbed where a heifer was decapitated, as it is written "which may neither be plowed nor sown" (Deuteronomy 21,4).

310  That a groom in his first year shall not be liable to take part in any public work, such as army service, guarding the wall, and the like, as it is written "he shall not go out in the host, neither shall he be charged with any business" (Deuteronomy 24,5).

311  Not to allow a sorcerer to live, as it is written "thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live" (Exodus 22,17).

312  Not to rebel against the Great Rabbinical Court, as it is written "thou shalt not turn aside from any sentence" (see Deuteronomy 17,11).

313  Not to add to the Torah’s commandments, whether in the Written Law or in its interpretation received by tradition, as it is written "all this word which I command you, that shall ye observe to do; thou shalt not add thereto" (Deuteronomy 13,1).

314  Not to diminish from any of the Torah’s commandments, as it is written "nor diminish from it" (Deuteronomy 13,1).

315  Not to curse a judge, as it is written "thou shalt not revile a judge" (Exodus 22,27).

316  Not to curse a ruler, which is the King or the head of the Great Rabbinical Court in the Land of Israel, as it is written "nor curse a ruler of thy people" (Exodus 22,27).

317  Not to curse any other Israelite, as it is written "thou shalt not curse the deaf" (Leviticus 19,14).

318  Not to curse one’s father or mother, as it is written "and he that curseth his father or his mother, shall surely be put to death" (Exodus 21,17).

319  Not to strike one’s father or mother, as it is written "and he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death" (Exodus 21,15).

320  Not to do work on the Sabbath, as it is written "thou shalt not do any manner of work" (Exodus 20,9; Deuteronomy 5,13).

321  Not to take walks on the Sabbath outside the town’s limits, as it is written "let no man go out of his place on the seventh day" (Exodus 16,29).

322  Not to punish on the Sabbath, as it is written "ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations" (Exodus 35,3).

323  Not to do work on the first day of Pesach, as it is written "no manner of work shall be done in them" (Exodus 12,16).

324  Not to do work on the seventh day of Pesach, as it is written "no manner of work shall be done in them" (Exodus 12,16).

325  Not to do work on the Festival of Shavu`ot, as it is written on it "ye shall do no manner of servile work" (Leviticus 23,21;Numbers 28,26).

326  Not to do work on the first day of the seventh month, as it is written on it "ye shall do no manner of servile work" (Leviticus 23,25; Numbers 29,1)

327  Not to do work on Yom Kippur, as it is written on it "ye shall do no manner of work" (Leviticus 16,29; Leviticus 23,28; Leviticus 23,31; Numbers 29,7).

328  Not to do work on the first day of Sukkot, as it is written on it "ye shall do no manner of servile work" (Leviticus 23,35;Numbers 29,12).

329  Not to do work on the eighth day of Sukkot, as it is written on it "ye shall do no manner of servile work" (Leviticus 23,36;Numbers 29,35).

330  Not to have sexual relations with one’s mother, as it is written "she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness" (Leviticus 18,7).

331  Not to have sexual relations with one’s father’s wife, as it is written "the nakedness of thy father’s wife shalt thou not uncover" (Leviticus 18,8).

332  Not to have sexual relations with one’s sister, as it is written "the nakedness of thy sister . . . thou shalt not uncover" (Leviticus 18,9).

333  Not to have sexual relations with a sister from the father or from the mother, as it is written "the nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father . . . even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover" (Leviticus 18,9).

334  Not to have sexual relations with one’s son’s daughter, as it is written "the nakedness of thy son’s daughter" (Leviticus 18,10).

335  Not to have sexual relations with one’s daughter’s daughter, as it is written "or of thy daughter’s daughter, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover" (Leviticus 18,10).

336  Not to have sexual relations with one’s daughter; and the reason this was not explicitly set forth in the Torah is that since the Torah forbids one’s daughter’s daughter, it hardly needed to mention one’s own daughter, and it was learned from the oral tradition that prohibition of the daughter is a law of the Torah itself, like the other severely forbidden sexual relations.

337  Not to have sexual relations with one’s wife’s daughter, as it is written "thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter" (Leviticus 18,17).

338  Not to have sexual relations with the daughter of one’s wife’s son, as it is written "her son’s daughter" (Leviticus 18,17).

339  Not to have sexual relations with the daughter of one’s wife’s daughter, as it is written "or her daughter’s daughter, thou shalt not take" (Leviticus 18,17).

340  Not to have sexual relations with one’s father’s sister, as it is written "thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father’s sister" (Leviticus 18,12).

341  Not to have sexual relations with one’s mother’s sister, as it is written "thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother’s sister" (Leviticus 18,13).

342  Not to have sexual relations with one’s father’s brother’s wife, as it is written "thou shalt not approach to his wife: she is thine aunt" (Leviticus 18,14).

343  Not to have sexual relations with one’s son’s wife, as it is written "thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter-in-law" (Leviticus 18,15).

344  Not to have sexual relations with one’s brother’s wife, as it is written "thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife" (Leviticus 18,16).

345  Not to have sexual relations with one’s wife’s sister, as it is written "and thou shalt not take a woman to her sister" (Leviticus 18,18).

346  Not to have sexual relations with a woman unclean from menstruation, as it is written "and thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is impure by her uncleanness" (Leviticus 18,19).

347  Not to have sexual relations with another man’s wife, as it is written "and thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour’s wife" (Leviticus 18,20).

348  Not to have sexual relations with an animal, as it is written "and thou shalt not lie with any beast" (Leviticus 18,23).

349  That a woman shall not have sexual relations with an animal, as it is written "neither shall any woman stand before a beast, to lie down thereto" (Leviticus 18,23).

350  Not to have sexual relations with a male, as it is written "thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind" (Leviticus 18,22).

351  Not to have sexual relations with one’s father, as it is written "the nakedness of thy father . . . shalt thou not uncover" (Leviticus 18,7).

352  Not to have sexual relations with one’s father’s brother, as it is written "thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy fathers brother" (Leviticus 18,14).

353  Not to be intimate with one with which sexual relations are severely forbidden, such as embracing, kissing, hinting, and skipping, which might lead to sexual relations, as it is written "none of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness" (Leviticus 18,6); it was learned from the oral tradition that this is a warning against intimacy that might lead to sexual relations.

354  That a mamzer shall not marry an Israelite woman, as it is written "a bastard shall not enter into the assembly of the LORD" (Deuteronomy 23,3).

355  That there shall be no prostitute, which is a woman who has sexual relations without a marriage contract and sanctification ceremony, as it is written "there shall be no harlot" (Deuteronomy 23,18).

356  That one who divorced his wife shall not remarry her after she has been married to another, as it is written "her former husband may not . . ." (Deuteronomy 24,4).

357  That a widow whose husband died childless shall not be married to anyone but her deceased husband’s brother, as it is written "the wife of the dead shall not be" (Deuteronomy 25,5).

