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Judaica, which is also called Jewish ceremonial art, refers to the items or beautiful objects used by Jews during their religious rituals. It is valuable for them to enhance their Mitzvah as a symbol of their honor and praise to God. Mitzvah means a commandment where God commanded their sacred duty. Judaism strongly honors their tradition, and their faith and belief allow them to commission ritual objects that are used to glorify God. Talented artisans and skilled artists created these items.
Judaica may also mean religious articles and sometimes, religious clothing. Generally, these items symbolize the Jewish customs and traditions or the way they practice their religion. You may also see some Orthodox Jews who are wearing Judaica religious clothing even when there is no special event or celebration.
The Jews pair religious clothing with a Kippah or skullcap. It is mostly worn during special ritual ceremonies. It is also known as a yarmulke, and some Jews wear this head cover all the time. Most of the time, you can see kippah worn by men, but you can see some women who use it, too.
Furthermore, there is no specific requirement for how it should be made. Therefore, you can find many kippot in various sizes, shapes, colors, and even styles. Some also put their name on it while others have a saying written on it.
Only men wear kippot on Orthodox communities while those that come from non-Orthodox allow women to wear it. This piece of clothing is available in different sizes to suit the wearer’s preference. It may be around beanie with a format that is enough to cover only the back of the head. You may also check-out the other style which can include the whole crown.
Unlike the kippot, the Tallit, Tefillin, and Tzitzit have a special law on how they should be made. Also, both the tallit and tefillin covers are the essential items that are crucially worn during Jewish prayer.
TALLIT: PRAYER SHAWL
Tallit is also known as the prayer shawl. It is large enough to cover the back and arms of the person during prayer time. The Jews used to wear a shawl during their morning prayers. It may be made from wool with wool fringes hanging down, synthetic fiber, or cotton. They have the option to produce their tallit or use the one available at synagogue services.
You will also notice an embroidered strip of material which is also located where the tallit is placed on the head of someone who wears it. It is known as the tallit atarah. This custom marks the part on the head where it was placed. According to Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, once it is already used for that specific part of the head, then the atara should not be placed lower than that moving forward.
The tallit atara is also used to beautify the head, which is a part of the body that is considered by the Jews as “esteemed.” It is especially worn during the prayer service. Different communities have a unique way of wearing this piece of clothing. In the Sephardi community, the boys can start to wear it from bar mitzvah age. Some allow men to wear it only after they got married like the customary practice of Ashkenazi communities.
Based on the order of Orach Chayim 16:1, the tallit must be large enough to dress the child and allow him to walk and stand comfortably. In Orthodox customs, boys are taught to wear tallit katan when they reach three years old because they consider it as a whole period of education. The person must also say this prayer in the morning as soon as he wears the garment on:
“Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to enwrap ourselves with tzitzit.”
Also called phylacteries, tefillin are two black leather boxes containing scriptural verses that are written on parchment and leather straps. The term tefillin is a Hebrew word which means prayer. These written verses are then tied all over the head and left arm, or right arm when the person is left-handed during their morning prayers. This item is not used on Shabbat or other Jewish festivals.
Tefillin are worn to follow the guideline of Torah, and that is to “bind then as a sign upon their hands and making them totafot between their eyes.” These tefillin boxes contain four handwritten scriptures that came from the Bible: Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:12-21; Exodus 13:1-10, 13:11-16. The participants are required to wear these specific texts on their hand and between their eyes.
The hand tefillin have a single parchment strip where all of the four texts are written. On the other hand, the head tefillin have four separated compartments. Each compartment has a unique text written on it.
Tzitzit are the tassels that are attached to the four corners of a tallit. Sometimes, you can see it affixed to the four-cornered undergarment worn by Jews, which is also called tzitzis, small tallit, or tallit katan. According to Torah 15:38-39, people have to wear a garment with Tzitzit for them to remember God as well as the mitzvot or commandments.
