Rituals and Worship

Sacred Time

Title: Challah bread Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blmurch/90778609/Shabbat is a twenty-five hour observance beginning at sundown on the prior evening (Friday) and ending at nightfall on Saturday. It is ushered in with the lighting and blessing of candles at home, a Friday evening service known as Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming of the Sabbath), and a festive family meal. The Friday night meal is inaugurated with an invocation, known as kiddush (sanctification), recited at the dinner table over a goblet of wine, followed by the ceremonial breaking and sharing of a braided, sweet egg-loaf, known as challah. The kiddush begins with the first verses of Genesis 2 that describe God's having "rested" on, and sanctified, Shabbat after having completed the creation of the universe, and concludes with a blessing affirming the holiness of Shabbat.

Genesis 2:1-3
1. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.
3. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Based upon the highly expansive rabbinical definition of the biblical term for "all labor" (melakha) that is prohibited on Shabbat in the fourth of the biblical Ten Commandments, Jewish law identifies thirty-nine classes of activity that are prohibited on Shabbat. Consequently, in addition to not engaging in any commercial work or handling currency, observant Jews refrain on Shabbat from almost all conventional weekday activities, even the most mundane, such as using electricity, traveling, carrying even the smallest of items in public, writing, tearing, mending, and so forth. Shabbat is consecrated in such a way as to restrict activity to prayer, Torah study, eating, relaxing, and sleeping. However, rabbinical law ordains a broad exception to these severe restrictions when it comes to preserving human life. Interpreting the biblical injunction "to live by the laws of God" as a prohibition against dying, the rabbis insisted that even the most remote risk to human life mandates the violation of Shabbat.

Almost all of these Shabbat restrictions also apply to the first and last "Holy Days" of the three biblical "pilgrimage festivals"—Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot—and to the "High Holydays" of Rosh Ha-shanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). A notable exception is made regarding any labors required for the preparation of and serving of the festival meals, such as the use of fire and carrying.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bjohnson/447682161/Pesach is a seven-day spring festival (observed for eight days in the Diaspora) that commemorates the Exodus of the Jews from Egyptian slavery, and celebrates Jewish national freedom more generally. On the first evening in Israel, and the first two in the Diaspora, a festive family feast known as the seder (order) is conducted. The seder meal is laden with a host of symbolic foods—most notably matza, the unleavened bread that was eaten by the Israelites in their haste to escape from Egypt; maror, or bitter herbs that symbolize the bitterness of Egyptian slavery; and charoset, a mixture of nuts, fruit, and wine that is meant to recall the mortar that the Israelite slaves were forced to make. The seder meal is prefaced, Title: Children read from the Haggadah during the seder Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bjohnson/447683884/in/set-72157600050549062/accompanied by, and supplemented with an extensive liturgy contained in a prayer-pamphlet known as the Haggadah, which literally means "the recounting" in fulfillment of the biblical commandment to "recount to your children all that God did for us by liberating our ancestors from Egyptian bondage."

In addition to providing precise instructions regarding the rituals and blessings accompanying the seder meal, the Haggadah extensively narrates the historical experience of the Jews since the inception of their faith with the biblical patriarch Abraham, culminating in the celebration of redemption following the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea. It concludes with the recitation of Psalms and songs of thanksgiving and celebration. The Pesach seder is by far the most widely observed Jewish ritual, even among otherwise secular or religiously unaffiliated Jews. The national themes of freedom from bondage and persecution, and the elaborate family traditions represented by the seder meal, continue to resonate with many Jews long after they have otherwise abandoned almost all other Jewish religious practices.

Title: A sacrifice containing an omer (a measure) of barley was sacrificed at the temple in Jerusalem Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:High_Priest_Offering_Sacrifice_of_a_Goat.jpgOnly the first and final days (in the Diaspora, the first and final two days) of Pesach are considered "sacred days of convocation," akin to Shabbat. The intermediate four days of these festivals are called hol ha-mo'ed, literally mundane days of the festival, during which special holiday prayers are recited daily, but the restrictions against labor do not apply. Aside from the seder, the most distinctive regulation governing the observance of Pesach is the strict dietary laws that prohibit the consumption of any leavened, or grain-based, food or drink.

Title: Moses receives the Torah on Mt. Sinai Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ideacreamanuelapps/3542205854/The one-day festival of Shavuot (Pentecost: observed in the Diaspora for two days), occurs seven weeks after Pesach, at the conclusion of the period of Omer-counting—a daily ceremony rooted in the ancient spring wheat-harvest ceremonies performed by the Israelite priests in the Jerusalem Temple. Although originally a pilgrimage celebration of the early spring harvest in the Land of Israel, after the expulsion of the Jews from Israel the rabbis associated Pentecost with the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Shavuot is therefore commonly referred to in rabbinic literature, and in the holiday's liturgy, as the "day of the Torah's presentation."