358  That the rapist shall not divorce his rape victim, as it is written "he may not put her away all his days" (Deuteronomy 22,29).

359  That one who defames his wife as a non-virgin at marriage shall not divorce his wife, as it is written "he may not put her away all his days" (Deuteronomy 22,19).

360  That a eunuch shall not marry an Israelite woman, as it is written "he that is crushed in his privy parts shall not enter" (Deuteronomy 23,2).

361  Not to castrate the male of any species, neither a man, nor a domestic or wild animal, nor a fowl, as it is written "neither shall ye do thus in your land" (Leviticus 22,24).

362  Not to appoint as a ruling authority over Israel one from the congregation of converts, as it is written "thou mayest not put a foreigner over thee" (Deuteronomy 17,15).

363  That the King shall not have too many horses, as it is written "only he shall not multiply horses to himself" (Deuteronomy 17,16).

364  That the King shall not have too many wives, as it is written "neither shall he multiply wives to himself" (Deuteronomy 17,17).

365  That he shall not have too much gold and silver, as it is written "neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold" (Deuteronomy 17,17).

Comment 1  These are the six hundred thirteen commandments that were said to Moshe [Moses] on Sinai, together with their general principles, detailed applications, and minute particulars; all these principles, details, and particulars as well as the explanation of each and every commandment are the Oral Law, which each court received from its predecessor.

Comment 2  There are other commandments that were enacted after the giving of the Torah, which were instituted by prophets and sages and became accepted by all Israel–such as the reading of the scroll of Esther, the lighting of Chanukkah candles, the fasting on the Ninth of Av, the washing of the hands, and the making of eruvin.  For each and every one of these commandments, there are commentaries and details; and all of them will be explained in this work.

Comment 3  We must accept and observe all of these enacted commandments, as it is written "thou shalt not turn aside from any of the sentences . . ." (see Deuteronomy 17,11); and they are not an addition to the commandments of the Torah.  The point of the Torah’s warning "thou shalt not add . . . nor diminish" (Deuteronomy 13,1) is that no prophet is allowed to make an innovation and say that the Holy One blessed be He had commanded him in this commandment to add it to the commandments of the Torah, or to take away one of these six hundred thirteen commandments.

Comment 4  But if the Great Rabbinical Court with the prophet living at the time institutes a commandment as an affirmative legislation, or as an instruction, or as a negative legislation, this is not an addition:  for they have not said that the Holy One blessed be He commanded to make an eruv or to read the scroll of Esther at its appointed time.  And if they had said so, they would have been adding to the Torah.

Comment 5  Rather, we say that the prophets with the Great Rabbinical Court legislated and ordered to read the scroll of Esther at its appointed time to recall the praises of the Holy One blessed be He and the salvation he did for us, and that He was ever ready when we cried to Him, and that we should therefore bless and praise Him, and inform future generations how true is what is promised in the Torah "for what great nation is there that hath God so nigh unto it" (see Deuteronomy 4,7; Deuteronomy 4,8).  In this way is to be seen each and every rabbinical commandment, whether affirmative or negative.

 

Structure of the 14 Books

I have seen fit to divide this work into fourteen books:

Book 1  I include in it all the commandments that are the basic principles of the religion of Moshe [Moses] Our Teacher, which one needs to know at the outset–such as recognizing the unity of the Holy One blessed be He and the prohibition of idolatry.  I have called this book The Book of Knowledge.

Book 2  I include in it the commandments that are done frequently, which we have been commanded to do so that we may always love God and remember Him constantly–such as reading the Shema`, prayer, tefillin, and blessings; circumcision is included, because it is a sign in our flesh to constantly remind us when we are not in tefillin or tzitzit or the like.  I have called this book The Book of Love.

Book 3  I include in it the commandments to be done at fixed times–such as Sabbath and holidays.  I have called this book The Book of Times.

Book 4  I include in it the commandments on sexual relations–such as marriage and divorce, levirate marriage and release from it.  I have called this book The Book of Women.

Book 5  I include in it the commandments on forbidden sexual relations and commandments on forbidden foods–for in these two matters the Omnipresent sanctified us and separated us from the nations, in forbidden sexual relations and forbidden foods, and of both it is written "and I have set you apart from the peoples" (Leviticus 20,26), "who have set you apart from the peoples" (Leviticus 20,24).  I have called this book The Book of Holiness.

Book 6  I include in it commandments by which one undertakes to forbid himself in certain things–such as oaths and vows.  I have called this book The Book of Promising.

Book 7  I include in it commandments on seed of the land–such as Sabbatical years and Jubilees, tithes and heave offerings, and the other commandments akin to these matters.  I have called this book The Book of Seeds.

Book 8  I include in it commandments on building the sanctuary and continual public sacrifices.  I have called this book The Book of Service.

Book 9  I include in it commandments on sacrifices of the individual.  I have called this book The Book of Sacrifices.

Book 10  I include in it commandments on ritual purity or impurity.  I have called this book The Book of Ritual Purity.

Book 11  I include in it commandments on civil relations in which there is injury at the offset to either property or person.  I have called this book The Book of Injuries.

Book 12  I include in it commandments on sale and purchase.  I have called this book The Book of Acquisition.

Book 13  I include in it commandments on other civil relations in cases that do not have at the outset any injury–such as deposits, debts, and claims and denials.  I have called this book The Book of Judgments.

Book 14  I include in it commandments that are delegated to the Sanhedrin–such as capital punishment, receiving evidence, and administration of the king and his wars.  I have called this book The Book of Judges.

The following is the division of the groups of laws in this work according to the subjects of the books, and the division of the commandments according to subjects of the groups of laws:

The Book of Knowledge

Its groups of laws are five, and this is their order:  Laws of the Foundations of the Torah, Laws of Personal Dispositions, Laws of Torah Study, Laws of Idolatry and Gentile Customs, Laws of Repentance

Laws of the Foundations of the Torah include ten commandments, six positive commandments and four negative commandments, which are:  (1) to know that there is God; (2) not to entertain the thought that there is any god but the LORD; (3) to acknowledge His Oneness; (4) to love Him; (5) to fear Him; (6) to sanctify His Name; (7) not to profane His Name; (8) not to destroy things upon which His Name is called; (9) to obey the prophet who speaks in His Name; (10) not to test Him.

Laws of Personal Dispositions include eleven commandments, five positive commandments and six negative commandments, which are:  (1) to imitate His ways; (2) to cleave to those who know Him; (3) to love others; (4) to love converts; (5) not to hate others; (6) to rebuke; (7) not to shame others; (8) not to afflict the unfortunate; (9) not to gossip; (10) not to take revenge; (11) not to bear a grudge.

Laws of Torah Study include two positive commandments:  (1) to learn Torah; (2) to honor those who teach it and know it.