Tzitzit has different types. One is the tallit gadol or big cloak, a prayer shawl that is worn during services on the Sabbath and holidays, morning prayers, and special occasions or festive days. It also plays a crucial role in weddings in which it is used to make the chuppah or wedding canopy where the man and woman get married. Sometimes, the Jews also add some colorful embellishments, and decorative Atarah embroidered on a silver thread.
Another type is the tallit katan or Tzitzit, a garment that can be worn daily when the Jews reached the age of bar mitzvah. It looks like a poncho and has four corners. It also has a hole on the head. Each of the corners has tzitzit or knotted tassels. Commonly, its size is enough to fit the person’s body so it can be worn comfortably underneath a dress shirt or t-shirt.
The tzitzit are also tied uniquely, and most Jewish communities follow the way of tying based on their customs. Generally, each of the four corners has eight strings and five knots. The numerical value of tzitzit is 600. Then, add the eight strings and five knots, and the sum would be 613, which is the number of mitzvot in the Torah.
It is also required that the strings of tzitzit must be made of the same material used to make the garment, as declared in Orach Chayim 9:2-3. Others use lines that are made of wool while some prefer techeylet, which is a turquoise or blue dye that was also mentioned in the Torah several times. This requirement should be strictly implemented to the garments worn by the High Priests.
Anyone who needs to place the tzitzit on their new garment or replace the damaged one must recite this prayer: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us concerning the mitzvah of tzitzit.”
Judaica may also be referred to as Judaica article. Each of the items that are part of the religious materials used by Jews has a specific time or holiday when it should be used. Here is a list of those items:
Shofar is made of a ram’s horn similar to a trumpet that is blown in the synagogue to mark the event, Rosh Hashanah or Jewish New Year festival. It is celebrated on the first or sometimes, the second day of Tishri in September. The blowing of the shofar is also done at the end of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. It is considered as the most solemn religious fast of the Jewish year.
The shofar is made by hollowing out a ram’s horn. Then the maker should shape it nicely and polish it to produce a beautiful piece. The story behind this item was mentioned in the Torah. A portion tells the story of the binding of Isaac in which a ram was stuck in the bush. Abraham uses that animal as a sacrifice instead of his son. The shofar, therefore, symbolizes the problematic parent-child relationship with God.
The four sounds of shofar remind the Jewish people of a crying voice, and people must repent for the sins that they have done for the past years.
· Tekiah – an unbroken yet pure sound that reminds men to search their heart and left their wrong deeds. It encourages them to ask for forgiveness through repentance. It is a way to call the people and seek their attention and gather into Moses. It calls the attention of men, telling them to listen to God and receive the orders he has for them for that day.
· Teruah – a broken, trembling sound. It signifies the sorrow that man feels after his misconduct and aims to change his ways. This sound must be at least eight notes while others try to achieve nine blasts to ensure that they don’t accidentally do too few.
· Shevarim – a sound like a wave telling the man to stand by the service of God. This term in Hebrew means “not only a certain unique sound” or “to break.” It signifies a speedy activity or tells the people about breaking up, causing damage.
· Tekiah gedolah – it’s prolonged, and unbroken sound represents atonement and repentance.
Once the shofar has repetitive sounds, its purpose is to penetrate deeply into the heart of humankind. That also tells them to reconcile with God and completely change their wrongdoings. The set of blowing when used in service should follow the following patterns:
Tekiah Shevarim – Teruah Tekiah = 4 blasts and 14 sounds
Tekiah Shevarim Tekiah = 3 blasts and 5 sounds
Tekiah Teruah Tekiah = 3 blasts and 11 sounds
Total: 6 Tekiot, 2 Shevarim, 2 Teruah = 10 blasts
During the day of Yom Teruah, a set of ten Sofar blasts, making 100 blasts in all 300 sounds should be done. Different patterns are also required for the Amidah Prayer and the Musaf Service.
The four species of vegetation include the Etrog, Lulav, Hadas, and Aravah, and they are also the items that are used during Sukkot. This event is a Jewish holiday that follows five days after Yom Kippur. The Jews gather to celebrate the harvest season, and it is also their way of commemorating the protection that God provided for the children of Israel when they left the city of Egypt.
