celebrating-judaism

Why I’ve Decided to Join a Synagogue

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 12:00am
BY SOFI HERSHER for ReformJudaism.org


When I was 9 years old, I watched several large sections of my synagogue burn to the ground. It was 1999, and Sacramento, California, was in the midst of a spree of white supremacist violence that would claim the lives of two gay men, and see fires set to several synagogues and a local abortion clinic. I can still smell the smoke.

In times such as these, it is not just buildings that are damaged. Acts of hate damage our minds and our bodies, our individual and collective sense of security, our identity, and our place in the world. Back then, the entire congregation, as well as large swaths of the greater community, came together to rebuild. Events were held to reject discrimination; a hate crimes task force was launched; a library was remade. In many ways, Sacramento became a better place to live than it was before. In the aftermath of destruction, came collaboration and solidarity and hope.

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Isru Chag (the Day After the Festival)

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 12:00am
By Naamah Green for Hidabroot


Isru Chag is the day after the three festivals. What is the source for its name, and what customs are kept on this day?


1. Isru Chag is the name of the weekday that follows the three festivals. The Hebrew dates for Isru Chag in Israel are: 23 Tishrei (after Sukkot), 22 Nissan (after Passover) and 7 Sivan (after Shavuot), and outside of Israel, a day later.

2. The source of the name is the verse in Psalms: “Tie the sacrifice (isru chag) with thick ropes to the corners of the altar.” The sages explain “The verse considers one who makes a special meal on this day (thereby “connecting” this day to the previous holiday), as if he built an altar and offered a sacrifice on it.”

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History of Sukkot

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 12:00am
This article is featured in our Sukkot & Simchat Torah Guide. For more articles, recipes, crafts, and ideas, visit here.
 

BY MJL STAFF


This agricultural holiday dates back to biblical times and has evolved over time.


Following on the heels of the High Holidays, the holiday of Sukkot represents a shift from somber reflection to joyous celebration, and from introspection to an outward display of thanks for the earth’s bounty. Unlike the High Holidays that precede it, Sukkot is a seasonal agricultural holiday and one of the three pilgrimage festivals.

Living in Booths
According to the Torah, on this holiday we should “live in booths (sukkot) seven days…in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 23:42-43). These “booths,” therefore, are a visible symbol of God’s beneficence, one that has its origins in the agricultural tradition. We view Passover not only as a commemoration of the redemption of the people from Egypt, but also as a time of planting. In a similar manner we view Shavuot not only as the time of the giving of the Torah, but also as the season of the first harvest. Like them, Sukkot is understood as Hag Ha’asif–“the holiday of the ingathering” of the harvest.

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Coming home: The meaning of Yom Kippur

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 12:00am

This article is featured in our High Holiday Guide. For more articles, recipes, crafts, and ideas, visit here. 


By Rabbi Jonathan Sacks for ABC Religion and Ethics

 

Yom Kippur this year begins on the evening of September 29.

 

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the supreme moment of Jewish time, a day of fasting and prayer, introspection and self-judgement. At no other time are we so sharply conscious of standing before God, of being known. But it begins in the strangest of ways.

Kol Nidrei, the prayer which heralds the evening service and the beginning of the sanctity of the day, is the key that unlocks the Jewish heart. Its melody is haunting. As the cantor sings, we hear in that ancient tune the deepest music of the Jewish soul, elegiac yet striving, pained but resolute; the song of those who knew that to believe is to suffer and still to hope, the music of our ancestors which stretches out to us from the past and enfolds us in its cadences, making us and them one. The music is sublime. Tolstoy called it a melody that "echoes the story of the great martyrdom of a grief-stricken nation." Beethoven came close to it in the most otherwordly and austere of his compositions, the sixth movement of the C Sharp Minor Quartet, opus 131. The music is pure poetry but the words are prosaic prose.

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Rosh Hashanah FAQ: All About the Jewish New Year

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 12:00am
BY MJL STAFF


What is Rosh Hashanah about exactly?


Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) is simultaneously a time of great celebration and subtle trepidation. It is a day to celebrate our creation, but also a day of accounting and judgment for our actions. On Rosh Hashanah, we relate to God as the Ultimate Judge. The Book of Life is opened before the Divine Being and we become advocates for our personal inscription into this book. We review the choices we have made over the past year, our actions and our intentions, as we attempt to honestly evaluate ourselves. You may want to consult this list of questions to help in your introspection.


What is a shofar?

 

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For more articles, recipes, crafts, and ideas, visit here. 

Tashlich, the Symbolic Casting Off of Sins

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 12:00am

This article is featured in our High Holiday Guide. For more articles, recipes, crafts, and ideas, visit here. 


BY LESLI KOPPELMAN ROSS for myjewishlearning.com 


A Rosh Hashanah ritual for the whole family.


What Is Tashlich?

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah , before sunset, Jews traditionally proceed to a body of running water, preferably one containing fish, and symbolically cast off (tashlich) their sins. The ceremony includes reading the source passage for the practice, the last verses from the prophet Micah (7:19), “He will take us back in love; He will cover up our iniquities. You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”

Selections from Psalms, particularly 118 and 130, along with supplications and a kabbalistic prayer hoping God will treat Israel with mercy, are parts of tashlich in various communities.

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Ask the Expert: The Lowdown on High Holiday Tickets

Mon, 09/04/2017 - 12:00am
BY MJL STAFF


Why many synagogues are "pay to pray" -- and options for those on a budget.


Question: My wife and I decided not to buy High Holiday tickets this year because they’re so expensive. What can we do to mark the holidays at home, on our own?
–Norman, Chicago

Answer: Every year as the High Holidays approach I hear people grumbling about the price of tickets. And it’s true, at some synagogues it’s upwards of $500 a head. But why is it so expensive? It’s only a few hours, right?

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The High Holidays

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 12:00am
BY MJL STAFF

This article is featured in our High Holiday Guide. For more articles, crafts, recipes,etc., visit here. 


A guide to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the days in between.


Although the High Holidays themselves–the two days of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) — occupy three days only, they lie within a web of liturgy and customs that extend from the beginning of the preceding Hebrew month of Elul through Yom Kippur. The focus of this entire period is the process of teshuvah, or repentance, whereby a Jew admits to sins, asks for forgiveness, and resolves not to repeat the sins. Recognizing the psychological difficulty of self-examination and personal change, the rabbis instituted a 40-day period whose intensity spirals toward its culmination on Yom Kippur, a day devoted entirely to fasting and repentance.

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Judaism and Suicide

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 12:00am
BY BEN HARRIS for myjewishlearning.com 


Taking one's life is officially a violation of Jewish law, but many contemporary rabbis recognize that most suicides result from struggles with mental illness.


The suicide of a loved one is among the most challenging tragedies a person can face. In addition to the sudden loss, mourners often grapple with feelings of anger and guilt toward the deceased. In addition, there remains a stigma attached to suicide in many parts of the Jewish community born of the fact that Jewish tradition is deeply opposed to the taking of one’s own life in nearly all cases.

Is suicide against Jewish law?

While there is no explicit biblical prohibition on suicide, later rabbinic authorities derived a prohibition from the verse in Genesis 9:5, “And surely your blood of your lives, will I require.” Rashi and other early rabbinic authorities understood the verse as a prohibition against taking one’s own life. Contemporary rulings from all three major religious streams have upheld the view that suicide is fundamentally incompatible with Jewish law and values.

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The Brit Milah (Bris): What You Need to Know

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 12:00am
BY MJL STAFF


Questions and answers about the circumcision ceremony for Jewish baby boys.


What is a brit milah, and what are the reasons for it?

A brit milah, also known as a bris, is the Jewish ceremony in which a baby boy is circumcised. Circumcision dates back to the Book of Genesis, when God commands Abraham to circumcise himself and his offspring as a sign of the covenant between Jews and God. Throughout history, rabbis and thinkers have offered additional arguments in favor of circumcision, and many modern Jews see it as an important tradition that connects the generations.

