Died in 1833, 5593 on the Jewish calendar The Jewish calendar begins at 3760 B.C., identified as the moment creation began. The date differs from the 4004 B.C. date determined by Archbishop Usher for the Christians but was attained using similar methodology. The year 2000 on the modern calendar was 5760 on the Jewish calendar. It ran from late September 1999 to late September 2000.
The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar in which each month begins with the appearance of a new moon and consists of twelve 29 or 30 day. Because these months add up to 354 days a year an extra month is added approximately every leap year. Traditionally Jews outside of Israel celebrated festivals one day longer to make sure the messenger that left from Jerusalem to announce the new moon arrived in time. Today, only Orthodox Jews continue the practice.
The Jewish year begins in September. The months of Jewish year: 1) Tishri; 2) Cheshvan (also Marcheshvan); 3) Kislev; 4) Tebet (also Tebeth); 5) Shebat (also Shebhat);6) Adar; 6a) Adar Sheni (II) added in leap years; 7) Nisan; 8) Iyar; 9) Silvan; 10) Tammuz; 11) Va (alsoAbh); 12) Ebul
Talmudic traditions divides history into three periods of 2,000 years each: an age of confusion (from Creation to Abraham); the age of Torah (from Abraham afterwards); and the age of redemption (the period before the coming of the Messiah).
Websites and Resources: Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Judaism and Jewish Resources shamash.org/trb/judaism ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah’org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; Judaism.com judaism.com ; ; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article on Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Origin of Judaism adath-shalom.ca ;Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish Culture and History Resources ddickerson.igc.org/judaica ;
Books: A Short History of Judaism by I. And D. Cohn-Sherlok (1994); The Gift of the Jews by Thomas Cahill; Ancient Biblical History Books: Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times by Donald Redford; Oxford Companion to the Bible ; Palestine Bible as History by Werner Keller; The Bible Unearthed by I. Finkelstein & N. Asher Silberman ; Historical Atlas of the Holy Lands by K. Farrington
Menora from Cordoba Spain The Sabbath is the day of rest taken by God after he created the earth. For Jews the first six days of the week correspond to the first days of creation, and the seventh is the day of divine rest, or the Sabbath. Since the week begins with Sunday the Jewish Sabbath falls on Saturday.
Jews believe that if God took a day of rest on the Sabbath, then they should too. The Sabbath is regarded as a symbol of the covenant between God and the Jews. In Exodus 31:12-17: "The Lord spoke unto Moses, saying...Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep; for it is a sign between men and you throughout your generations; that ye shall know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you...Ye shall keep the Sabbath therefore...It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever."
Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) begins at sundown on Friday and concludes at nightfall on Sunday. In Israel, many places, including restaurants, food stores and buses, are closed or not operating although in many places shops, theaters and shopping malls remain open. There is often a shopping rush before and after the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is regarded as the most important holiday or religious day because it is the only one mentioned as an actual commandment. Jews have traditionally lit candles—lit at sundown on Friday—and said special prayers over wine and bread during the main Saturday meal. Parents traditionally bless their children and the faithful are supposed to study the Torah. The Sabbath ends when the candles are doused with wine and sweet spices are smelled.
In ancient times, enemies often attacked Jews on the Sabbath because many of them refused to take up arms and defend themselves and were thus easily massacred. Most Jews began their "day" at sunset through the nineteenth century. Orthodox Muslims, who follow the Holy Script, continue to begin their day at sunset—and still set their clocks at twelve when the sun goes down.
Work and the Jewish Sabbath
The Sabbath Rest
by Sanuel Hirszenberg Orthodox Jews are not allowed to do anything on the Sabbath that can be construed as work. Jewish law, or Halakha, outlines 30 categories of work that can not be performed on the Holy Day, including driving a car, using a telephone, listening to radio, watching television, lighting fires, turning on lights,, writing, operating machinery. To satisfy fundamentalists Israel's national airline El Al does not fly on the Sabbath.*
Figuring out what is acceptable on the Sabbath and what isn’t has been described “one of the greatest complexities of Judaism. Even pushing the button of an elevator can be construed as work. Hotels in Israel have special elevators for the Sabbath which stop at every floor so no one does any work by pushing a button. The Institute of Science and Halacha has extended great effort into making even submarines Sabbath-compliant.
