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A Brief Guide to Judaism

A curriculum support presentation for the study of the Holocaust.

Created by the Birmingham Holocaust Education Committee July, 2008 www.bhamholocausteducation.org

How to Use this PowerPoint

This PowerPoint is designed to stand alone or to be used as support material in teaching the Holocaust.

A few slides have support notes in the “Notes Section” below the slide. This will be indicated on the slide itself by a * placed next to the picture or copy that has further details provided in the notes.

The Hebrew words in this presentation are written in italics and include a phonetical pronunciation as well as an actual audio pronunciation available by double clicking on the placed next to the text.

What is Judaism?

  • Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people.

  • Judaism is the first recorded monotheistic faith and is the oldest religious tradition still in practice today. According to Jewish tradition, the history of Judaism begins with the Covenant between G-d* and Abraham (ca. 2000 B.C.E.**), the patriarch of the Jewish people.

  • Judaism differs from many religions in that central authority is not vested in a person or group, but in sacred texts and traditions. Judaism is based on principles and ethics embodied in the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud.

  • With an estimated 14 million adherents in 2006, Judaism is the world's twelfth largest organized religion.***

Basic Beliefs Of Judaism

Judaism is a religion concerned with actions more than beliefs.

It offers substantial room for personal opinion.

One G-d

The People

The Covenant

The World to Come

Repairing the World


The Land of Israel

One G-d

Jews believe in

a single,

omniscient (all knowing),

omnipotent (all powerful),

omnipresent (in all places at all times), benevolent


who created the universe and continues to be involved in its governance.

This G-d is just and merciful and has no form or representation.

Just as the terms G-d and Lord are used interchangeably in English, there are various Hebrew terms as well:

A-donai * (ä-dō-NĪ) - Hebrew for "Lord”; commonly restricted for prayer.

Hashem (hŏ-SHĔM) -Hebrew for "the Name."

E-lohim (ĕ-lō-HĒM) - Another term for G-d.

Basic Beliefs Of Judaism

One G-d

The People

The Covenant

The World to Come

Repairing the World


The Land of Israel

The People

Each person is created in the image of G-d; therefore, all people are created equal and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Furthermore, our likeness to G-d is in our intellectual ability to understand.

Judaism believes that people have free will and are responsible for the choices they make.

Basic Beliefs Of Judaism

One G-d

The People

The Covenant

The World to Come

Repairing the World


The Land of Israel

The Covenant

According to traditional Jewish belief, G-d established a Covenant with the Jewish people and revealed his laws and commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of the Torah.

The Torah contains 613 commandments from G-d known as mitzvot (mēts-VOHT), or sacred obligations. Amongst them are the Ten Commandments.

The Torah, in its full form, contains the 5 Books of Moses and all of its explanation. It teaches how to act, think, and even comprehend life and death, as well as G-d's relationship with the Jewish people.

Basic Beliefs Of Judaism

One G-d

The People

The Covenant

The World to Come

Repairing the World


The Land of Israel

The World to Come

Jews believe the Messiah will be a person (not a god), from the family of King David, who will lead the world to unity and peace.

Jews do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Jews do recognize that in his time, Jesus was an influential Jewish teacher who lived and died as a Jew, with no thought of creating a separate religion.

Basic Beliefs Of Judaism

One G-d

The People

The Covenant

The World to Come

Repairing the World


The Land of Israel

Repairing the World, Tikkun Olam

Tikkun Olam (t’KUHN-oh-LAHM) is a Hebrew phrase that means repairing or mending the world.

Jews believe that we are G-d’s partners in improving the world. By following the Commandments, which include social action and tzedakah, Jews strive to bring peace, freedom, and justice to all people.

Tzedakah (tsi-DÄH-kuh) is defined as money donated to others because it is the right thing to do. Often mistranslated as “charity,” in Hebrew it actually means “justice” or “righteousness.” While charity is given when one is able and emotionally moved to do so, tzedakah is an obligation given by G-d to all Jews. Unlike philanthropy, which is completely voluntary, tzedakah is seen as a religious obligation, which must be performed regardless of financial standing, and must even be performed by the poor.

Basic Beliefs Of Judaism

One G-d

The People

The Covenant

The World to Come

Repairing the World


The Land of Israel



Although Jewish people believe in heaven, Judaism focuses on this life and the world in which we live, for it is in the here and now that humankind can grow and do good deeds. Essentially, this world is for action, and in the afterlife, one experiences the personal fulfillment of those actions.

Basic Beliefs Of Judaism

One G-d

The People

The Covenant

The World to Come

Repairing the World


The Land of Israel

The Land of Israel

Judaism believes the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) was part of the Covenant made between G-d and the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. Since the time of Abraham, there has been a continual Jewish presence in the Land of Israel.

Who is a Jew?

  • According to traditional Jewish Law, a Jew is anyone born of a Jewish mother or converted in accordance with Jewish Law.

    Judaism maintains that a Jew, whether by birth or conversion, is a Jew forever. *

  • All Jews consider themselves to be descendants of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

  • Jews are not a race. Jews are not a nation. Jews are like a family.

Jews Are Not a Race !

  • The idea of race itself, and actual divisions of persons into groups

    based on selected hereditary features, are social constructs.

  • Jews sprang from the Mediterranean subdivision of the Caucasoid

    race. Over the course of centuries, Jews have developed a multitude

    of different physical characteristics because of their fusion with other

    racial blends wherever they lived.

  • There is no distinguishing racial physical feature common only to


  • Anyone can become a Jew – and members of every race, creed and

    color in the world have done so at one time or another.

  • As early as Abraham, the Jews have admitted others into the fold. A

    “mixed multitude” of many non-Jews joined the Exodus.

    (Exodus 12:38)

Jews Are Not a Nation !

  • When Jews speak of themselves as a nation, this implies shared ideas, values and heritage, rather than geographic location.

  • It is a “nation” of mutual responsibility for one another that transcends common land or government.

  • This is why Jews can be both Jewish and American – or any other nationality.

  • The modern state of Israel extends the concept of nationhood, and many Jews see themselves as her citizens.

Jews Are Like a Family

Jews feel a sense of connectedness to each other that many find hard to explain, define, or even understand:

  • Like a family, Jews don’t always agree with each other.

  • Like a family, Jews hold each other to the highest standards, knowing that the shortcomings of any member will be held against them all.

  • Like a family, when an outsider criticizes a member or the “family” as a whole, Jews are quick to join together in opposition to that unfair criticism.

  • Like a family, when members suffer or are persecuted, the whole “family” feels the pain.

  • Like a family, when a member does something wrong, they all feel shame.

  • Like a family, when a member accomplishes something significant, they all feel proud.

The Diversity of the Jewish People

Major Branches of Judaism


Original and only form of Judaism until the 1800’s.

Named Orthodox in reaction to the advent of Reform Judaism.

Most observant.


Founded by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise in 1873 in rebellion against the binding traditions of orthodoxy.

Most flexible about observance of Jewish laws.