Laws of Idolatry and Gentile Customs include fifty-one commandments, two positive commandments and forty-nine negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to turn to idolatry; (2) not to stray after thoughts of the heart and sights of the eyes; (3) not to blaspheme; (4) not to worship an object of idolatry in its normal way; (5) not to prostrate oneself before it; (6) not to make a graven image for oneself; (7) not to make a graven image even for others; (8) not to make figures even for decoration; (9) not to proselytize others after it; (10) to burn a city that has been proselytized over to idolatry; (11) not to rebuild it; (12) not to benefit from any of its property; (13) not to entice an individual to worship it; (14) not to love the enticer; (15) not to leave off hating him; (16) not to save him; (17) not to plead for his acquittal; (18) not to refrain from pleading for his conviction; (19) not to prophesy in its name; (20) not to listen to one who prophesies in its name; (21) not to prophesy falsely, even in the name of the LORD; (22) not to fear killing a false prophet; (23) not to swear in the name of idolatry; (24) not to divine by consulting ghosts; (25) not to resort to familiar spirits; (26) not to turn over to Molech; (27) not to set up a pillar; (28) not to prostrate oneself on a figured stone; (29) not to plant a tree for worship; (30) to destroy an object of idolatry and everything made for it; (31) not to benefit from a object of idolatry or its accessories; (32) not to benefit from the coverings of anything worshipped; (33) not to make a covenant with idolaters; (34) not to show them favor; (35) that they must not settle in our land; (36) not to imitate their customs or their dress; (37) not to practice divination; (38) not to practice black magic; (39) not to practice soothsaying; (40) not to practice the charmer’s art; (41) not to enquire of the dead; (42) not to consult a ghost; (43) not to consult a familiar spirit; (44) not to practice witchcraft; (45) not to shave the corners of the head; (46) not to remove the corners of the beard; (47) that a man shall not wear the attire of a woman; (48) that a woman shall not wear the attire of a man; (49) not to tattoo the body; (50) not to cut oneself; (51) not to make a bald spot for the dead.

Laws of Repentance include one positive commandment, which is that the sinner shall repent of his sin before the LORD, and confess.

All the commandments included in this book are thus seventy five, sixteen of them positive commandments and fifty-nine negative commandments.

The Book of Love

Its groups of laws are six, and this is their order:  Laws of Reading the Shema`, Laws of Prayer and Priestly Blessing, Laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah, and Torah Scroll, Laws of Tzitzit, Laws of Blessings, Laws of Circumcision

Laws of Reading the Shema` include one positive commandment, which is to read the Shema` twice daily.

Laws of Prayer and Priestly Blessing include two positive commandments:  (1) to serve the LORD in prayer daily; (2) for priests to bless Israel daily.

Laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah, and Torah Scroll include five positive commandments, which are:  (1) for there to be tefillin on the head; (2) to bind them on the arm; (3) to fix a mezuzah at entrances; (4) for every man to write a Torah scroll for himself; (5) for the King to write a second scroll for himself, so that he will have two Torah scrolls.

Laws of Tzitzit include one positive commandment, which is to make tzitzit on the corners of garments.

Laws of Blessings include one positive commandment, which is to bless His Name after eating.

Laws of Circumcision include one positive commandment, which is to circumcise males on the eighth day.

All the commandments included in this book are thus eleven positive commandments.

The Book of Times

Its groups of laws are ten, and this is their order:  Laws of the Sabbath, Laws of Eruvin, Laws of Rest on the Tenth of Tishri, Laws of Rest on the Holidays, Laws of Leaven and Unleavened Bread, Laws of Shofar, Sukkah, and Lolav, Laws of Sheqels, Laws of Sanctification of Months, Laws of Fasts, Laws of the Scroll of Esther and Hanukkah

Laws of the Sabbath include five commandments, two positive commandments and three negative commandments, which are:  (1) to rest on the seventh day; (2) not to do work on it; (3) not to punish on the Sabbath; (4) not to leave the limits of one’s settlement on the Sabbath; (5) to sanctify the day in speech.

Laws of Eruvin include one positive commandment, which is rabbinical and not counted among the Torah commandments.

Laws of Rest on the Tenth of Tishri include four commandments, two positive commandments and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to rest on it from work; (2) not to do work on it; (3) to fast on it; (4) not to eat or drink on it.

Laws of Rest on the Holidays include twelve commandments, six positive commandments and six negative commandments, which are:  (1) to rest on the first day of Pesach; (2) not to do work on it; (3) to rest on the seventh day of Pesach; (4) not to do work on it; (5) to rest on Shavu`ot; (6) not to do work on it; (7) to rest on Rosh Hashanah; (8) not to do work on it; (9) to rest on the first day of the Festival of Sukkot; (10) not to do work on it; (11) to rest on the eighth day of the Festival; (12) not to do work on it.

Laws of Leaven and Unleavened Bread include eight commandments, three positive commandments and five negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to eat leavened food on the Fourteenth of Nisan, from noon onwards; (2) to get rid of leaven on the Fourteenth of Nisan; (3) not to eat leavened food during the seven days; (4) not to eat a mixture that contains leaven during the seven days; (5) that no leavened food is to be seen in one’s possession during the seven days; (6) that no leavened food is to be found in one’s possession during the seven days; (7) to eat unleavened bread on the night of Pesach; (8) to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt on that night.

Laws of Shofar, Sukkah, and Lolav include three positive commandments, which are:  (1) to hear the sound of the shofar on the first of Tishri; (2) to dwell in a sukkah seven days of the Festival; (3) to take up a Lolav in the Temple all seven days of the Festival.

Laws of Sheqels include one positive commandment, which is for every man to give half a Sheqel every year.

Laws of Sanctification of Months include one positive commandment, which is to calculate, know, and fix which day is to be the beginning of each and every month in the year.

Laws of Fasts include one positive commandment, which is to fast and cry out before the LORD whenever a great calamity comes upon the public.

Laws of the Scroll of Esther and Hanukkah include two positive rabbinical commandments, not counted among the Torah commandments.

All the Torah commandments included in this book are thus thirty five, nineteen of them positive commandments and sixteen negative commandments; there are also three rabbinical commandments.

The Book of Women

Its groups of laws are five, and this is their order:  Laws of Marriage, Laws of Divorce, Laws of Levirate Marriage and Release, Laws of the Virgin Maiden, Laws of a Woman Suspected of Adultery

Laws of Marriage include four commandments, two positive commandments and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to take a wife by marriage contract and sanctification ceremony; (2) for a woman not to have sexual relations without a marriage contract and sanctification ceremony; (3) not to withhold food, clothing, and conjugal rights; (4) to be fruitful and multiply from one’s wife.

Laws of Divorce include two commandments:  (1) a positive commandment, which is that one shall divorce with a written document; (2) that one shall not take back a former wife after her being married to another.

Laws of Levirate Marriage and Release include three commandments, two positive commandments and one negative commandment, which are:  (1) to marry the widow of a brother who died childless; (2) to release the widow, if one does not marry her; (3) that such a widow not be married to another man until the levirate obligation has been removed.