Completing an electrical circuit is considered work and ultra-Orthodox engineers have gone through great lengths to devise milking machines, metal detectors, motorized wheelchairs, medical machines, computers and alarms that work using circuits that remained closed all the time and thus can be used on the Sabbath. To get around the restriction on writing it engineers have developed pens whose ink disappears after a few days (writing is defined as leaving a permanent mark).
There are laws on the books in Israel that prohibit teenagers from working on the Sabbath. Ultra-Orthodox Jews want to see similar rules that prevent people from going to beach, visiting shopping malls and talking on their cell phones on the Sabbath. One ultra-Orthodox rabbis went as far as saying that Sabbath violators “will be killed,”
Passover matzot Most Jewish holidays are movable feasts, whose dates are defined by the Jewish lunar calendar and thus, like Easter, are on different dates every year. Holidays begin at sunset the previous day, often with a service after sundown.
According to the book of Deuteronomy in the Bible, Jews are to celebrate three pilgrimage festivals a year: “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place which he will choose at the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths.”
The Feast of the Unleavened Bread is Passover (the liberation of the Jews from Egypt). The Feast of Weeks is Shavuot. The Feast of Booths is Sukkoth. During ancient times these were the great festivals in which Jews were obligated to make visits to the Temple and make sacrifices.
Rosh Hashana (New Year) and Yom Kippur ( Day of Atonement) are periods of fasting, forgiveness, reflection and penitence. Hanukkah and Purim commemorate the saving of Jews from desperate situations.
Passover Judaica Passover ( Pesach ) begins on the fifteenth day of first Jewish month (in March or April) and lasts seven or eight days depending on the practices of individual denominations. The most important Jewish holiday, it commemorates the night of the Tenth Plague when God killed the first born children of Egypt—which claimed the pharaoh's oldest son—but “passed over” the homes of the Israelites and allowed Moses to lead the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land 3000 years ago.
Passover is sort of like a pilgrimage festival combined with Thanksgiving and marks both historical and religious events. Intended to be a profound celebration of God’s faithfulness to all who believe him, it usually takes place around Easter (Jesus's last Supper, before his crucifixion and resurrection, is said to have taken place on Passover) and is intended to make the celebration of God real and direct.
Scholars believe that Passover has it origins in two ancient Middle Eastern festivals: the Ceremony of the Paschal (Sacrificial) Lamb still practiced today by Bedouins and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, which celebrated the barley harvest. In Israel, shops are closed and transportation is limited at the beginning and end of Passover and during much of the holiday. Some shops are open only a few hours a day and some buses run reduced service in the middle of the holiday.
Some Jews have said that Passover is a time when even the most secular, non-religious and non-Jewish Jews want to be Jewish. This perhaps so because it is a family time and one that Jews look back on with fondness the same way Christians do with Christmas.
Angel of Death and the First Passover The first two days and nights of Passover are the most important. The first two nights are celebrated with a traditional feast ( seder ), in which many of the foods have symbolic meaning. The holiday coincides with Biblical barley harvest and spring festivals. The service opens with the announcement: “All who are hungry...let them come in and eat...All who are needy...let them come on and celebrate the Passover.” At ancient Jewish feasts, food was given out freely to rich and poor alike.
The Haggadah, the story of Exodus, is read to children during the meal and the symbolism of the traditional Passover foods is explained. Jews regard the Exodus from Egypt as something that happens to all Jews not just the tribes who followed Moses. One rabbi wrote: “every man in every generation should consider himself as if he had gone out of Egypt.”
The reading of the story begins when the youngest person at the table ask the oldest why this night is different than others. Within the story are four sons: the wise one who asks the meaning of the laws, the wicked one who denies his Jewishness, the simple one who wonders “What is all this?” and the last one who does not know how to ask. The reading s usually takes place before and after the seder. It is often broken up by personal comments and discussions on different parts, often as they relate to current events. Some families follow a selected program that includes songs and passages from other texts that have been carefully selected for the occasion.
Jews believe that the Messiah will reveal himself around the time of Passover. A cup of wine is left out for Elijah who is supposed to herald the arrival of the Messiah. The Passover Seder ends with words “Next year Jerusalem.”