The largest Jewish movement in North America.


Organized by Dr. Solomon Schechter in 1913 as a reaction to Reform Judaism's liberalism.

Philosophically stands between Orthodox and Reform.

Orthodox Judaism

  • Believe that both the Written Law (Torah) and the Oral Law (Torah’s traditional interpretation which became the Talmud) were divinely revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai. They have been transmitted throughout the ages. These laws are binding and can not be abolished.

  • The 613 mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah are all equally obligatory. Although these principles are G-d given and therefore eternal, they are applied by the sages to changing times. * Consequently, Orthodox Jews observe the Kosher dietary laws.

  • Believe the Messiah will be one descended through the line of King David. He will gather the Jews back in the Holy Land, the Land of Israel, and usher in an era of peace, including the construction of the Third Temple on the site of the original Temple in Jerusalem.

  • Believe in an afterlife and the bodily resurrection of the dead.

  • Prayer services held primarily in Hebrew. During prayer, men are seated separately from women. Men are required to pray in a minyan (quorum of 10 required for prayer). **

  • Only children of Jewish mothers are considered Jewish. Conversion is accepted, but must be in accord with Orthodox law.

  • Prohibits intermarriage in any way.

Orthodox Sub-Groups


  • Integrated into modern society yet emphasize strict observance of religious laws and commandments.

  • Feel that secular knowledge and aspects of secular society can be incorporated into their Jewish life.


  • Life revolves around Torah study, prayer and family.

  • Families tend to be large, reflecting adherence to the commandment "be fruitful & multiply" (Genesis 1:28, 9:1,7).

  • Often live in insular communities.

  • Hasidim (Hasid means “pious”)

  • • Founded in Eastern Europe in the 1700’s by Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, Ba'al Shem Tov.

  • • Followers focus on the aspects of joy, song, and dance in their service of G-d. They strive to experience

  • an exalted state of connection with G-d.

  • • Emphasize all Jewish traditions, including the mystical Kabbalah as a sacred scripture.

  • Try to make the Kabbalah more accessible to the masses.

  • • Recognize a Rebbe (RĔB-ē) as spiritual, intellectual and organizational leader.

  • Lubavitch (Chabad)

  • • A Hasidic movement founded in Russia at end of 1700’s.

  • • Lubavitch is the name of the town in Russia that served as the movement's headquarters for over a century.

  • • Reaches out to fellow Jews, celebrating the joys of being Jewish.

Haredi (Ultra Orthodox) Dress

  • The distinctive dress of Haredi Jews helps them to define and insulate their communities, as well as maintain a traditional and spiritual focus.

  • They dress as their ancestors dressed in 18th and 19th century Europe.

  • Tend to wear dark suits with white shirts.*

  • Most wear a kippah (KĒ-pah) ** or head covering at all times.

  • Generally wear a wide-brimmed hat (typically black) when outside.***

  • Generally have beards and sidelocks or payes (PĀ-yəs). ****

  • “You shall not mar the corner of your beard.” (Leviticus 19:27)

  • Often follow the specific dress style of their group, which may include

  • elegant frock coats, wide or high fur hats and generally a long belt

  • wrapped around the frock during prayer.


  • Women, in line with strict standards of modesty, tend to wear long skirts

  • and shirts with long sleeves and high necklines.

  • After the women get married, they cover their heads with either

  • scarves, hats or wigs.


Major Branches of Judaism


Original and only form of Judaism until the 1800’s.

Named Orthodox in reaction to the advent of Reform Judaism.

Most observant.


Founded by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise in 1873, in rebellion against the binding traditions of orthodoxy.

Most flexible about observance of Jewish laws.

The largest Jewish movement in North America.


Organized by Dr. Solomon Schechter in 1913 as a reaction to Reform Judaism's liberalism.

Philosophically stands between Orthodox and Reform.

Reform Judaism

  • Affirms the central tenets of Judaism – G-d, Torah and Israel – yet embraces innovation while preserving tradition. Today, the movement has embraced many of the practices it first rejected. It now expresses a greater respect for tradition while still recognizing that the sacred heritage has evolved and adapted over the centuries and must continue to do so.

  • Accepts the Torah as divinely inspired, but written in the language of the time in which it was given. Views the Oral Law as an evolving system in which successive generations of rabbis discussed how to incorporate the Torah into their lives. Feel more free than the Orthodox to modify or change the Oral Law. The 613 mitzvot are subject to modern interpretation. Originally rejected kashrut (kosher dietary laws), but today many are observing these laws.

  • Perceives a Messianic Age when the world will be at peace but does not agree that there will be a messiah (king) as the leader of this era.

  • Reform Jewish liturgy is beginning to reflect a broader philosophical openness to the concept of the resurrection of the dead.

  • Holds prayer services in the native tongue (along with some Hebrew). Allows women full equality in religious matters. They may read from the Torah, become a Bat Mitzvah, sit with the men during religious services, and be counted as part of the minyan.

  • Considers children of either Jewish mothers or fathers as Jewish as long as they are raised Jewish. Requires male converts to undergo the ritual of circumcision and immersion. Requires females to undergo immersion.

  • Intermarriage is allowed, but not encouraged. Some rabbis will perform an intermarriage as long as parents plan to raise the children Jewish.

Major Branches of Judaism


Original and only form of Judaism until the 1800’s.

Named Orthodox in reaction to the advent of Reform Judaism.

Most observant.


Founded by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise in 1873, in rebellion against the binding traditions of orthodoxy.

Most flexible about observance of Jewish laws.

The largest Jewish movement in North America.


Organized by Dr. Solomon Schechter in 1913 as a reaction to Reform Judaism's liberalism.

Philosophically stands between Orthodox and Reform.

Conservative Judaism

  • The term “Conservative” is meant to signify that Jews should attempt to conserve Jewish tradition, rather than reform or abandon it. It does not imply that the movement’s adherents are politically conservative.

  • Believes that the Torah came from G-d, but was transmitted by humans and thus contains a human component. The laws in the Torah should change and adapt, absorbing aspects of the predominant culture, while remaining true to Judaism’s values. Views the Oral Law as an evolving system in which successive generations of rabbis discussed and debated how to incorporate the Torah into their lives. Feel more free than the Orthodox to ignore, modify, or change the Oral Law. Rules concerning kosher dietary laws (kashrut) are not obligatory, but believes that Jews should consider keeping kosher because it is a valuable way for people to bring holiness into their lives.

  • Believe they must live in a way that will usher in the Messianic Age. They are not sure whether the Messiah will be an actual person or whether he is a symbol of redemption.

  • Conservative Jews have retained the tenet of the bodily resurrection of the dead, including traditional references to it in the liturgy. However, many conservative Jews interpret the tenet metaphorically rather than literally.

  • Religious services contain considerably more Hebrew than Reform services. Allows women full equality in religious matters. Allows them to read from the Torah, become a Bat Mitzvah, sit with the men during religious services, and be counted as part of the minyan.