Laws of the Virgin Maiden include five commandments, three positive commandments and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to fine the seducer; (2) that the rapist shall marry his victim; (3) that the rapist shall not divorce; (4) that the wife of one who defamed her as a non-virgin at marriage may remain with him forever; (5) that such a defamer shall not divorce his wife.

Laws of a Woman Suspected of Adultery include three commandments, one affirmative commandment and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to do to a woman suspected of adultery the special procedure set out in the Torah; (2) not to put oil on her offering; (3) not to put frankincense on it.

All the commandments included in this book are thus seventeen, nine of them positive commandments and eight negative commandments.

The Book of Holiness

Its groups of laws are three, and this is their order:  Laws of Forbidden Sexual Relations, Laws of Forbidden Foods, Laws of Slaughter

Laws of Forbidden Sexual Relations include thirty-seven commandments, one positive commandment and thirty-six negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to have sexual relations with one’s mother; (2) not to have sexual relations with one’s father’s wife; (3) not to have sexual relations with one’s sister; (4) not to have sexual relations with one’s father’s wife’s daughter; (5) not to have sexual relations with one’s son’s daughter; (6) not to have sexual relations with one’s daughter; (7) not to have sexual relations with one’s daughter’s daughter; (8) not to marry a woman and her daughter; (9) not to marry a woman and her son’s daughter; (10) not to marry a woman and her daughter’s daughter; (11) not to have sexual relations with one’s father’s sister; (12) not to have sexual relations with one’s mother’s sister; (13) not to have sexual relations with one’s father’s brother’s wife; (14) not to have sexual relations with one’s son’s wife; (15) not to have sexual relations with one’s brother’s wife; (16) not to have sexual relations with one’s wife’s sister; (17) not have sexual relations with a beast; (18) that a woman shall not bring a beast to have sexual relations with her; (19) not to have sexual relations with another male; (20) not to have sexual relations with one’s father; (21) not to have sexual relations with one’s father’s brother (22) not to have sexual relations with another man’s wife; (23) not to have sexual relations with a menstruous woman; (24) not to intermarry with Gentiles; (25) that an Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the community by marriage with born Jews; (26) not to keep an Egyptian of the third generation from so entering the community; (27) not to keep an Edomite of the third generation from so entering the community; (28) that a mamzer shall not so enter the community; (29) that a eunuch shall not so enter the community; (30) not to castrate a male, even a domestic animal or wild beast or fowl; (31) that the High Priest shall not marry a widow; (32) that the High Priest shall not have sexual relations with a widow, even without marriage; (33) that the High Priest shall marry a virgin in her adolescence; (34) that a priest shall not marry a divorced woman; (35) that he shall not marry a harlot; (36) that he shall not marry a profaned woman; (37) that one shall not be intimate with one with which sexual relations are severely forbidden, even though he does not have sexual relations.

Laws of Forbidden Foods include twenty-eight commandments, four positive commandments and twenty-four negative commandments, which are:  (1) to examine the identifying signs in animals and beasts to tell the unclean from the clean; (2) to examine the identifying signs of fowl to tell the unclean from the clean; (3) to examine the identifying signs of locusts to tell the unclean from the clean; (4) to examine the identifying signs of fishes to tell the unclean from the clean; (5) not to eat unclean animals and beasts; (6) not to eat unclean fowl; (7) not to eat unclean fishes; (8) not to eat winged swarming things; (9) not to eat things that creep upon the earth; (10) not to eat things that swarm upon the earth; (11) not to eat a worm found in fruit after it has emerged onto the ground; (12) not to eat things that swarm in water; (13) not to eat an animal that died without slaughtering; (14) not to benefit from an ox condemned to be stoned; (15) not to eat an animal that is fatally injured; (16) not to eat a limb removed from a living animal; (17) not to eat blood; (18) not to eat suet of a clean animal; (19) not to eat the sinew of the thigh; (20) not to eat meat with milk; (21) not to cook it; (22) not to eat bread of the new crop; (23) not to eat roasted grain of the new crop; (24) not to eat fresh grain of the new crop; (25) not to eat fruit of a tree in the first three years from planting; (26) not to eat grains or vegetables sown in a vineyard; (27) not to eat produce from which priestly portions have not yet been removed; (28) not to drink wine of libation to idolatry.

Laws of Slaughter include five commandments, three positive commandments and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to slaughter and then eat; (2) not to slaughter an animal and its young on the same day; (3) to cover the blood of a wild beast or of a fowl; (4) not to take the mother bird with the young; (5) to set the mother bird free, if one has taken it and its young.

All the commandments included in this book are thus seventy, eight of them positive commandments and sixty-two negative commandments.

The Book of Promises

Its groups of laws are four, and this is their order:  Laws of Oaths, Laws of Vows, Laws of the Nazarite, Laws of Appraisals and Devoted Property

Laws of Oaths include five commandments, one positive commandment and four negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to swear by His Name falsely; (2) not to take His Name in vain; (3) not to falsely deny an article left in trust; (4) not to swear falsely in denial of a claim to property; (5) to swear by His Name in truth.

Laws of Vows include three commandments, two positive commandments and one negative commandment, which are:  (1) that one shall fulfill whatever he has uttered and do as he has vowed; (2) not to break one’s word; (3) that a vow or oath may be annulled, which is the law of annulment of vows explicitly mentioned in the Written Law.

Laws of the Nazarite include ten commandments, two positive commandments and eight negative commandments, which are:  (1) that the Nazarite shall let his hair grow long; (2) that he shall not cut his hair all the days of his Nazariteship; (3) that the Nazarite shall not drink wine nor a mixture with wine, not even their vinegar; (4) that he shall not eat fresh grapes; (5) that he shall not eat raisins; (6) that he shall not eat grape seeds; (7) that he shall not eat grape skins; (8) that he shall not enter under any covering where there is a corpse; (9) that he shall not become unclean from a corpse; (10) that he shall shave off his hair when bringing his sacrifices, when he completes his Nazariteship or when he becomes unclean.

Laws of Appraisals and Devoted Property include seven commandments, five positive commandments and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to judge in appraisals of the values of persons as explicitly set forth in the Torah, which is the law of appraisal of persons; (2) the law of the appraisal of animals; (3) the law of the appraisal of houses; (4) the law of the appraisal of fields; (5) the law of one who devotes his property; (6) that what was so devoted shall not be sold; (7) that what was so devoted shall not be redeemed.

All the commandments included in this book are thus twenty five, ten of them positive commandments and fifteen negative commandments.

The Book of Seeds

Its groups of laws are seven, and this is their order:  Laws of Diverse Varieties, Laws of Gifts to the Poor, Laws of Heave Offerings, Laws of Tithes, Laws of Second Tithes and the Fruit of the Fourth Year, Laws of First Fruits and Other Priestly Gifts Outside the Sanctuary, Laws of the Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee

Laws of Diverse Varieties include five negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to sow diverse seeds together; (2) not to sow grain or vegetables in a vineyard; (3) not to mate animals of different species; (4) not to work with animals of different species together; (5) not to wear clothing of both wool and linen.

