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Microsoft word - judaism 2013.doc
My name is Fronya and I welcome you to the Rev. Abraham Levy Center. For those people who do not know me, I have an MA in Religious Studies. When I was studying, I was trained to suspend my own belief and accept each religion without any bias. So although I do belong to this congregation, today I am presenting Judaism as I was taught.
I shall start by giving a talk on the religion, Judaism,
here in the hall. Then we will go into the
synagogue and Rabbi Bloch will take over, because women are not permitted to go near the Ark
which houses the Torah Scrolls containing the Pentateuch. Each scroll in the ark has the
complete Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy text in Hebrew and is read with
the use of a pointer.The Rabbi can then answer questions and then we will go to the Mikvah
which is a ritual bath with flowing water. One goes to the mikvah in order to feel SPIRITUALLY
cleansed - this has nothing to do with physical cleanliness. e.g. There are sects where men go to
the mikvah on Friday afternoon, and women go there after menstruation, as does anyone who
converts to Judaism. Again this is spiritual and not in order to be clean. After the mikvah we will
come back here for refreshments.
We will learn about G-d, man and their communication and then the interaction between the person and his fellow being.
According to Judaism, G-d created the world for people and they are created for the purpose of being close to G-d; but this must happen through a person’s freewill, because man is created with a Good Inclination and an Evil Inclination and has the choice to decide what he or she wants to do.
People also have a soul inside a physical body and it is at conception that the soul draws near to the foetus and the family it will join.
UNITY OF G-D
There are 13 articles of the Jewish faith. Each one starts with "I believe with perfect faith.". The first is "I believe with perfect faith that the Creator is the author and guide of everything that has been created and that He alone has made, does make and will make all things." The second article states "that there is no unity in any manner like unto his, and that he alone is our G-d who was, is and will be." There is a hymn which is based on these articles of faith. Furthermore record of His unity comes from Deut. 6: 4. "Hear people of Israel: the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One". This prayer is said once in the morning, again at the evening service, and again at night before going to sleep. It is also said by a person on his or her death bed if conscious. The 12th Article states "I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though he tarry, I will wait daily for his coming." During the Holocaust these words were put to a song which they sang in the Ghettos and on the way to the gas chambers.
BLUEPRINT FOR LIVING
Having said all that, Judaism is a blue print for living, from birth to death and from waking in the morning until going to bed at night.
On awaking in the morning, one thanks G-d for returning one’s soul and therefore allowing one to live another day. Then one washes one’s hands ritually with a blessing. Every time one goes out
from the bathroom there is a special prayer saying that it is obvious that G-d has created one with many openings and cavities and if one of them were to rupture or to be blocked it would be impossible to survive. Therefore one blesses or rather praises G-d who heals all flesh.
The morning prayers are said before breakfast. Except for the Sabbath and Festivals and some exceptions, men have to wear Phylacteries. The injunction comes from Deut. 6:8:17. There is one for the forehead and one for the left arm, unless one writes with that hand, then the man wears it on the right arm. They also have to wear a talit or prayer shawl, a four-cornered fringed garment which you will see when we go into the synagogue.
Then, if there is bread on the breakfast menu, one ritually washes ones hands with a blessing, eats the meal and then says Grace after meals. If there is no bread, one says special blessings over the food before eating - depending on the type of food eaten, for example something grown in the ground or something grown on trees. There is another blessing before eating wheat, barley, rye and oats, and still another for any other food.
Then one can go about one’s daily business.
There is an Afternoon Service and an Evening Service. There are set prayers before retiring for the night including "I hereby forgive anyone who has angered or antagonized me or who has sinned against me." and one asks forgiveness for one’s own sins during the day.
The Torah contains a number of laws, the reason for some of which humans have not been able to understand clearly. Nevertheless they accept and observe them because they were given to them by G-d. Among such statutes are the precepts of ‘kosher’, involving permission to eat only kosher foods, prohibition against eating blood (Lev 3:17; Deut 12:23), the laws prohibiting against wearing a mixture of wool and linen (Lev 19:19; Deut 22:11), laws against planting
and cultivating certain mixtures of plants, (Lev 19:19; Deut22:9) and cross breeding or harnessing
together various kinds of animals. For example Deut. 22:10 says "Thou shalt not plow with an ox and ass together."