  • Recognizes Jewish lineage through matrilineal descent only. Conversion to Judaism requires both circumcision and ritual immersion for males and only the latter for females.

  • Rabbis and cantors are prohibited from officiating at intermarriages in any way.

Sephardic or Ashkenazic

( suh-FAHR-dĭk , ähsh-kĕn-ÄH-zĭk )

In addition to religious laws, Jews from different geographic areas historically adopt different customs and interpretations.

  • Sephardic Jews are the Jews of Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East and their descendants.

  • Sephardic Jews originated in Spain or Portugal. The Hebrew word for Spain is Sefarad. While under Islamic rule, there were good relations between Jews and Muslims, but under Catholic rule, there was great pressure for Jews to convert. In 1492, both Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain. The Jews fled to Muslim countries and the Netherlands.

  • The Latin-based language called “Ladino,” based on Spanish and Hebrew, became the unifying language of Sephardic Jews in Europe.

  • Sephardic Jews enjoy bourekas (phyllo dough pastries filled with cheese or spinach) and on Passover may eat rice, corn, peanuts and beans.

  • Ashkenazic Jews are the Jews of France, Germany, and Eastern Europe and their descendants.

  • Ashkenaz is the Yiddish word for Germany. When the Jews were expelled from Germany in the Middle Ages, those that settled in northern, central, and eastern Europe became known as “Ashkenzi.”

  • The language of Ashkenazic communities was Yiddish. This was based on medieval German, with some Hebrew expressions, as well as words from the languages of those places where Jews settled.

  • Ashkenazic Jews enjoy bagels & lox, potato latkes, gefilte fish, and matzah ball soup.

There are some Jews who do not fit into this Ashkenazic/Sephardic distinction. Yemenite Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and Oriental Jews also have their own distinct customs and traditions.

The Synagogue

Birmingham, AL

Florence, Italy

New York City

  • Synagogue

  • Synagogues are Jewish houses of prayer and

    study. They often have additional areas for

    community or educational use.

  • Also called a Temple or Shul (SHOOL), in Yiddish.

  • There is no set architectural design for


  • All synagogues contain an Ark and an Eternal Light.

Religious Leaders

Rabbi – spiritual leader charged with leading and teaching the congregation. This role requires ordination by the congregation's preferred authority.

Chazzan or Cantor – ordained clergy and trained vocalist that leads the congregation in prayer.

Gabbai (GĂ–bī) – a lay person who volunteers to perform various duties in connection with Torah readings at religious services.

Ner Tamid(NĔR tä-MĒD)

orEternal Light

& Ten Commandments

The Eternal Light hung in front of the ark burns constantly, symbolizing G-d’s eternal and imminent presence in our communities and lives.


Raised platform from which the Torah is read.

Aron HaKodesh (ä-RŌN hä-KŌ-dĕsh) or Holy Ark

Where the Torah scrolls are kept. It is often closed with an ornate curtain.


The seven branched candlestick symbolizing the creation of the world.

Magen Dovid

One of the most common symbols of Judaism is the Star of David.

Etiquette for Visitors

  • In most synagogues or temples, it is considered a sign of respect for all male attendees to wear a head covering, usually a yarmulke (kippah )* is provided near the front door. Most Reform temples do not require people to cover their heads (neither Jew nor gentile).

  • Parts of the service are recited standing; visitors are expected to stand together with the congregation.

  • Bowing is done at certain points in the service; visitors are not expected to bow.

  • Non-Jewish visitors are not expected to wear a tallit. **

  • Appropriate dress for a house of worship is expected. In Orthodox synagogues, women may be required to wear long sleeves (past the elbows), long skirts (past the knees), a high neckline (to the collar bone) and cover their hair (only married Jewish women). For men, short pants or sleeveless shirts are generally regarded as inappropriate.

Torah (TOH-ruh) or Written Law

  • The Torah:

  • The holiest book in Judaism.

  • Given by G-d to Moses at Mount Sinai.

  • Consists of the Five books of Moses:

  • Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers

  • & Deuteronomy.

  • Contains 613 commandments or mitzvot.

  • The SeferTorah:

  • Traditional Torah scroll, hand written on

  • parchment, used during religious services.

  • Decorative embellishments are symbolic

  • of the garb worn by the High Priest of old

  • when he served G-d in the sanctuary of

  • the Temple in Jerusalem.

  • Hand written in Hebrew, on parchment

  • from a kosher animal.

  • Read right to left.

  • A yad (YÄD) or pointer is used to

  • follow the wording so as not to damage

  • the delicate parchment.

Sefer Torah used during religious services.

Yad or pointer.

  • Read weekly in synagogues on Shabbat* mornings as well as on Mondays and Thursdays, and on holy days and festivals.

  • Each week a different parshah (PAHR-shah) or portion is read along with a passage from one of the books of Prophets. This is called the Haftarah (hahf-TOH-ruh) portion. These selected passages “complete the reading of the Torah” and are related either thematically or otherwise to the portion of the week.

  • Some synagogues employ a Triennial Cycle whereby each Torah portion is divided into three sections. The first sections are read during one yearly cycle followed by the other two sections the following two years. In this way it takes three years to complete the reading of the entire Torah.

  • In most congregations, the Torah is chanted according to a musical system called trop (TRŌP).

Jewish man bending over Torah scroll in the Lodz Ghetto.

The Rabbi of the city carries a Torah scroll on his way to a deportation train.

Iasi, Romania

Other Jewish Holy Texts

  • Bible(Tanakh, ta-NAKH)

    Tanakh - Hebrew acronym for the 3 sections of the Bible: Torah (5 Books of Moses) + Nevi’im (Prophets) + Ketuvim (Writings)

    To the Christian world, the Tanakh is the “Old Testament.” Since Judaism recognizes the Christian “New Testament” as a historical, not religious text, the term “Old Testament” is not used. Instead it is preferable to use the term, “Hebrew Bible.”

  • Mishnah(MĬSH-nuh)

    Jewish tradition holds that when G-d gave Moses the Torah (the Written Law) on Mt. Sinai, he simultaneously provided him all the details of the Oral Law. The Oral Law explained how the commandments in the Torah were to be carried out. It is believed that Moses subsequently transmitted that Oral Law to his successor, Joshua, who transmitted it to his successor, in a chain that is still being carried on .

    Mishnah (Hebrew for "instruction"), c. 200 C.E. is the written form of the Oral Torah created at the end of the second century. Arranged topically, it was composed of discussions & decisions by rabbis that became the authoritative source of Jewish Law.

  • Gemara(gə-MAR-ə) (also Gemora)

    (Aramaic for “to study"), c. 200-600 CE – The part of the Talmud that contains rabbinical commentaries and analysis of its predecessor, the Mishnah.

  • Talmud(TAHL-mud)

    The Talmud has two components: the Mishnah (c. 200 C.E.), the first written compilation of Judaism’s Oral Law, and the Gemara (c. 500 C.E.). It is a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs, and history. In Jewish life the terms Gemara and Talmud are often used interchangeably.