Laws of Gifts to the Poor include thirteen commandments, seven positive commandments and six negative commandments, which are:  (1) to leave the edge of the field unharvested; (2) not to wholly reap the edge of the field; (3) to leave the fallen stalks; (4) not to gather the fallen stalks; (5) to leave the imperfect clusters of the vineyard; (6) not to gather the imperfect clusters of the vineyard; (7) to leave the individual fallen grapes of the vineyard; (8) not to gather the individual fallen grapes of the vineyard; (9) to leave the forgotten sheaf; (10) not to go back to take the forgotten sheaf; (11) to set aside a tithe for the poor; (12) to give charity according to one’s ability; (13) not to harden one’s heart against the poor.

Laws of Heave Offerings include eight commandments, two positive commandments and six negative commandments, which are:  (1) to set aside a great heave offering; (2) to set aside a heave offering of the tithes; (3) not to set aside heave offerings and tithes out of order, but to set them aside in the right order; (4) that an unauthorized person shall not eat a heave offering; (5) that even a tenant or hired worker of a priest shall not eat a heave offering; (6) that the uncircumcised shall not eat a heave offering; (7) that an unclean priest shall not eat a heave offering; (8) that a profaned woman shall not eat a heave offering nor a gift from consecrated animals.

Laws of Tithes include one commandment, which is to set apart the first tithe of produce each and every year the fields are sown and give it to the Levites.

Laws of Second Tithes and the Fruit of the Fourth Year include nine commandments, three positive commandments and six negative commandments, which are:  (1) to set apart the second tithe; (2) not to spend its redemption money for any necessities but eating, drinking, and anointing; (3) not to eat it while unclean; (4) not to eat it while mourning; (5) not to eat the second tithe of grain outside Jerusalem; (6) not to eat the second tithe of wine outside Jerusalem; (7) not to eat the second tithe of olive oil outside Jerusalem; (8) that all the fruit of trees in the fourth year after planting shall be holy, and that it is to be eaten by its owner in Jerusalem like the second tithe; (9) to make the tithe declaration.

Laws of First Fruits and Other Priestly Gifts Outside the Sanctuary include nine commandments, eight positive commandments and one negative commandment, which are:  (1) to set apart first fruits and bring them to the Sanctuary; (2) that the priest shall not eat the first fruits outside Jerusalem; (3) to recite the declaration on them; (4) to set apart a portion of dough for the priest; (5) to give the foreleg, the jaw, and the stomach to the priest; (6) to give him the first fleece; (7) to redeem the first-born son, and to give the redemption gift to the priest; (8) to redeem the first-born of an ass, and give the redemption gift to the priest; (9) to decapitate the first-born of an ass, if one does not want to redeem it.

Laws of the Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee include twenty-two commandments, nine positive commandments and thirteen negative commandments, which are:  (1) that the land shall rest unworked in the Sabbatical year; (2) that one shall not work the ground in that year; (3) that one shall not work the trees in that year; (4) that one shall not harvest what grows by itself in the manner of harvesters; (5) that one shall not harvest a vineyard in the manner of harvesters; (6) that one shall renounce ownership in what the land produces; (7) that one shall release all his loans; (8) that one shall not oppress nor demand a debt; (9) that one shall not refrain from making loans before the Sabbatical year, so as not to lose his money; (10) to count the years by sevens; (11) to sanctify the fiftieth year; (12) to sound the shofar on the Tenth of Tishri so that slaves go out free; (13) that the land shall not be worked in that year; (14) that one shall not harvest what grows by itself in manner of harvesters; (15) not to harvest the vineyards in the manner of harvesters; (16) to grant redemption to the land in this year, which is the rule for inherited fields or purchased fields; (17) that the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; (18) the rule for houses in walled cities; (19) that none of the Tribe of Levi shall receive a heritage in the Land of Israel, but cities to dwell in shall be given to them as a gift; (20) that the Tribe of Levi shall not take a share in the spoils of war; (21) to give to the Levites cities to dwell in and open land round about the cities; (22) that the open land round about their cities shall never be sold, but they may redeem it at any time whether before the Jubilee or after the Jubilee.

All the commandments included in this book are thus sixty seven, thirty of them positive commandments and thirty-seven negative commandments.

The Book of Service

Its groups of laws are nine, and this is their order:  Laws of the Chosen House, Laws of Vessels of the Sanctuary and Those Who Serve in It, Laws of Entry into the Sanctuary, Laws of Things Forbidden on the Altar, Laws of Sacrificial Procedures, Laws of the Daily Offerings and Additional Offerings, Laws of Sacrifices Become Unfit, Laws of the Service on Yom Kippur, Laws of Benefit from Consecrated Things

Laws of the Chosen House include six commandments, three positive commandments and three negative commandments, which are:  (1) to build a Sanctuary; (2) not to build the Altar of hewn stones; (3) not to go up by steps onto the Altar; (4) to fear the Sanctuary; (5) to keep a guard around the Sanctuary; (6) not to stop guarding the Sanctuary.

Laws of Vessels of the Sanctuary and Those Who Serve in It include fourteen commandments, six positive commandments and eight negative commandments, which are:  (1) to prepare the anointing oil; (2) not to make the like of it; (3) not to anoint oneself with it; (4) not to prepare incense in the formula of the incense; (5) not to offer on the Golden Altar anything but the incense; (6) to bear the Ark on the shoulder; (7) that one shall not remove the staves from it; (8) that the Levite shall serve in the Sanctuary; (9) that no one shall do the work assigned to another in the Sanctuary; (10) to sanctify the priest for the service; (11) that all divisions take part equally on the pilgrimage festivals; (12) to wear priestly clothing for the service; (13) that one shall not rend the priests’ robes; (14) that the breastplate be not loosened from the Ephod.

Laws of Entry into the Sanctuary include fifteen commandments, two positive commandments and thirteen negative commandments, which are:  (1) that a drunken priest shall not enter the Sanctuary; (2) that a priest whose hair is disheveled shall not enter it; (3) that a priest whose garment is torn shall not enter it; (4) that a priest shall not enter the Temple at all times; (5) that a priest shall not leave the Sanctuary during the service; (6) to send the unclean out of the Sanctuary; (7) that one who is unclean shall not enter the Sanctuary; (8) that one who is unclean shall not enter the Temple Mount; (9) that one who is unclean shall not serve; (10) that who took a purifying ritual bath shall not serve in the Sanctuary before the stars come out on the following evening; (11) that one who serves shall wash his hands and feet; (12) that one with a disqualifying blemish shall not enter the Temple nor approach the Altar; (13) that one with a disqualifying blemish shall not serve; (14) that one with a temporary disqualifying blemish shall not serve; (15) that a non-priest shall not serve.