Passover Seder foods Foods with symbolic meaning include: 1) matzo (unleavened, flat bread), representing the haste in which the Israelites left Egypt (they left so quickly their bread did not have time to rise); 2) salt water and hard-boiled eggs dipped in salt, symbolizing the tears shed by their ancestors when they were slaves of the Egyptians; and 3) maror (bitter herbs) eaten with a reddish horseradish sauce called harosth , representing the bitterness associated with slavery. All these dishes are eaten at stated times.
A roasted lamb eaten at Passover represents the sacrificial lamb ritually slaughtered at the Temple, which in turn represents the lamb killed by the Israelites which supplied the blood they smeared on their doorposts so the Angel of Death would pass over their homes during the Tenth Plague. The lamb is supposed to be unblemished at the prime of its life. Roasting is regarded as symbol of God’s judgement. The feasting at Passover is tinged with the cautionary tale that some were spared but many were not.
Other traditional Passover foods include green herbs (associated with spring), eggs (commemorating festival sacrifice), and charoset , a mixture of chopped apples, dates, figs, almonds, wine and cinnamon (recalling the mortar that Jews were required to mix in Egypt). Maror is sometimes dipped in charoset.
Matzo, Wine and Christianity
Passover sedar Sometimes during Passover three pieces of unleavened bread are placed in a pile. The upper and lower portions represent the double portion of manna, the food that God gave the Israelites during the Exodus. The middle piece symbolizes the “bread of affliction.” Unleavened bread is believed to be the source of the use of bread in Christian Eucharist (communion). Leaven itself is often associated in the Bible with sin.
During the seder the middle pieces of unleavened bread are plucked out and broken in half. One part is returned to the stack. The part called the aphikomen is covered with a napkin and hidden. Often a children’s game is made of finding the hidden piece with a reward of some sort is given the person who finds it. When the hidden piece is returned it is broken, distributed and eaten in quiet refection much like Eucharist bread.
Seders have traditionally featured the drinking of four cups of wine. The third cup is called the Cup of Redemption. It symbolizes the blood from the sacrificed lamb. It is regarded as the source of the cup of wine in Eucharist. During the reading of the Haggadah it is customary to flick drops of wine with the recitation of the list of plagues.
Passover Food Customs
Passover Seder Dinner
at the White House in 2010 One of the most important customs of Passover is the removal of chametz (foods made with leaven) from the house. On the night before Passover, it is customary to search the house with a candle looking for the any chametz or chametz crumbs. If some are found they are symbolically swept up with a feather.
Chametz include grain, bread, yeast, cakes, biscuits, crackers, cereals, wheat, barley, rice, dried peas, dried beans, any liquid with grain alcohol, baking soda (because it contains corn starch), and even crumbs. In some cases cooks insist on using milk products that come only from fields supervised by rabbis, , matzo cooked no longer than 18 minutes, and soft drinks made with sugar not corn syrup. Some scholars say that this custom may have its basis in removing grain to keep plague-infested rats from entering the house.
Preparations for Passover include scrubbing the kitchen, removing all forbidden foods, purchasing kosher foods and getting special dishes out of storage. A great effort is made to make sure all chametz are removed. In some cases cooking utensils and dishes are placed in boiling water, and ovens and grills are burned with blow torches to make sure every last particle of chametz is removed. Sometimes the dishes used on Passover are stored away the rest of the year under lock and key. One reason such a fuss is made is that Torah states that God will punish anyone who eats chametz with death.
Often there is some debate about what is allowed and what isn’t. Questions are raised, for example, about whether corn or rice is okay, Things like milk, which don’t need a kosher designation during the rest of the year, need a “kosher for Passover” labeled to be consumed with a clear conscience.” In many cases there are as many interpretations of the rules and the questions 5raised about them are even more confusing.
Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur poster Yamin Noraim (“Ten Days of Awe”) commences at the beginning of the seventh Jewish month in September or October. It has traditionally been a 10-day period of penitence that begins with the Rosh ha-Shanah and ends with Yom Kippur .