  • Midrash(MĬD-räsh)

    The word Midrash is based on a Hebrew word meaning “interpretation.” Midrash consists of legends and stories, both educational and entertaining, which complement rabbinic theology and allows the rabbis to explain and expand on the Torah.

  • Prayer Book(Siddur, sĭd-OOR)

    Most siddurim (plural) contain the prayers, arranged in a specific order, that are used for religious services. These prayers express the beliefs, hopes and yearnings of the Jewish people for a world ruled by justice and compassion.

Samuel David Grosman studying the Talmud in the Lodz Ghetto. Samuel and his wife Chana both perished in the Lodz Ghetto in 1942.

Daily Prayer

  • Recitation of prayers is the central characteristic of Jewish worship. These prayers are found in the siddur (sĭd-OOR), the traditional Jewish prayer book.

  • Jewish prayers are usually recited in Hebrew, yet they can be in any language.

  • Observant Jews are expected to pray three times daily (morning, afternoon, and evening) and more on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Since the Jewish day begins at sundown, the evening prayers are technically the first prayer service of the day.

  • While solitary prayer is valid, attending synagogue to pray with a minyan (MĬN-yən), or quorum of 10 adult males, is considered ideal.

  • Rabbis are not endowed with special powers. However, the Talmud does provide the Rabbi with the authority to make interpretations of Torah. Rabbis are, however, ordained. This is a recognition of a rigorous level of training or education as defined as appropriate for the community in which the Rabbi has studied.

  • As with most religious services, the length and content of the synagogue service depends on the customs of the particular synagogue. In general, one can expect to hear the most Hebrew in an Orthodox service and the least in Reform services. Services in Reform synagogues also tend to be shorter than those held in Orthodox and Conservative synagogues.


One of the most important of all Jewish prayers is called the Shema. The Shema affirms belief and trust in the One G-d. It is repeated by observant Jews twice a day. It is the prayer Jews recite as their last words before death. Its main content is loving the one and only God with all one’s heart, soul and might. The first part of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) is as follows:

In just this one paragraph of the Shema, it is possible to understand why Jews designed the tefillin (phylacteries)* to place as symbols on the head (above the eyes) and on the arm; and why most Jews place a mezzuzah on the doorpost of their houses to remind them of G-d.

Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.Hear, Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One.

Barukh sheim k'vod malkhuto l'olam va'ed.Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.

You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words, which I [G-d] teach you this day, shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder before your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.


The Kaddish is a prayer that praises G-d and expresses a yearning for the establishment of G-d's kingdom on earth. Originally recited by rabbis when they had finished giving their sermons (the Rabbi’s Kaddish), in time the prayer was modified and became associated with mourning. The prayer itself does not actually mention death

The word Kaddish means sanctification, and the prayer is a sanctification of G-d's name.

The emotional reactions inspired by the Kaddish come from the fact that it is recited at funerals and by mourners. Jewish tradition requires that Kaddish be recited during the first eleven months following the death of a loved one and thereafter on each anniversary of the death, called the Yahrtzeit (YÄR-tsīt).

The first lines of the Kaddish are:

Yit'gadal v'yit'kadash sh'mei raba, b'allmaw dee v'raw chir'utei.

May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified, in the world that He created as He willed.

Religious Clothing & Objects

Kippah or Yarmulke



Kippah or Yarmulke

  • Akippah (KĒ-pah,Hebrew), kippot (plural) or yarmulke (YAH-mi-kuh, Yiddish) is a thin, slightly-rounded skullcap traditionally worn by Jewish men during religious services. The more observant wear a yarmulke all the time. Some Jewish women in Conservative and Reform congregations also wear them during services.

  • Kippot come in all shapes and styles.

  • While not a biblical law, head covering is considered an important custom that symbolizes the acceptance of a “higher power” above us. It is also seen as a sign of respect.


The Lord said to Moses as follows: Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them… Numbers 15:37-39

Tzitzit (TZĒT-sēt)

Thesefringes or tassels attached to the corners of the tallit are a reminder of the G-d’s 613 commandments. Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value. The numerical values of the 5 letters that comprise the Hebrew word tzitzit add up to 600. Add the 8 strings and 5 knots of each tassel, and the total is 613. In addition, each tzitzit should have a thread of blue to represent the heavens.

Tallit Katan, Small Tallit

Worn throughout the day by Orthodox Jewish men. Often worn beneath one's shirt so as to conform to societal dress codes.

Tallit (tah-LĒT),Prayer Shawl

Shawl-like garment worn by observant Jewish men and some Jewish women over the clothes during the weekday morning service, the Sabbath, and other holidays. There are tzitzit attached to the corners.


Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our G-d, the Lord is alone. You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your hear and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. - Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Tefillin (t’FĬL-lĭn),called phylacteries in English, are worn by observant Jewish men and by some Jewish women as a reminder of their Covenant with G-d. They are put on during morning prayers only, not on the Jewish Sabbath or most holidays because these times are signs in themselves of the Covenant between the Jewish People and G-d.

Tefillin consist of two leather boxes. Each box contains strips of parchment inscribed with the four passages of the Torah that mention the mitzvah (commandment) of wearing tefillin. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 , Deuteronomy 11:13-21, Exodus 13:1-10 and Exodus 13:11-16.

One of the leather boxes is worn on the head between the eyes, resting on the cerebrum, to remind Jews to subject their thoughts to G-d's service. The other box is worn on the left arm so that it rests against the heart, and the suspended leather strap is wound around the left hand and around the middle finger of that hand. This to remind Jews to subject their deeds to G-d's service and to subject their hearts' desires to G-d's service.

Jewish men praying in a displaced persons camp in Leipheim, Germany.

Other Jewish Observances

Brit Milah, Circumcision

Bar / Bat Mitzvah




Kashrut, Jewish Dietary Laws

Brit Milah, Circumcision

The first Jewish life-cycle celebration for the male baby is the Brit Milah (BRIT mē-LÄ) or the Covenant of Circumcision. It is commonly referred to as a bris (brĭs). With this ceremony, Jewish males are brought into the community of Israel, marked for life as Jews, and given a Hebrew name.

The practice of brit milah is common to all religious movements within Judaism. It is performed on the 8th day after birth, usually in the home or the hospital. Among Conservative and Reform Jews (and sometimes even among Orthodox Jews), a naming ceremony in the home or in the synagogue welcomes female babies to their new Jewish identities.

The ceremony consists of the removal of the foreskin of the male organ. This symbolic act reminds Jews of the pledge G-d made to Abraham (Genesis 17:2) in which he promised to bless Abraham and make him prosper if Abraham, in turn, would be loyal to G-d.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah

At the age of 13 (12 for girls), boys and girls are initiated into adulthood in the Jewish community. Young adults become obligated to observe the mitzvot (commandments) of Judaism and must show that they have sufficient command of Judaism and of Hebrew to lead the congregation in prayer. In addition, they can now be counted in a minyan (the minimum number of people needed to perform certain parts of religious services).