When does a brit milah occur?

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Lailah, the Angel of Conception, Left Her Mark On Your Face

Sun, 08/06/2017 - 12:00am
BY TEMIM FRUCHTER for Jewniverse


You might not know it, but you have a philtrum and everyone who looks at you can see it. The philtrum—that groove we all have above our upper lips—may not be a commonly-referenced body part, but in Jewish mystical tradition, it’s quite significant. And it’s said to be the result of a tap from Lailah, the angel of conception, administered the moment a baby is born.

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The Biblical Book Jews Turn to for Healing and Comfort

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 12:00am
BY RABBI PERETZ RODMAN for myjewishlearning.com 


The Book of Psalms (Tehillim)


These 150 poems feature prominently in Jewish liturgy and are among the Bible's most widely read verses.


“The LORD is my shepherd” “Out of the mouths of babes ….” “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, as we remembered Zion.”

Some of the most widely recognized phrases and sentences from the Bible come to us from the Book of Psalms, referred to in Hebrew as Tehillim. (The above are Psalm 23:1, Psalm 8:2 and Psalm 137:1 as translated in the King James Version.) And it’s no wonder. While the Torah presents itself as the divine word imparted to the people Israel, the 150 poems in the Book of Psalms represent a range of human voices: the sounds of lament and of thanksgiving to God, individuals extolling God’s beneficence or imploring God to bring rescue and redemption.

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Tisha B’Av 2017

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 12:00am
BY MJL STAFF


Tisha B'Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) begins at sunset on Monday, July 31, and continues until the evening of August 1.


What is Tisha B’Av?
Tisha B’Av is the major day of communal mourning. First and foremost Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of both the first and second temples in Jerusalem (586 B.C.E, and 70 C.E respectively), but many other travesties have occured on the same date.

How is Tisha B’Av observed?
On Tisha B’Av Eicha (the book of Lamentations) is read with a unique nusah, a special melody.

As a sign of mourning it is customary to fast, refrain from bathing, wearing leather shoes, and having sexual relations.

To read more about Tisha B’Av rituals and practices click here.
 

The Three Weeks

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 12:00am
BY MATTHUE ROTH for myjewishlearning.com


The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem is commemorated with a period of mourning.


The three-week period in summer that begins with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz and climaxes with Tisha B’Av is known simply as “The Three Weeks.” It is a time of grieving for the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. This mourning period was first mentioned in the biblical Book of Zechariah in the Prophets — and, since then, it has been observed as a period of sadness.

The Multiple Tragedies
The 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz is a date in which many tragedies and pitfalls happened, according to the Mishnah (Taanit 4:6). It is traditionally believed to be the date that Moses broke the original Ten Commandments tablets after coming upon the Israelites as they worshiped the Golden Calf. 

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17th of Tammuz

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 12:00am
BY MJL STAFF


A minor fast day with major history.


The 17th of the month of Tammuz is observed as a minor fast day, with eating and drinking forbidden from dawn until sundown. Like Tisha B’Av, which comes just three weeks later, the 17th of Tammuz (often called by its Hebrew name, Shiva Asar b’Tammuz) is said to commemorate not to just one calamitous event in Jewish history, but several tragedies of the Jewish people.

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July 4th, history and the Jews

Mon, 07/03/2017 - 12:00am
From The Jewish News of Northern California


July 4th is almost upon us. Israel is celebrating its 69th year of existence.

All American Jews and Americans, should recognize this shining moment of historical success of our mutually beneficial survival. The world is convulsing with terrorist warfare, lives are shattered, blood and tears fill so many streets … and yet in the quiet corners of our minds, we should be so thankful that our brave fathers and mothers struggled to land on these blessed shores for as long as this nation has existed.

Jewish history and world history (our Western civilization) have enjoyed such an interesting dancing partnership together! There were times we refused to accept the dance with our partner, and there were more times when we were rejected for the dance. But this is the strange path of Jewish growing-up in the Western world.

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