Title: sounding the shofar Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/96683394@N00/1370211842/Rosh Ha-shanah is the Jewish New Year that inaugurates the Ten Days of Penitence, which conclude with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Observed for two days both in Israel and the Diaspora, Rosh Ha-shanah commemorates the world's creation, and is marked by very lengthy prayer services whose main themes are acknowledgement of God as Creator and Ruler of the Universe and implorations for forgiveness of sins. Title: Abraham nearly sacrifices his son Isaac (see the replacement, a ram, in the right corner) Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rzrxtion/2716721503/The most dramatic aspect of the services on Rosh Ha-shanah is the sounding of the shofar, a ram's horn, intended as a call for penitential return to God, and a reminder of the ram whose sacrifice replaced that of Isaac, whom his father Abraham was willing to offer to God.

Ten days after Rosh Ha-shanah, Jews observe the fast day of Yom Kippur, the most holy and austere day of the Jewish calendar. In addition to Shabbat restrictions that apply to Yom Kippur, this holy day includes a regimen of ascetic restrictions. From sundown on the eve of Yom Kippur until nightfall the next day, Jews are prohibited from any eating or drinking, bathing, sexual relations, anointing in body oils and creams, and the wearing of any leather garments, including shoes.

Title: Many Jews set up a “booth” in their yards to commemorate the Israelites’ dwelling in the Sinai desert Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ronalmog/1447782563/Five days after Yom Kippur, Jews celebrate Sukkot (Tabernacles), a seven-day pilgrimage festival commemorating the fall harvest, as well as recalling the booths in which the Israelites dwelled during their forty-year sojourn in the Sinai desert. The day following the end of Sukkot is a festival called Shmini Atseret/Simchat Torah, celebrated immediately after Sukkot and sometimes called the "eighth day" of the festival (observed as two separate days in the Diaspora).

Title: Purim parade in Israel Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ronalmog/2352340000/in/set-72157604203489495/In addition to Shabbat and these five biblical Festivals, the Jewish calendar also includes a host of minor, "post-biblical" holidays. Purim, a late-winter festivity, commemorates the salvation of the Jews of ancient Persia from annihilation, based on the account in the biblical Book of Esther. Aside from the ceremonial recitation in synagogue of the entire Book of Esther both during the evening and morning Purim services, the holiday is celebrated as a carnival, featuring masquerading (to commemorate Queen Esther's hiding her true Jewish identity from the Persian King), feasting and drinking of alcoholic beverages, and a festive late afternoon meal. Jews are expected to exchange gifts of food with one other, and give alms to the poor on Purim. On account of its carnivalesque nature, Purim is often compared to the Catholic celebration of Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, before Lent.

Title: a Hanukiah with seven burning candles (in addition to the blue one to light the others) Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/slgc/4195754377/Hanukkah is the eight-day winter-solstice holiday that celebrates the victory of the Maccabee warriors against the Seleucid Greek rulers of Israel during the rebellion of 168-165 B.C.E. This culminated in the re-dedication of the Jerusalem Temple, which had been defiled with Hellenistic idols, for the service of the God of Israel and the establishment of the Hasmonean dynasty. This was the last autonomous Jewish commonwealth before the Roman destruction in 70 C.E. It is commemorated with the ceremonial lighting of one additional candle in the Hanukiah, an eight-pronged version of the Menorah on each of the eight evenings of the holiday, to memorialize the re-kindling of the Temple Menorah by the Hasmonean Priests after the liberation of Jerusalem by the Maccabees. Neither Purim nor Hanukkah are considered Shabbat-like holydays, and thus do not involve any of the prohibitions of labor mandated on Shabbat and biblical festivals.

title: destruction of the Jerusalem temple Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Francesco_Hayez_017.jpgThree Jewish fast days, in addition to Yom Kippur, commemorate the various political and military setbacks that ultimately led to the destruction of both Jerusalem Temples—in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. The most important and austere of these is Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, on which both Temples were destroyed according to the Talmud. In addition to all of the aforementioned ascetic regulations of Yom Kippur, on Tisha B'Av, a broad day of mourning for the manifold tragedies of Diaspora Jewish history since the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, Title: national flags in Israel fly at half-mast on Yom ha-Shoah Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/goldberg/162174275/Jews recite the biblical Book of Lamentations in synagogue, as well as a rich liturgy of medieval Hebrew dirges that commemorate the many calamities of post-exilic Jewish history, from the Crusades, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and the Inquisition, to the Holocaust.

Two recently instituted Jewish holidays, commemorating the dramatic events of Jewish history in the 20th century, are widely observed by most contemporary Jews: Yom ha-Shoah, in mournful commemoration of the Holocaust, and Yom ha-Atsmaut, in celebration of Israel Independence Day. Most ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, who are reluctant to add new observances and additionally do not attribute any religious significance to the creation of the modern, secular Jewish State, do not recognize these most recent Jewish holidays.

title: residents in Israel celebrate Yom Ha-Atzmaut with flags and banners Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:YomHaatzmautDecorations.jpg

Study Questions:
1.     What is Shabbat? What rituals are associated with it?
2.     What is prohibited during Shabbat? Why?
3.     What is Pesach? How does the Pesach seder transform time?
4.     Describe two holidays of importance to Judaism.
5.     What is meant by “post-biblical” holidays? Provide some examples.

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