The ceremony is called Bar Mitzvah for boys and Bat Mitzvah for girls—the terms are identical, one being masculine and the other feminine; both mean “Child of the Commandments.” Technically, the term refers to the child who is coming of age, and it is strictly correct to refer to someone as "becoming a bar (or bat) mitzvah." However, the term is more commonly used to refer to the coming of age ceremony itself, and you are more likely to hear that someone is "having a bar mitzvah."

During the Bar Mitzvah ceremony, boys (and sometimes girls) are called before the congregation to lead the congregation in worship and to read from the Torah. Both boys and girls read also from the Haftarah, a weekly selection from the Prophets loosely connected to the weekly Torah portion.

Bar or Bat Mitzvah provides an important occasionfor family celebration. Everyone joins in the worship service at the synagogue, and often a party is held in honor of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

Jerzy Bader was born in April, 1930, in Kyjov, Czechoslovakia to Pavel & Greta Bader. Four years later his sister Vera was born. The Bader family led a traditional Jewish lifestyle and owned a store which enabled them to live comfortably.

In January 1943, just two months before Jerzy’s Bar Mitzvah, the Bader family was deported to Theresienstadt along with the rest of the Jews of Kyjov. Naturally, in the midst of the upheaval in the family’s life, it was impossible to celebrate Jerzy’s Bar Mitzvah.

In April 1944, when Jerzy was 14, it was finally possible to mark the occasion in the youth club of  the ghetto. In spite of the difficult conditions, Jerzy's family and friends from Kyjov prepared gifts for him: he received an album illustrated by the talented caricaturist Max Placek, and a prayer shawl and its cloth bag among other items.

Six months after the Bar Mitzvah celebration, Jerzy and his father were deported to Auschwitz where they both perished. Greta Baderova managed to conceal Vera from deportation throughout the rest of the war. After the war they both returned to Kyjov, where Vera lives until today.

Jerzy Bader

A Tallit (ritual garment),received by JerzyBader for his Bar Mitzvah whichwas celebrated in Theresienstadton his 14th birthday.

Jewish Weddings

According to Jewish tradition, marriage is the most holy of all human institutions. It is counted among the 613 commandments found in the Torah and traditional Jews believe that a person must be married and have children to fulfill this mitzvah properly.

The wedding ceremony takes place under the Chuppah (KHUP-ah) or canopy, a symbol of the home to be built and shared by the couple. It is open on all sides, just as Abraham and Sarah had their tent open all sides to welcome friends and relatives in unconditional hospitality.

At the end of the ceremony, a glass is placed on the floor, and the groom shatters it with his foot. The custom of breaking a glass under the Chuppah is derived from the Talmud. It is written that a rabbi broke a vase during a wedding feast in order to warn those present against excessive joy. Even during times of great joy, we should remember the tragic destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In jest, some explain that this is the last time the groom gets to "put his foot down."

Under the Huppah, the Wedding Service Woodcut published by Solomon Proops, Amsterdam, 1707.

You will rarely hear the traditional "Here Comes the Bride" wedding march at a Jewish wedding. This song, more accurately known as the Bridal Chorus from the opera Lohengrin, was written by antisemitic composer Richard Wagner. He was Hitler's favorite composer, and it is said that the Nazis used to broadcast Wagner's songs over the concentration camps. For this reason, Jews have been understandably reluctant to play his music at their weddings.


For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Genesis 3:19)

  • Judaism teaches that the soul lives on after a person dies.

  • Jews believe in the biblical concept that the body must revert to its original state and be buried in the earth from which it came. In accordance with this belief, the body is not embalmed. It is placed in a simple shroud and buried in a wooden casket as soon as possible after death. Cremation is frowned upon.

  • Just as the deceased is treated with reverence, so too are the living. Generally neighbors/friends prepare the first meal after the funeral for the mourners.

  • The week following a burial is a period of intense mourning for family and friends. This seven day period is called shiva (SHĬ - və), meaning “seven” in Hebrew. The family remains at home, relatives and friends visit, and daily worship services are recited in the home.

Carrying the Deceased to the Cemetery Woodcut published by Solomon Proops, Amsterdam, 1707.

  • During the first year after a death, the children of a dead parent and the dead person’s sisters and brothers attend synagogue regularly to recite a special prayer for the dead called the Kaddish (KÄD-ǐsh) the “hallowing” or “making holy.”

  • Each year, on the anniversary of the death or yahrzeit (YÄR-tsīt), Jews recite the Kaddish in memory of a dead family member. Most Jews also light a candle in their home on the anniversary as a reminder of their departed relative.


…Inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:9 and 11:20) 

  • Mezuzah (mə-Zoo-zah) is the Hebrew word for “scroll,” and refers to a scroll inscribed with lines from Deuteronomy (6:4-9). This is the first paragraph of the Shema. *

  • The mezuzah is housed in a decorative case which often includes the Hebrew letter “shin.” This stands for Shaddai (shə-DĪ), a synonym for G-d which is created from the first letters in the Hebrew phrase shomer d’latot Yisrael, “protector of the doors of Israel.”

  • Amezuzah is a religious symbol placed upon the doorposts of a house as a constant reminder of G-d's presence and G-d's commandments.

  • It is placed on the upper third (eye-level) of the outer doorpost of the home and often on most inside rooms. It is angled toward the inside of the house.

  • It is Jewish tradition to kiss a holy object as a gesture of reverence. Many Jews follow the custom of touching the mezuzah with the fingertips and then kissing the fingertips.

Kashrut, Jewish Dietary Laws

  • Kashrut (kašh-ROOT) is the body of Jewish law dealing with what foods can and cannot be eaten and how those foods must be prepared and eaten. Food in accordance with Jewish law is termed “kosher,” and food not in accord with Jewish law is termed treif (trāf).

  • Many of the basic laws of kashrut are in the Torah’s Book of Leviticus, with their details set down in the Oral Law. Many varied reasons have been offered for these laws, ranging from philosophical and ritualistic, to practical and hygienic. Observant Jews follow these laws because the Torah says so.

  • Many Jews do not meet all of the requirements of kashrut, yet nevertheless maintain some subset of the laws; for instance, abstaining from pork or shellfish. Many Jews will avoid drinking milk with a meat dish. Similarly, many keep a degree of kashrut at home while having no problems eating in a non-kosher restaurant, or will follow leniencies when eating out that they would not follow at home.

Key Principles of Kashrut

  • Meats:

  • Approved land animals must be mammals which chew their cud and have cloven hooves.

  • Pork and rabbit are prohibited. (Leviticus 11:3, Deuteronomy 14:6)

  • Birds of prey are prohibited. (Leviticus 11:13-19, Deuteronomy 14:11-18)

  • Fish must have fins and scales. Shellfish is prohibited. (Leviticus 11:9, Deuteronomy 14:9)

  • Rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and insects are all forbidden. (Leviticus 11:29-30, 42-43)

  • Mixing Milk & Meat:

  • The Torah states not to "boil a kid in its mother's milk." (Exodus 23:19, 34:26, Deuteronomy 14:21)

  • Meat and milk (and anything made with dairy and meat products) cannot be served in the same meal, or

  • cooked using the same dishes or utensils, or stored in a way that could cause them to intermingle.