Laws of Things Forbidden on the Altar include fourteen commandments, four positive commandments and ten negative commandments, which are:  (1) to sacrifice only unblemished animals; (2) not to set apart a blemished animal for the Altar; (3) not to slaughter one; (4) not to sprinkle its blood; (5) not to burn its suet; (6) not to sacrifice one with a temporary blemish; (7) not to sacrifice one with a blemish, even in sacrifices of Gentiles; (8) not to inflict a blemish in consecrated animals; (9) to redeem consecrated animals that have become unfit; (10) to sacrifice only from eight days old and onward, for before then it is called underage and is not to be sacrificed; (11) not to sacrifice animals taken in exchange for services of a prostitute or in exchange for a dog; (12) not to burn on the Altar leaven or honey; (13) to salt all sacrifices; (14) not to omit salting of sacrifices.

Laws of Sacrificial Procedures include twenty-three commandments, ten positive commandments and thirteen negative commandments, which are:  (1) to do the burnt offering according to the procedures in its prescribed order; (2) not to eat the flesh of the burnt offering; (3) the order of the sin offering; (4) not to eat the flesh of a sin offering brought inside; (5) not to sever the head a sin offering of fowl; (6) the order of the guilt offering; (7) that the priests shall eat the flesh of the most holy sacrifices within the Sanctuary; (8) that they shall not eat them outside the Courtyard; (9) that a non-priest shall not eat of the most holy sacrifices; (10) the order of the peace offerings; (11) not to eat the flesh of the minor holy sacrifices before the sprinkling of their blood; (12) to do each of the meal offerings according to the order of its procedures prescribed in the Torah; (13) that one not put oil on the meal offering of a sinner; (14) that one not put frankincense upon it; (15) that a priest’s meal offering shall not be eaten; (16) that a meal offering shall not be baked leavened; (17) that the priests shall eat the remainders of meal offerings; (18) that one shall bring all his vowed offerings and his free-will offerings on the first pilgrimage festival that comes; (19) that one shall not delay vowed offerings or free-will offerings or other things one is obligated to do; (20) to offer all sacrifices in the Chosen House; (21) to bring things consecrated outside Israel to the Chosen House; (22) not to slaughter sacrifices outside the Courtyard; (23) not to offer a sacrifice outside the Courtyard.

Laws of the Daily Offerings and Additional Offerings include nineteen commandments, eighteen positive commandments and one negative commandment, which are:  (1) to sacrifice daily two lambs as burnt offerings; (2) to light a fire upon the Altar daily; (3) not to extinguish it; (4) to remove the ashes daily; (5) to burn incense daily; (6) to light lamps daily; (7) that the High Priest shall bring a meal offering daily, which is called Chavittin; (8) to add on the Sabbath two lambs as burnt offerings; (9) to do the showbread; (10) the additional offering of New Moons; (11) the additional offering of Pesach; (12) to offer the Omer as a wave offering; (13) that each and every man shall count seven weeks from the day the Omer is offered; (14) the additional offering of Shavu`ot; (15) to bring the two loaves of bread with the sacrifices brought because of them on Shavu`ot; (16) the additional offering of Rosh Hashanah; (17) the additional offering of the Day of the Fast; (18) the additional offering of the Festival of Sukkot; (19) the additional offering of the Festival of Shemini `Atzeret.

Laws of Sacrifices Become Unfit include eight commandments, two positive commandments and six negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to eat consecrated animals that have become unfit or have been blemished; (2) not to eat the abomination of intended delay; (3) that one shall not leave the offerings until after their time; (4) that one shall not eat what is left over beyond its time; (5) that one shall not eat sacrifices that have become unclean; (6) that one who has become unclean shall not eat sacrifices; (7) to burn what is left over beyond its time; (8) to burn what has become unclean.

Laws of the Service on Yom Kippur are one positive commandment, which is to do the service of the whole Day of Atonement in the order written in Leviticus 16–the sacrifices, the confessions, the sending of the scapegoat, and the rest of the service.

Laws of Benefit from Consecrated Things include three commandments, one positive commandment and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) for one has benefitted from consecrated things to pay what he has benefitted with the addition of a fifth and bring an offering, which is the rule for one who benefits from consecrated things; (2) not to work with consecrated animals; (3) not to shear the fleece of consecrated animals.

All the commandments included in this book are thus one hundred three, forty seven of them positive commandments and fifty-six negative commandments.

The Book of Sacrifices

Its groups of laws are six, and this is their order:  Laws of the Pesach Sacrifice, Laws of Pilgrimage Festival Sacrifices, Laws of the First-Born, Laws of Unintentional Sins, Laws of Those with Incomplete Atonement, Laws of Substitution for Consecrated Animals

Laws of the Pesach Sacrifice include sixteen commandments, four positive commandments and twelve negative commandments, which are:  (1) to slaughter the Pesach sacrifice at its appointed time; (2) not to slaughter it while in possession of leaven; (3) not to let the parts to be burned on the Altar be left overnight; (4) to slaughter the Second Pesach sacrifice; (5) to eat the flesh of the Pesach sacrifice with unleavened bread and bitter herbs on the night of the Fifteenth of Nisan; (6) to eat the flesh of the Second Pesach sacrifice with unleavened bread and bitter herbs on the night of the Fifteenth of the second month; (7) not to eat it raw or boiled; (8) not to take flesh of the Pesach sacrifice outside the place of the group appointed to eat it; (9) that an apostate shall not eat it; (10) that an alien tenant or hired worker shall not eat it; (11) that the uncircumcised shall not eat it; (12) that one shall not break a bone of it; (13) that one shall not break a bone of the Second Pesach sacrifice; (14) that one shall not leave over any of it until morning; (15) that one shall not leave over any of the Second Pesach sacrifice until morning; (16) that one shall not leave over any of the flesh of the pilgrimage festival sacrifice brought on the Fourteenth of Nisan until the third day.

Laws of Pilgrimage Festival Sacrifices include six commandments, four positive commandments and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to appear before the LORD; (2) to celebrate the three pilgrimage festivals; (3) to rejoice on the pilgimage festivals; (4) not to appear empty-handed; (5) not to neglect to make the Levite rejoice and to give him gifts on the pilgrimage festivals; (6) to assemble the people on Sukkot after the end of the Sabbatical year.

Laws of the First-Born include five commandments, two positive commandments and three negative commandments, which are:  (1) to set apart the first-born; (2) not to eat an unblemished first-born outside Jerusalem; (3) not to redeem the first-born; (4) to set apart a tithe of animals; (5) not to redeem the tithe of animals.  I have included Laws of the tithe of animals with those of the first-born because the procedure is the same in both, and the Written Torah includes the one with the other, as it is written "and dash their blood" (see Numbers 18,17), which according to the oral tradition is both the blood of the tithe of animals and the blood of the first-born.

Laws of Unintentional Sins include five positive commandments, which are:  (1) that an individual shall bring a fixed sin offering for his error; (2) that one who does not know whether he sinned or not shall bring a guilt offering until he knows for certain and brings his sin offering, and this is called the conditional guilt offering; (3) that the sinner in specific sins brings a guilt offering, and this is called the unconditional guilt offering; (4) that the sinner in specific sins brings, if wealthy an animal and if poor a fowl or a tenth of an ephah of meal, and this is called the offering according to means; (5) that the Sanhedrin shall bring an offering, if they have erred and instructed not according to the law in one of certain grave matters.