Leviticus Chapter 11 lays down what may or may not be eaten. Among the non-Kosher are: pigs, crustaceans, fish without scales and insects such as the cochineal beatle.
As in other religions there are denominations in Judaism. The main streams here are Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. There are also many variations of sects in each. Here, we are an Orthodox Congregation. There is also a Reform Temple in P.E. but the Jewish community of P.E. is not big enough to have different sects, although there are in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
RITES OF PASSAGE
These are Birth and Circumcision, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Marriage, Old Age and Death.
After a child is born it is given a Hebrew or a Yiddish name at the end of the first week. A boy has a circumcision (Gen. 17: 10) and a girl is given the name in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Usually in this congregation the child is named after someone who has already passed away, although there are congregations where the child is given a name after someone who is living. The reason is a technicality -from where the ancestors come.
Until age 12 for girls and 13 for boys the child is a minor and has to study, but is not considered responsible for sins. Girls have a Batmitzvah and boys have a Barmitzvah after which they are considered responsible adults. e.g: he can be a witness to something if necessary and he can be
counted for a minyan at a prayer service. A minyan is a quorum, which is at least ten men. There are some prayers which can only be said in a quorum. E.g. a portion of the Torah cannot be read without a quorum. While it is possible to pray alone, one of the canonized scriptures says "do not separate yourself from the congregation".
At aged 18, a man is allowed to get married but he does not necessarily have to. In any event there are engagement and marriage ceremonies but today both are usually done at the marriage.
I am including Old Age as a separate rite of passage because the 5th Commandment states "Honor your father and your mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord giveth thee", and every morning in an introduction to the morning prayers, honoring one’s father and mother is particularly mentioned as a harvest to be reaped in the world to come.
Death. Even if a person has been wicked all of his or her life - if this person repents at the end of his or her life - this person is forgiven. There are also prayers for repentance on a death-bed.
When physical life ends, the soul ascends to the realm of Spirit where it attains higher levels of purity and holiness. However the soul is not able to perform good deeds. Only a mortal can struggle with selfishness of his animal nature. Therefore the living can help the soul progress by saying a prayer called Kaddish, giving charity in the deceased’s name and Torah study for the merit of the departed. Mourner’s Kaddish is a prayer partly in Aramaic and partly in Hebrew praising G-d. It says nothing about the departed person’s soul. It is said by males in a quorum for 11 months at each daily prayer session. Aramaic was the vernacular.
A tombstone is also important for the soul. The tombstone gives closure.
Death is seen as another phase in the evolution of the soul - i.e. drawing closer to G-d, therefore it is not the end of life. According to one of the canonized scriptures the process of dying is like removing a hair from milk i.e. gentle and painless.
When a person has passed away, the body is taken to a small building, the Tahara House, at the cemetery. Burial should take place as soon as possible, but sometimes has to wait for relatives to fly to P.E. An hour before the funeral, members of the Jewish burial society prepare the body for burial - it has to be ritually washed and dressed in shrouds, and placed in a coffin of cheap wood without any metal trimmings. Then it is placed on a gurney and the mourners rip a tear in the shirt - on the left side near the heart for a parent and the right side for a sibling, child or spouse. The tearing of the garments at the cemetery before the funeral reassures the soul that the loved one feels the loss. Tahara means purifying ritually and now you can understand why some death notices in newspapers mention Tahara House.
Some congregations allow flowers on the cemetery but we prefer no flowers especially not during the seven days at the house of mourning.
The burial service is the same for all, rich and poor alike.
The next of kin sits in mourning for seven days and lights candles for seven days. The soul derives pleasure from the light because it is a portion of that light. Proverbs (20:27) says "The soul of man is the candle of God." Therefore the candle lit at every yearly anniversary of the person’s death is important too.