  • A kosher household will have at least two sets of pots, pans and dishes: one for meat and one for dairy.

  • One must wait a significant amount of time between eating meat and dairy. Opinions differ, and vary from

  • three to six hours.

  • Slaughtering:

  • The Torah prohibits consumption of blood because the life of the animal is contained in the blood. (Leviticus 7:26-27, 17: 10-14) This is the only dietary law that has a reason specified in Torah. For this reason, Kosher slaughtering removes all traces of blood.

  • 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 two seconds, and is widely recognized as the most humane method of slaughter possible.

  • It is forbidden to eat animals that died of natural causes (Deuteronomy 14:21) or that were killed by other

  • animals.

The Jewish Calendar

  • The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar. The moon makes one revolution around the earth every 29 ½ days. Each of these cycles is a month. There are 29 or 30 days in each month. Seven times in 19 years, an extra month is added (Adar II) to adjust the calendar so that festivals will not move round the year.

  • Each 24-hour period begins in the evening at sundown. Thus, the Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday evening and continues for the next 24 hours. …from evening unto evening shall you keep your Sabbath. (Leviticus 23:32)

  • The Christian calendar begins with the birth of the faith. All dates before the birth of Christ are given as B.C. (Before Christ). All dates after his birth have the addition of A.D. (Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord). Jews do not theologically recognize Jesus as a messiah; therefore they will often substitute B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era).

  • Judaism’s calendar does not start from the time the Jews became a nation. Nor from the time of the birth of their greatest leader, Moses. Nor even from Abraham, the first Jew and the time when man discovered G-d. More important than all of these is the moment when G-d created universal man, Adam “in His image.”

  • The year 2007 in the Christian calendar corresponds to the year 5767 in the Jewish calendar. Jews are not troubled by the apparent contradiction between archeologists and the Jewish calendar. When the Bible speaks of “days” in the story of creation, it obviously doesn’t refer to a 24-hour period of time like we speak of today.

Jewish Holidays

Shabbat, The Sabbath


High Holy Days

Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year

Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement

Pilgrimage Festivals

Pesach or Passover



Other Holidays


Simchat Torah


Yom HaShoah

Shabbat, The Sabbath

Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your G-d: you shall not do any work - you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea, and all that in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. - Exodus 20:8-11

The Jewish Sabbath, Shabbat (shah-BAT), begins Friday evening at sunset and ends Saturday evening after sundown. It commemorates G-d’s day of rest after six days of Creation.

The Sabbath is welcomed by the lighting of candles and reciting a blessing. The evening meal begins with the Kiddush (KĬD-uhsh), the blessing over the wine, and the Mohtzi (MŌ-tzē), the blessing over the bread.

Shabbat is considered to be a weekly gift during which people are free to enjoy their spiritual lives and family conversations, as well as take advantage of the free day for walks and reading or Torah study.

  • Candles – symbol of divine presence.

  • Wine- symbol of joy and festivity.

  • Challah(KHAH-luh) – a braided

  • egg bread that symbolizes the

  • connectedness this holy day brings.

Before the war, Chaya Tzipa Slep lights candles to usher in the Sabbath in Dusetos, Lithuania.

Group of Jewish men marking the beginning of the Sabbath in the Lodz Ghetto.

People sitting at the Sabbath table. Warsaw Ghetto, Poland.


Havdalah (häv-dä-Lə) is a Hebrew word meaning “separation.” The Havdalah ceremony marks the end of Shabbat . It separates the holy Sabbath from the mundane workweek.

Braided Candle Symbolizes the unity found at the end of the Sabbath.

Spice Box Intended to raise spirits and offset the sadness which often sets in at the end of the joyous Sabbath Day. It is passed around for all to smell.

Wine Symbol of joy.

The Havdalah Service Woodcut published by Solomon Proops, Amsterdam, 1707.

Jewish Holidays

Shabbat, The Sabbath


High Holy Days

Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year

Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement

Pilgrimage Festivals

Pesach or Passover



Other Holidays


Simchat Torah


Yom HaShoah

High Holy Days

Unlike the other major Jewish holidays, the High Holidays – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – are not related to historical events. Nor are they joyous holidays. They are purely religious holidays which celebrate G-d’s role as Master of the Universe. They emphasize morality, self-examination, spirituality, and holiness.

Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year

Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement

Rosh Hashanah , Jewish New Year

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts. You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall bring an offering by fire to the Lord. (Leviticus 23:23-25, Numbers 29:1)

Rosh Hashanah (RŌSH hah-shah-NAH)means “Head of the Year.” It is the religious New Year and falls on the first day of the seventh Hebrew month of the Tishri, which usually falls in September or October. Conservative and Orthodox Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah for two days.

It marks the beginning of the 10-day period of prayer and self-examination leading up to Yom Kippur. During this period, Jews are commanded to search their souls for sins they may have committed, intentionally or not, throughout the year, and if possible, make amends. Rosh Hashanah is also a day when Jews confront their own mortality. They pray that G-d will inscribe them in the Book of Life for another year.

The shofar (shō-FÄR), a ram's horn, is blown as a reminder for people to turn back to G-d. It is customary to wish others a good and sweet new year and to eat apples dipped in honey as a symbol of that sweetness.

Tashlich (tahsh-LEEKH), “cast-off,” is a ceremony held on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Jews gather at a body of water and toss bread crumbs in a symbolic gesture of self-purification. You will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)

This shofar was made in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah 5704 (1943) by Moshe (Ben-Dov) Winterter from the city of Piotrkow, Poland who was an inmate in the camp and worked in the metal workshop of the armaments factory.

The idea of making a shofar was initiated by the Radoszyce Rabbi, Rabbi Yitzhak Finkler who was incarcerated in the camp. He yearned to fulfill the commandment of blowing the shofar at the Jewish New Year. Finding the horn of a ram, as required by Jewish law for the making of a shofar, was far from a simple task. A Polish guard was bribed and brought a horn to the camp but it turned out to be the horn of an ox. Only in exchange for a further bribe did he bring a ram’s horn. The Rabbi approached Moshe Winterter, whom he knew from Piotrkow and asked him to make the shofar. He did not at first agree. Preparing an item which was not an armament in the metal workshop, or even carrying something from the workshop to the barracks, carried with it a penalty of immediate death.

Yad Vashem Collection, Jerusalem, Israel Donation, Moshe (Winterter) Ben-Dov z”l, Bnei Brak, Israel

In spite of the danger, Moshe Winterter carried out the task and on the eve of the holiday brought the shofar to the Rabbi. Word spread and on the holiday eve the inmates gathered for prayers and to hear the sounds of the shofar.