Laws of Those with Incomplete Atonement include four positive commandments, which are:  (1) that a woman with an unclean issue shall bring an offering, when she becomes clean; (2) that a woman after childbirth shall bring an offering, when she becomes clean; (3) that a man with an unclean issue shall bring an offering, when he becomes clean; (4) that a leper shall bring an offering, when he becomes clean.  After they have brought their offerings, their purification is complete.

Laws of Substitution for Consecrated Animals include three commandments, one positive commandment and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to substitute for consecrated animals; (2) that a substituted animal shall become consecrated, if a substitution was made; (3) not to change consecrated animals from one category of holiness to another.

All the commandments included in this book are thus thirty nine, twenty of them positive commandments and nineteen negative commandments.

The Book of Ritual Purity

Its groups of laws are eight, and this is their order:  Laws of the Uncleanness from a Corpse, Laws of the Red Heifer, Laws of Uncleanness from Leprosy, Laws of Uncleanness of a Bed or Seat, Laws of Other Sources of Uncleanness, Laws of Uncleanness of Foods, Laws of Vessels, Laws of Ritual Baths

Laws of the Uncleanness from a Corpse include one positive commandment, which is the rule for uncleanness from a corpse.

Laws of the Red Heifer include two positive commandments:  (1) the rule for the red heifer; (2) the rule for the uncleanness of the waters of sprinkling and of their purification.

Laws of Uncleanness from Leprosy include eight commandments, six positive commandments and two negative commandments, which are:  (1) to give judgments on leprosy in persons according to the rules written in the Torah; (2) not to cut off the identifying signs of uncleanness; (3) not to shave the scall; (4) that the leper shall be recognizable by wearing torn garments, letting the hair go unkempt, and covering the head down to the lips; (5) the cleansing of leprosy; (6) that the leper shall shave all his hair when he becomes clean; (7) the rule for leprosy of a garment; (8) the rule for leprosy of a house.

Laws of Uncleanness of a Bed or Seat include four positive commandments, which are:  (1) the rule for uncleanness from a menstruous woman; (2) the rule for uncleanness from a woman after childbirth; (3) the rule for uncleanness from a woman with an unclean issue; (4) the rule for uncleanness from a man with an unclean issue.

Laws of Other Sources of Uncleanness include three positive commandments, which are:  (1) the rule for uncleanness from an animal that died without slaughtering; (2) the rule for uncleanness from the eight creeping things; (3) the rule for uncleanness from semen.  An idol defiles like a creeping thing, and this uncleanness is rabbinical.

Laws of Uncleanness of Foods are one commandment, which is the rule for the uncleanness of liquids, and foods, and the conditions that cause foods to be susceptible to becoming unclean.

Laws of Vessels are on the subject of knowing which vessels contract uncleanness of any of the sorts given above, which vessels do not contract them, and how vessels become unclean and cause uncleanness.

Laws of Ritual Baths include one positive commandment, which is that whoever is unclean shall immerse himself in a ritual bath and then he will become clean.

All the commandments included in this book are thus twenty, eighteen of them positive commandments and two negative commandments.

The Book of Injuries

Its groups of laws are five, and this is their order:  Laws of Injury to Property, Laws of Theft, Laws of Robbery and Lost Property, Laws of One Who Injures Person or Property, Laws of a Murderer and the Preservation of Life

Laws of Injury to Property include four positive commandments, which are:  (1) the rule for the goring ox; (2) the rule for the grazing animal; (3) the rule for the uncovered pit; (4) the rule for the spreading fire.

Laws of Theft include seven commandments, two positive commandments and five negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to steal property; (2) the rule for the thief; (3) to maintain just scales and weights; (4) not to do injustice in measures and weights; (5) not to have in one’s possession diverse weights and measures, even if they are not used in buying and selling; (6) not to move a landmark; (7) not to steal persons.

Laws of Robbery and Lost Property include seven commandments, two positive commandments and five negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to rob; (2) not to exploit; (3) not to covet; (4) not to desire what belongs to another; (5) to return what has been robbed; (6) not to ignore lost property; (7) to return lost property.

Laws of One Who Injures Person or Property include one positive commandment, which is the rule for one who injures another or damages another’s property.

Laws of a Murderer and the Preservation of Life include seventeen commandments, seven positive commandments and ten negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to murder; (2) not to take ransom from a murderer, but rather to execute him; (3) to exile one who killed another accidentally; (4) not to take ransom from one who is liable for exile; (5) that a murderer shall not be executed when he has committed murder, before he has been tried; (6) to save the pursued at the cost of the life of the pursuer; (7) to show no pity for the pursuer; (8) not to stand by idly when life is in danger; (9) to set apart cities of refuge and prepare the way to them; (10) to decapitate the heifer in a riverbed; (11) not to till its ground nor sow it; (12) not to endanger human life; (13) to build a parapet; (14) that one not cause the innocent to err; (15) to help a person unload the burden when fallen on the way; (16) to help him to load it again; (17) not to leave him alarmed and go on one’s way.

All the commandments included in this book are thus thirty six, sixteen of them positive commandments and twenty negative commandments.

The Book of Acquisition

Its groups of laws are five, and this is their order:  Laws of Sales, Laws of Acquisition of Ownerless Property and Gifts, Laws of Neighbors, Laws of Agents and Partners, Laws of Slaves

Laws of Sales include five commandments, one positive commandment and four negative commandments, which are:  (1) the rule for purchase and sale; (2) not to wrong others in buying and selling; (3) not to wrong others in speech; (4) not to wrong a righteous convert in his possessions; (5) not to wrong him in speech.

Laws of Acquisition of Ownerless Property and Gifts are on the subject of knowing the rule for one who acquires ownerless property and how and by what means he acquires it, and the rule for one who gives a gift and its recipient and which gift returns to its giver and which does not return.

Laws of Neighbors are on the subject of knowing the rule for partition of land between partners, the avoidance of damage by each of them to his neighbor or to the owner of adjoining property, and the rule for the owner of adjoining property.

Laws of Agents and Partners are on the subject of knowing the rule for a person’s agent or his partner, and the laws on their purchases and sales and losses and profits.

Laws of Slaves include thirteen commandments, five positive commandments and eight negative commandments, which are:  (1) the rule for the acquisition of a Hebrew bondman; (2) that he shall not be sold as a slave is sold; (3) that he shall not be subjugated to do strenuous work; (4) that we shall not allow a resident alien to subjugate him to strenuous work; (5) that we shall not force him to do the work of a slave; (6) to give him a gift when he goes free; (7) that he shall not go out empty-handed; (8) to redeem a Hebrew bondmaid; (9) to espouse her; (10) that she shall not be sold; (11) to use a Canaanite slave forever, except if the master injured one of certain parts of his body; (12) not to return a slave who fled from outside the Land of Israel to the Land of Israel; (13) not to wrong such a slave who escaped to us.