Friends and relatives pay condolence visits so that the mourner is not alone and can talk about the departed if he or she wishes.
Some people do not go straight to Heaven. They have to go to a place called Gehenna where the process of purification takes 12 months. Thereafter they progress to Heaven. However sinners who never repent, can never leave.
People are human and have freewill. The soul wants to do the will of G-d but the Evil Inclination entices it to go after this worldly happiness instead of storing up merit for the next world. When people sin there is room for repentance. Sin creates a barrier between G-d and the person.
The Jewish New Year
, on the 1st day of the month of Tishrei, is not a time for rejoicing but rather a time of introspection. It is celebrated with festive meals, and apple and honey symbolizing a sweet new year. During the prayer service the Ram’s horn is blown 100 blasts but not on the Sabbath. Then between the New Year and ending with the Closing Service of Yom Kippur
are the Ten Days of Repentance.
or Day of Atonement is a time of fasting, "For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you for all your sins."(Lev 16: 29) There are sins between the person and G-d, and between the person and fellow-man. For the latter, the damage must be rectified. In every wrong doing people must acknowledge and confess their sins before G-d and express contrition.
or the Festival of Tabernacles
is celebrated on the 15th Tishrei. It commemorates the booths in the desert where the children of Israel dwelt after the exodus from Egypt. Therefore one sits and eats for a week in these flimsy structures with their roofs open to the sky only covered by branches. (Numbers 29: 12) On the 23rd Tishrei is Rejoicing of the Law
. ( Numbers 29:35) This signifies that portions of the Torah have been read every week for a year and have now come a perfect circle to begin again at Genesis 1:1. Incidently Jews of the world read the same portions on the same days and all pray facing Jerusalem.
Channukah or Festival of Lights
is another festival celebrated which commemorates the miracle - When rededicating the Temple, after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes it was found that there was only enough clean oil to light the eternal lamp for one day; however that same oil lasted for eight days until they could get more supplies. So each night one lights an additional candle until there are eight. After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the eternal light is now situated in front of the Ark in the synagogue, which burns continually as you will see.
is a happy festival celebrated to commemorate the prevention of the slaughter of the Jews in Persia in the 5th Century. One reads the Book of Esther in the synagogue. She was the Jewish queen of Persia, instrumental in intervening to save the Jews. It is also a time of sending ready prepared food to relatives and friends, and money to the poor so that they can celebrate too. One eats three-cornered cookies filled with poppy seed, or dates and prunes. Children and some adults wear fancy dress.
Pesach or Passover celebrates the beginning of the exodus from Egypt. (Deut. 16 : 1-3). Because of the hurried departure from Egypt there was no time for the dough to rise - therefore one eats matzoh which is unleavened bread. Leaven is not allowed in the house for a week. On the first two nights one has a festive meal with a set ritual, called a seder
which means order.
It would take too long to explain Passover, so perhaps next year we could have a ‘mock seder’ for anyone who is interested. Everything could then be explained - especially Biblical references.
Shavuot or Pentecost is celebrated seven weeks after Passover on the 50th day. (Ex. 34:22, Lev. 23:15ff, Deut. 16: 9-10) It is the Season of Giving the Torah at Mount Sinai. (Ex. 19-20) Prescribed readings for Pentecost include the 10 Commandments and the Book of Ruth. King David, who was descended from Ruth has traditional associations with the festival.
Dairy food is eaten. One of the reasons is that there was not enough time to prepare a meat meal on the day the Torah was given.
Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles are the Three Pilgrim Festivals where one was commanded to go up to Jerusalem. (Ex. 23 : 17) In Israel people still make the pilgrimage.
On the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av one fasts from sunset to sunset remembering the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the Second Temple in 70 CE. On this day the book of Lamentations is read. The month of Av is two months before the Jewish New Year.
I have left the Sabbath till last because it occurs every week. The person is the acme of physical creation, made with a body, and a soul, which is the bridge between heaven and earth.