Moshe Winterter kept the shofar with him throughout his incarceration in Skazysko Kamienna and managed to keep it with him even when he was transferred to the camp at Czestochowa. When he was transferred from there to Buchenwald it remained in Czestochowa until the camp was liberated. At that time, the shofar was passed on to the local Jewish community and later taken to the United States. Moshe Winterter immigrated to Israel after the war. In 1977 he assisted in its transfer to Yad Vashem for safe keeping.

Naftali Stern from Satu Mare, N. Transylvania, Romania, was deported along with his family to Auschwitz where he was separated from his wife and four young children. His family perished and he was sent to the forced labor camp Wolfsberg. He wrote down the New Year prayers from memory with the stub of a pencil on pieces of a cement bag which he acquired in exchange for valuable bread rations.

The Germans allowed the inmates of the camp to gather together and hold prayers for the New Year. Stern, who by virtue of his sweet voice had been a cantor in Satu Mare, led the prayers which survivors remember as a special event in the life of the camp.

Naftali Stern hid the pages on his body until his liberation in 1945 and continued to pray from them each New Year. After the war he established a new family and immigrated to Israel.

Forty years after his liberation, when Stern saw that the paper the prayers was written on was beginning to disintegrate, he donated them for safekeeping to Yad Vashem where they underwent restoration.

Prayers for the New Year written in pencil on cement bags by Naftali Stern on the eve of the Jewish year 5705 – 1944 in the forced labor camp Wolfsberg inPoland.

Rosh Hashanah Cards from the Archives of Yad Vashem

In the Lodz Ghetto, there were Youth movements ranging from Zionist groups to the Bund and the Communists with total membership in the thousands. The youth movement activities helped these young people forget, if only temporarily, the hunger and hardships that surrounded them.

Pictured here are two Jewish men in the synagogue following the Torah reading. The Hebrew greeting on top reads: “May you be inscribed for a good year.”

Pictured here are a group of men practicing the custom of  Tashlich (tahsh-LEEKH). The custom involves going to a river or creek on Rosh Hashanah and casting a piece of bread into the river symbolizing the “casting off” of sins.

Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement

And this shall be to you a law for all time: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall practice self-denial; and you shall do no manner of work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before the Lord. It shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial; it is a law for all time. (Leviticus 16:29-31)

Considered the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur (YOHM kee-POOR) is observed as a day of rest, fasting, meditation, and prayer to find forgiveness of sins and thus begin the new year with a clear conscience.

Fasting is seen as fulfilling a biblical commandment. It enables Jews to put aside their physical desires and concentrate on their spiritual needs through prayer and repentance.

It is customary in the days before Yom Kippur to ask and to give forgiveness to each other, since G-d’s forgiveness requires being forgiving to each other.

Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur by Maurycy Gottlieb, 1878

Jews marking Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) in the Lodz Ghetto.

Jewish Holidays

Shabbat, The Sabbath


High Holy Days

Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year

Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement

Pilgrimage Festivals

Pesach or Passover



Other Holidays


Simchat Torah


Yom HaShoah

The Pilgrimage Festivals

Three times a year you shall hold a festival for Me: You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) – eating unleavened bread for seven days as I have commanded you – at the set time in the month of Abib, for in it you went forth from Egypt; and none shall appear before Me empty-handed; and the Feast of the Harvest (Shavuot), of the first fruits of your work, of what you sow in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering (Sukkot) at the end of the year, when you gather in the results of your work from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Sovereign, the Lord. (Exodus 23:14-17)

Pesach or Passover



In the Torah, three festivals are designated as "pilgrimage festivals," during which time all Israelites who were able were commanded to travel to Jerusalem and participate in ritual sacrifices at the Holy Temple.

Each pilgrimage festival was originally associated with a lull in the agricultural cycle that would allow farmers to leave their homes for a time; each festival lasts eight days. Additionally, each festival gained historical significance in the story of G-d and Israel surrounding the Exodus from Egypt.

Most of the festival activities associated with the "pilgrimage festivals" are domestic, located among the family in the home and not in the synagogue.

Pesach (PAY-sahch), or Passover

Passover is a week-long holiday beginning on the evening of the 14th day of Nisan (the first month in the Hebrew calendar, usually in April). In ancient times, it coincided with the spring barley harvest. It also commemorates the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt over 3,000 years ago and the beginning of the Jews as a nation. It serves to remind Jews of the importance of continuing the battle for freedom in every generation.

The Passover story is found in the Book of Exodus. G-d charged Moses to go to Egypt and urge Pharaoh to release the Hebrew slaves. Pharaoh adamantly refused. G-d then inflicted ten plagues on Egypt. After the last plague, the killing of the first born of both man and beast in Egypt, Pharaoh finally agreed to release the Hebrews from slavery. On the day before the last plague, the Hebrew slaves painted the door posts of their houses with lamb's blood so that the Angel of Death would "pass over" the houses of the Hebrews. After this tragic plague struck Egypt, Pharaoh relented, and allowed the Hebrews to leave.

The ritual observance of this holiday centers around a special home service called the seder (SĀ-dər), meaning "order.” During the seder, the Passover story is told to future generations.

According to tradition, the Hebrews left Egypt in haste and had no time to wait for bread to rise. For this reason, Jews are commanded to eat matzah (an unleavened bread)during Passover. All leavened products are removed from the house prior to the holiday.

Seder Service/Meal

Symbolic Seder Plate


A family Passover Seder in Lodz, 1938/1939.

The Gotstein and Fliescher family celebrating the Passover Seder in Kursenai, Lithuania before the war.

Distribution of matzos (unleavened bread) by the ZSS in the Warsaw Ghetto during Passover 1940.

A group of Jewish women baking matzos for Passover in the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland.

New arrivals to the Warsaw Ghetto celebrate the Passover Seder in a shelter on 6 Leszno St.


Shavuot (shah-voo-OAT), the “Feast of Weeks,” began as an ancient agricultural festival, marking the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. More currently it also celebrates the revelation of the Torah to the Israelites on Mount Sinai.

Shavuot is a Hebrew word meaning "weeks." Shavuot occurs on the 6th day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, corresponding to late May or early June, exactly seven weeks after Passover. At Passover, the Jewish people were freed from being slaves to Pharaoh. The Torah states that it took precisely forty-nine days (7 weeks) for the Jews to travel from Egypt to the foot of Mount Sinai where they were to receive the Torah. At Shavuot they accepted the Torah and became a nation committed to serving G-d.

Since Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover, Christians gave it the name Pentecost; however, the actual Christian commemoration of Pentecost occurs on the seventh Sunday after Easter.

There are no rituals specific to Shavuot so there is no ordained way of observing it. It has long been associated with Torah study and the confirmation of one’s loyalty to Judaism. In the Reform movement, young adults are confirmed during Shavuot.

Sukkot,Festival of Booths or Tabernacles

Mark, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of the Lord to last seven days: a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day. On the first day you shall take the products of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your G-d seven days. You shall observe it as a festival of the Lord for seven days in the year; you shall observe it in the seventh month as a law for all time, throughout the ages. You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, 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 the Lord your G-d. (Leviticus 23:39-43)

  • Although Sukkot (soo-KOHT), a Hebrew word meaning "booths" or "huts," was originally an agricultural holiday giving thanks for the fall fruit harvest, the Bible also ascribes it to the 40-year trek of the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land.