Rosh ha-Shanah (“Head of the Year” or "Feast of Trumpets") is the Jewish New Year. Usually falling in September, it is a two day festive occasion that begins with the blowing of a ram's horn in the synagogue during a service that is held after sundown on the eve of the holiday. It has traditionally been a time when families gathered together, attended synagogue services, sent cards and ate honeycakes and apples dipped in honey to symbolize an upcoming sweet year.
During Biblical times Rosh ha-Shanah apparently was not associated with the new year but rather it was a "memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns" commemorating Abraham's sacrifice of a ram instead of his son Isaac (Muslims celebrate the same event but say it was Abraham's other son Ishmael who was not sacrificed and celberate it on a different day).
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is the most solemn Jewish holiday. Usually falling in October, it is a day of fasting, which begins at sundown on the previous day and lasts until sundown on Yom Kippur. Services are held featuring the reading of The Book of Jonah and the asking rabbi to atone the entire community, a ritual that dates back to biblical times. The purpose is similar to Catholic confession. The evening Yom Kippur services are brought to end with blowing of the ceremonial ram's horn.
Yom Kippur has traditionally been viewed as the quietest day of the year. Many Jews observe the fast by completely abstaining from food, drink, sex, smoking, washing, using cosmetics, soap or toothpaste and animal products. Time is spent quietly praying, reading the Torah, meditating and confessing one’s sins.
Sukkot at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Sukkot (Feast of Booths) is a nine day festival (emphasis on first two days) that begins four days after Yom Kippur on the 15th day of the seventh Jewish lunar month (in October). It commemorates the Israelites wandering in the desert with the building of a small roofless shelters called a sukkahs . The last day is celebrated with a procession of the scrolls and a reading of Genesis and Deuteronomy .
The sukkahs represents the Israelites sleeping under the stars. They are usually cobbled together from scraps of plywood and have only loose branches for a roof. The are set up in backyards, balconies, gardens, hotels and restaurants.
Sukkot (also spelled Succot or Sukkoth) also commemorates the bringing of the first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem. Some families hang fruits on their sukkahs and eat rolled cabbage, which stays warm while it is transferred from a house to a booth. Other foods associated with Sukkot include figs and pomegranates and etrogs.
Etrogs are a kind of citron. They are eaten by Jews who follow the command to recite prayers over “the fruit of goodly trees.” Thought to have been one of the fruits in the Garden of Eden, etrogs have thick skins, look like large lemons and taste like bitter lemons. According to Jewish law, the fruit has to be peeled or not have any scars or it cannot be used. Sometimes magnifying glasses are used to find fruits that are unblemished.
During a special Sukkoth blessing etrogs are held in the left hand and a date palm branch entwined with myrtle and a willow branch is held in the right hand and carried through a synagogue to symbolize the presence of God throughout the world.
Hanukkah in the U.S. Hanukkah (“Dedication,” or “Festival of Lights”) is an eight day festival that begins on the 25th day of the ninth Jewish month (in December). It commemorates the victory of Maccabees—a clan of Jewish warriors also known as the Hasmoneans—over the tyrannical Greek-Syrian Seleucid King Antiochus IV, who had looted and desecrated the Temple of Jerusalem and persecuted the Jews, in 168 B.C. , and prevented them from worshiping at the Temple.
The Maccabees had captured Jerusalem during a revolt against Antiochus IV. Upon reclaiming the temple, the Jews lit a lamp to re-dedicate the Temple. Although there was only oil for one day it miraculously lasted for eight days.
Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah) usually falls around the time of Christmas. Families have traditionally lit candles on the menorah (a candelabra) each of eight nights. The menorah is an ancient Jewish symbol derived from the candlestick that originally stood in the Temple built by Solomon.
The first night the center candle—which is used for lighting the other candles— is lit. The second night other candles are lit, and so on until all nine candles are lit on the last night. Jews also display a special lamp in the window of their homes; children receive gifts of money; people eat food fried in oil, and play games of dreidels using cylindrical four or six-sided dice with handles.