It is also a day of physical pleasure. Therefore the body must be satisfied so as not to interfere with the soul and it is a commandment to eat three hot meals on this day from Friday night to Saturday night, even if one is not hungry.
The Sabbath is a time for communion with G-d unencumbered with daily pressures and stresses. It should be noted that the prayers on this day are prayers of praise and thanksgiving but not prayers of petition.
At home the Sabbath table is prepared before sunset on Friday afternoon. A clean white tablecloth is used with 2 candlesticks and candles, 2 braided special breads covered by a special cover, a salt cellar of salt, a wine goblet with wine and a place for each member of the family and guest/s. Genesis 18:2 relates Abraham hosting guests.
The white table cloth on the dinner table symbolizes the Altar at the Temple on which the sacrifices were offered. The meal is symbolic of the sacrifice. The two candles are usually lit by the wife just before sunset. Two candles can symbolize the husband and wife as a family unit but also Ex. 20 :8 says "Remember
the Sabbath and keep it holy" while Deut. 5:12 says "Observe
the Sabbath and keep it holy".
The festive meal begins with the goblet of Wine over which Kiddush or the Sanctification blessing is made.
The two braided breads are covered with a special cloth until the Kiddush has been recited. The two loaves of bread signify the two portions of manna on Friday for Saturday in the desert. Ex. 16:22. After the blessing is said the bread is cut or broken and dipped in salt before handing round the table. Lev. 2: 13 mentions using salt for sacrificial purposes and ends "with all your sacrifices you must offer salt".
At home before the Friday night meal, a special hymn is sung, welcoming two angels who will depart after the Sabbath, then the husband sings "A Woman of Valor" to his wife (Proverbs 31:10 - 13) and blesses his children. After the Sanctification with wine, and the blessing over the special bread, hymns are sung during the meal. Something from the week’s Torah portion is also explained. This is a meal where the whole family sit together to eat and to pray. After the meal, Grace After Meals is said.
Prayer services in the synagogue are Friday evening, Saturday morning, afternoon and evening. Between the afternoon and the evening service a light meal is eaten - the third meal. The three Sabbath meals symbolize the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the three divisions of the Bible i e Torah, Prophets and Writings.
Sabbath starts with the lighting of candles and ends on Saturday evening after sunset. The Havdalah or Separation prayer is recited.
The blessing over wine
at the Conclusion of the Sabbath rite sanctifies the weekday. The spices
quicken the soul’s longing for the return of the next Sabbath and the light of the fire
is the new week’s first blessing. After withdrawing from the world for 24 hours the fire reaffirms the dignity and sacredness of work. You will see the spice box and special candle for the Havdalah or Separation rite when we go into the synagogue.
Up to now we have dealt with a person’s interaction with G-d but what about people’s interaction with one another - six of the Ten Commandments are between people. Musar is ethical teaching on the development of ethical behavior according to Jewish law. Judaism makes no difference between ethical and ritual law. Ethics is a large section of the religion so I can only mention a few points here.
There is a life-long process of self-improvement and service to man within the context of service to G-d.
In Tikun olam or perfection of the world there is a commitment to the improvement of society as a whole stemming from a Jewish outlook.
Derech Eretz is literally the way of the world there are two sections in a canonized scripture, which provide ethical guidance, and rules of conduct.
Pikuach Nefesh (Consideration for human life) There is an obligation to ignore most religious laws when someone’s life is in danger. (Lev 19: 16) One may break the Sabbath and even forbidden food may be eaten IF it will save a human life.
Lashon Harah. Evil Speech such as gossip or humiliation of a person is forbidden. (Lev 19:16) There is a prayer said three times a day " O my G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceit ."
Business ethics. One may not defraud or cheat people in business and one should pay a worker promptly.(Lev 19:13)
Laws of War are clearly stipulated in the Torah. (Deut. 20: 1-20)
I have touched on a few of the main things in Judaism, and now I ll see whether we can go into the synagogue.
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