  • This week-long holiday is celebrated five days after Yom Kippur on the 15th of Tishri (late September or October). It marks the beginning of the Fall rainy season.

  • Sukkot is marked by several distinct traditions/symbols:

  • Building a sukkah (SOOK-uh) (sukkot, pl), a booth or hut, simulating the hastily constructed quarters of the Jew as they crossed the desert. It is common practice to eat and even live in these temporary dwellings during Sukkot.

  • Holding the four species during each day of the holiday: the etrog (ET-rōg) or citron, and the lulav (LOO-lahv) which includes the palm, myrtle, and willow branches.

The Lulav: Palm Branch, Myrtle, and Willow. Woodcut published by Solomon Proops, Amsterdam, 1707.

Detail of a medieval calendar. The palm tree and the citron are brought to the synagogue at the end of Sukkot.

Members of a Zionist collective in Lithuania celebrate the holiday of Sukkot.

Lithuania, 1938.

Jewish Holidays

Shabbat, The Sabbath


High Holy Days

Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year

Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement

Pilgrimage Festivals

Pesach or Passover



Other Holidays


Simchat Torah


Yom HaShoah

Chanukah, Festival of Lights

Chanukah (HAH-noo-kah), means "dedication" in Hebrew. It refers to the joyous eight-day celebration during which Jews commemorate the victory of the small army of Maccabees over the larger armies of Syria in 164 B.C.E. and the subsequent liberation and "re-dedication" of the Temple in Jerusalem. Chanukah also commemorates the "Miracle of the Oil." According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem following the victory, there was only enough consecrated oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days - the length of time it took to press, prepare & consecrate new oil.

Chanukah is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible since the revolt against the Syrians occurred after the Bible was written. It was never considered a major holiday in Judaism, but it has become much more visible and widely celebrated in modern times, mainly because it falls around the same time as Christmas.

The modern home celebration of Chanukah centers around the lighting of the chanukiah (hah-NOO-kē-ah), a special 9-branch menorah. One candle is lit each night.

Unique fried foods are eaten in remembrance of the miracle of the oil: potato latkes (served with sour cream) and jelly doughnuts. Special songs and games make the holiday festive. Children play with dreidels adorned with the initial Hebrew letters of the phrase, Nes Gadol Hayah Sham , “A Great Miracle Happened There” and bet using chocolate gelt (money). Gifts may also be exchanged between family members.

Rachel Posner, wife of Rabbi Dr. Akiva Posner, took this photo from inside the family home in Kiel, Germany, on Chanukah 1932. Rabbi Posner was the last Rabbi of the community in Kiel. The Posner family left Germany in 1933 and arrived in Palestine in 1934.

On the back of the photograph, Rachel wrote:

"Juda verrecke“"Death to Judah"die Fahne spricht So the flag says"Juda lebt ewig“"Judah will live forever"erwidert das Licht“ So the light answers.

Chanukah menorah being lit in the Westerbork transit camp.

The Netherlands, December 1943.

Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah(sēm-KHÄT TŌ-rä), Hebrew for "rejoicing in the Law," celebrates the completion of the annual reading of the Torah.

Simchat Torah is a joyous festival, in which Jews affirm their view of the Torah as a tree of life. Torah scrolls are taken from the ark and carried or danced around the synagogue seven times. During the Torah service, the concluding section of Deuteronomy is read, and immediately following, the opening section of Genesis is read.

Reform Jews unroll the entire Torah on the holiday of Simchat Torah.

A Simchat Torah celebration of the 'Zionist Youth Front.’ Lodz, Poland, sometime after 1939.


Purim (POO-rǐm) means “lots.” It is one of the most joyful festival of the Jewish year and is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar (late February/early March).

Purim commemorates the rescue of the Jews of Persia. As recorded in the biblical Book of Esther, Haman, the chief minister of the Persian King Ahasuerus, had ordered that the Jews be massacred on the 13th of Adar. He chose this date by casting lots - hence the name Purim. Haman's plans were spoiled when Esther's cousin Mordecai told Esther about them. Esther revealed Haman's plans and her Jewish origins to the King. In anger, Ahasuerus ordered that Haman be hanged on his own gallows instead.

Over the centuries, Haman has become the embodiment of every antisemite in every land where Jews are oppressed. The significance in Purim lies not so much in how it began, but in what it has become-a thankful and joyous affirmation of Jewish survival against all odds.

The major requirement for the observance of Purim is the reading of the Book of Esther in the synagogue. This text is usually read from a scroll (megillah ). The atmosphere in the synagogue is one of joyous celebration. Participants wear costumes or casual dress. During the reading of the megillah, noise makers (groggers) are used when the name of Haman is read.   Since Purim is a happy holiday, its celebration often involves carnivals and parties.

It is a mitzvah on this holiday is to send gifts of food to friends and relatives and to give charity to the poor. The traditional food of the holiday is hamentaschen (Haman's pockets), a triangular pastry filled with poppyseeds, prunes, fruit, etc.

Scroll of Esther


Cast and crew of a Purim play. Miskolc, Hungary, ca. 1930.

A Purim play held in a nursery school in Rokiskis, Lithuania on March 2, 1938.  In 1939 the Jewish population in Rokiskis numbered 3,500. Between August 15-25, all of the Jews in Rokiskis were herded into pits outside the town and shot.

Children during a Purim celebration in the Lodz Ghetto. Lodz was home to 223,000 Jews on the eve of World War II. At the war’s end, no more than 7,000 Jews from the Lodz Ghetto had survived the camps.

Yom HaShoah

Yom HaShoah, also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, occurs on the 27th of the Hebrew month of Nissan. Shoah, which means catastrophe or utter destruction in Hebrew, refers to the atrocities that were committed against the Jewish people during World War II. This is a memorial day for those who died in the Holocaust.

Today, many commemorate Yom HaShoah by lighting yellow candles in order to keep the memories of the victims alive – often six candles for the 6 million Jews that died. Most synagogues and Jewish communities gather together to commemorate the day through worship, music and the stories from survivors.

Special Thanks

For content and editing:

Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss, Temple Emanu-El, Birmingham, AL

Rabbi Brian Glusman, Temple Beth-El, Birmingham, AL

Rabbi Karmi Ingber, Knesseth Israel, Birmingham, AL

For editing and voiceover:

Cantor Jessica Roskin, Temple Emanu-El, Birmingham, AL

Works Cited

Aish HaTorah. http://aish.com/.

Judaism 101. http://jewfaq.org/index.html.

Kolatch, Alfred J. The Jewish Book of Why. Middle Village, NY: Jonathan David Publishers, Inc., 1981.

Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. Jewish Wisdom: Ethical, Spiritual, and Historical Lessons from the Great Works and Thinkers. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1994.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. www.ushmm.org.

Yad Vashem. www.yadvashem.org.

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