All the commandments included in this book are thus eighteen, six of them positive commandments and twelve negative commandments.

The Book of Judgments

Its groups of laws are five, and this is their order:  Laws of Hiring, Laws of Borrowed and Deposited Things, Laws of Creditor and Debtor, Laws of Claimant and Respondent, Laws of Inheritances

Laws of Hiring include seven commandments, three positive commandments and four negative commandments, which are:  (1) the rule for the hired worker and the paid depositary; (2) to pay the hired worker’s wage on time; (3) not to delay the payment of the hired worker’s wage after it is due; (4) that the hired worker may eat of the unharvested produce in which he is working; (5) that he may not eat the unharvested produce other than when he does the finishing work on it; (6) that the hired worker shall not take anything away other than what he has eaten; (7) that one shall not muzzle an ox in his treading, and this applies to other animals.

Laws of Borrowed and Deposited Things include two positive commandments:  (1) the rule for the borrower; (2) the rule for an unpaid depositary.

Laws of Creditor and Debtor include twelve commandments, four positive commandments and eight negative commandments, which are:  (1) to lend to the poor and needy; (2) not to press him; (3) to press the Gentile; (4) that one shall not take a pledge by force; (5) to return the pledge to its owner, when he needs it; (6) not to delay return of the pledge to a poor owner, when he needs it; (7) not to exact a pledge from a widow; (8) not to take in pledge utensils used in preparing food; (9) that the lender shall not loan at interest; (10) that the borrower shall not borrow at interest; (11) that a person shall not provide services between lender and borrower in a loan at interest, neither to serve as witness between them, nor to write the loan document, nor to act as a guarantor; (12) to borrow from the Gentile and loan him at interest.

Laws of Claimant and Respondent are one positive commandment, which is the rule for one who makes a claim and one who admits or denies.

Laws of Inheritances are one positive commandment, which is the rule for the order of inheritances.

All the commandments included in this book are thus twenty three, eleven of them positive commandments and twelve negative commandments.

The Book of Judges

Its groups of laws are five, and this is their order:  Laws of the Sanhedrin and the Penalties Under Their Jurisdiction, Laws of Evidence, Laws of Rebels, Laws of Mourning, Laws of Kings and Wars

Laws of the Sanhedrin and the Penalties Under Their Jurisdiction include thirty commandments, ten positive commandments and twenty negative commandments, which are:  (1) to appoint judges; (2) not to appoint a judge who does not know the way of judgment; (3) to follow the majority, when the judges differ in opinion; (4) not to execute the accused if there is only a bare majority for conviction, but rather when there is at least a majority of two; (5) that one who has argued for acquittal shall not later argue for conviction in capital cases; (6) to execute by stoning; (7) to execute by burning; (8) to execute by decapitation with a sword; (9) to execute by strangling; (10) to hang; (11) to bury the executed on the day of his execution; (12) not to let his body remain overnight; (13) not to allow a sorcerer to live; (14) to whip the wicked; (15) not to exceed the maximum number of whippings; (16) not to execute the innocent on circumstantial evidence; (17) not to punish one who committed an offence under duress; (18) not to show pity for one who kills another person or injures him; (19) not to show compassion to a poor person in a trial; (20) not to show respect to an important person in a trial; (21) not to decide against a habitual transgressor, even though he is a sinner; (22) not to do injustice in a judgment; (23) not to pervert the judgment of a convert or orphan; (24) to judge righteously; (25) not to fear when judging a violent person; (26) not to take a bribe; (27) not to receive a baseless report; (28) not to curse judges; (29) not to curse a king or head of Sanhedrin; (30) not to curse any other worthy Israelite.

Laws of Evidence include eight commandments, three positive commandments and five negative commandments, which are:  (1) for one who knows evidence to testify in court; (2) to examine and thoroughly check witnesses; (3) that a witness shall not give instruction in a case in which he has given evidence, in capital cases; (4) that nothing shall be on evidence of a single witness; (5) that a habitual transgressor shall not testify; (6) that a relative shall not testify; (7) not to testify falsely; (8) to do to a false witness as he had plotted to do to the accused.

Laws of Rebels include nine commandments, three positive commandments and six negative commandments, which are:  (1) to act according to the Torah as the Great Rabbinical Court declares it; (2) not to deviate from their words; (3) not to add to the Torah either in the commandments of the Written Law or in the interpretation that we have learned from tradition; (4) not to take away from either of them; (5) not to curse one’s father or mother; (6) not to strike one’s father or mother; (7) to honor one’s father and mother; (8) to fear one’s father and mother; (9) that a son shall not be stubborn and rebellious against the voice of his father and mother.

Laws of Mourning include four commandments, one positive commandment and three negative commandments, which are:  (1) to mourn for deceased relatives, and even a priest must become unclean and mourn for his relatives; but one does not mourn for those who have been executed by a court, and for this reason I have included these laws in this book, because they are similar to the duty of burying the executed on the day of his death, which is a positive commandment; (2) that the High Priest shall not become unclean for deceased relatives; (3) that he shall not enter under a covering where a corpse is; (4) that an ordinary priest shall not become unclean from the corpse of any person aside from his relatives.

Laws of Kings and Wars include twenty-three commandments, ten positive commandments and thirteen negative commandments, which are:  (1) to appoint a king from among the Israelites; (2) not to appoint him from the community of converts; (3) that he shall not have many wives; (4) that he shall not have many horses; (5) that he shall not have much gold and silver; (6) to exterminate the seven Canaanite peoples; (7) not to let a single one of them live; (8) to wipe out the seed of Amalek; (9) to remember what Amalek did; (10) not to forget his evil deeds and his ambush on the way; (11) not to dwell in the Land of Egypt; (12) to offer peace to the inhabitants of a city when besieging it, and to deal with it in the way set out in the Torah, according as it makes peace or does not; (13) not to seek peace with Ammon and Moab, when besieging them; (14) not to destroy fruit trees in a siege; (15) to prepare a latrine so that members of the camp shall go out there to excrete; (16) to prepare a stake to dig with; (17) to anoint a priest to speak to the men of the army in time of war; (18) for a man who has espoused a wife, built a house, or planted a vineyard to rejoice in their new acquisitions a full year, and they are sent back home from the war; (19) that they shall not be pressed into any service, and not even to go out for the needs of the city, the needs of the troops, nor the like; (20) not to be frightened nor retreat in time of war; (21) the rule for a beautiful woman taken captive in war; (22) that she is not to be sold; (23) that one shall not enslave her after having sexual relations with her.

All the commandments included in this book are thus seventy four, twenty seven of them positive commandments and forty-seven negative commandments.

And thus all the groups of commandments in these fourteen books are eighty-three groups.

And now with the help of the Almighty, I shall begin to expound the detailed rules of each and every commandment and all the rules incidental to them, according to the order of the groups of laws.

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