The key ingredient in traditional Hanukkah foods is oil (like the oil used in the lamps). Food made with oil include latkes (potato pancakes, often topped with sour cream, cheese, apple sauce or chutney) eaten by Americans and northern and eastern Europeans; loukamades (fried cakes dipped in honey and covered in powdered sugar) eaten by Greek Jews; zelebi (deep fried spirals of dough and syrup) eaten by Iranian Jews; and sufganiyot (jelly donuts) eaten by Israeli Jews.
Esther and the Triumph of Mordecai Purim (“Feast of Lots”) is held on the 14th day of the last Jewish month (in March). It commemorates the rescue of the Jews in Persia from extermination, as ordered by the Persian leader Haman, by Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai in 480 B.C. Purim means “Lottery,” and was thus named because Haman chose the date by pulling a name from a hat.
Purim celebrates the unwillingness of the Jews to compromise their religious principals by bowing to secular authority. It has traditionally been observed with the reading of the Book of the Esther in a synagogue, accompanied by noisemakers, the eating of Haman’s ear (fried, triangular cookies filled with poppy seeds, apricots or prunes) and bringing plates of goodies to neighbors and family members. In Israel, school is closed but most businesses remain open.
In Israel, Purim has evolved into a Jewish version of Carnival or Halloween in which children dress up in costumes, men dress up like women, and adults get so drunk they can’t distinguish between the words “curse of Haman” and “bless Mordechai.” It is he only time of the year that Jews are encouraged to get roaring drunk. It is not uncommon for Jews to dress up like Muslims.
Purim and the Story of Esther
The story of Esther takes place in Shishan, the winter capital of Persia. Esther was a beautiful Jewish woman who lived there with her uncle Mordechai, who had adopted her. The leader of Persia was Emperor Akshashversus (also known by the Greek name Xerxes). After dismissing his wife Vashto because she refused to follow his orders, the emperor selected Esther as a new wife. She had been a member of his harem. Akshashversus didn’t know she was Jewish. Shortly after she became queen, she warned the emperor of a plot to kill him after being told of the plot by Morechai. Akshashversus was grateful.
Haman, one of the king’s favorite ministers and a fanatical anti-Semite, became enraged when Mordecai refused to bow to him and decided to vent his anger on all the Jewish people in Persia. He asked for and received permission from Akshashversus to exterminate the Jews on the false charge of treason.
Mordechai pleaded with Esther to plead with Akshashversus for help but she could only communicate with the emperor if he called her. If she called him she risked being put to death. After fasting for three days she appeared in the inner court. There Akshashversus asked her what she wanted. She said she wanted to invite the emperor to a banquet. He agreed. That night he couldn’t sleep and asked that book of records be read to him. From the records he learned that it was Mordechai who uncovered the assassination plot and saved his life. At the banquet, Esther pleaded with the emperor to spare the Jews.
Akshashversus decided that the Jews must be saved. But changing a ruling was impossible because it would mean the emperor wasn’t infallible. Instead, Akshashversus supplied weapons to the Jews who defeated troops loyal the Haman. Haman, his top aides and 10 of his sons were hung on gallows that had been prepared for the Jews.
Other Jewish Holidays
Purim in the Middle Ages Lag B’Omer (“33rd day of the Counting of the Omer”) in late May or early June is the one-day lifting of a seven week period of semi morning. It is traditionally a time when bonfires are set and people get married and eat roast potatoes. Children run and around shoot bows and arrows, as their ancestors did, when they were supposed to be studying. Most businesses remain open.
Shavuot ("Weeks”) is a two day festival that takes place in late May or early June, six weeks after Passover ends. It celebrates the offering of the first fruits and the revealing of the Ten Commandments to Moses. Most of the foods eaten in this day are cheese products. Most businesses are closed.
Tisha B’Av in July is a midsummer day of fasting and mourning held on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av. It recalls the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and is marked by pilgrimages to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Other fast days on the Jewish calendar include the Fast of the 9th Day of Ac in late July or early July; the Fast of Gedalya in September; Shmini Atzeret in late September or early October; and the Fast of the 10th of Tevet in Late December to early January.
Sephardic Jews celebrate Mainmuna, a festive post-Passover holiday honoring Maimon Ben Joseph, the father of the great 12th century Jewish philosopher Moses Mainmonides. Some American Jews celebrate Christmas. This is considered somewhat sacrilegious by many Jews.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011