History of Judaica
The commentaries on the Hebrew bible stated that the historical root of Judaica started when a rabbi, a Jewish scholar or teacher who teaches about Jewish law and may also be someone who is appointed as a Jewish leader, talked about ways of glorifying God and beautiful things anyone could offer to praise him. It is worth noting that the Jews love to collect various decorative crafted objects and use them in their rituals. In the rabbi’s preaches, he mentioned different valuable items that are used on specific holiday and religious celebrations.
The Jewish people have maintained their religious belief, religious ties, and cultural practices — they live a life following Scriptures taught by rabbis and Hebrew prophets. Their belief to the divine mercy is present not only for themselves but for all humankind as well. God established a covenant, also called Berit, so they will stay obedient on his commandments or law, which is also referred to as the Torah.
Each period of Jewish history brings new elements that influence their beliefs. These practices allowed them to maintain their covenantal relationship with God, the creator. Together with the developments in their lives, even the law has also embraced all domains of Jewish practices, leading to the creation of principles as well as ceremonial observances done by the Jewish community. These actions are performed to serve God, who is the immanent ruler of the universe. Judaism serves as the religion of Jews, making it their covenant with God. The term derives from ludaismmus, a Latin word that means “to side with or imitate the Judeans.” This word is also derived from Hebrew, Yehudah, or Judah. Rabbinic Judaism affects or influences the religious practices of Jews, and one is their belief to Written Torah or Written Law.
The Jewish ethics were also guided by halakhic traditions, leading them to know the learn the moral principles. The Judaica items mentioned in this article are just a few of the symbolic representations of their values about loving-kindness, peace, self-respect, humility, truthfulness, and compassion. They are also known for having the best practices of charity and avoiding harmful speech, or lashon hara.
The Jews have prayers that they recite three times daily: Shacharit, Mincha, and Ma’ariv. They also have a fourth prayer that is reserved for Shabbat and other holidays.
Shabbat, also known as Sabbath or Shabbos, is one of the Jewish traditions that involved their customary practices and religion. It is considered as equal to all the other commandments which should also be respected and honored. During this celebration, the Jewish people must rest, and no work must be done. They have to begin their traditional activities as soon as the holiday starts at the sunset of Friday and ends after nightfall of the following evening.
This tradition was based in the Book of Genesis, which stated that God created the world for six days, and he took a rest on the seventh. In the year 2448, when God took the children of Israel out of Egypt. He then taught them about the concept of Shabbat and described it that people only have to work for six days, and they should rest on the seventh.
The Shabbat is also one of the ten commandments that God declared at Mt. Sinai. The transmission of the commandments happened several weeks after the exodus. Therefore, the Shabbat is commemorated to remember how God created the world as well as honor his intervention in world issues that helped the entire nation to be freed up from slavery.
It took for the people to wander around the desert for 40 years, and during that time, they lived and sustained by nourishing manna that came from heaven, except on Sabbath days. Extra volumes fall every Friday so the people will have enough supply for the holy day and they won’t get hungry. The Sabbath was also briefly stated on the Torah, and it strictly implements that this day should be observed and no work should be done the entire day.
Items for Shabbat
Kiddush means holiness or sanctification; Kiddush cups are kinds of decorative cups that are primarily used on Jewish holidays, most notably for the Shabbat. These two essential occasions are sanctified by praying over a cup of wine. These cups can be made of different kinds of materials such as nickel, china, porcelain, pewter, and silver.
Most families use a particular goblet which can only be used for this specific purpose. Sometimes, this glass also came from an heirloom which was passed down from one generation to another. The Jews used a grape juice or sometimes a special wine to bless the Shabbat.
The kiddush should consist of three meals: one on Friday evening, one on the next day, and lastly, a smaller meal is served in the late afternoon. The meals also include wine, which symbolizes the sweetness of Shabbat. It also represents the wishes for the blessings of Shabbat to flow over the coming weeks.
Wine fountains are used during the sanctification or Kiddush. A blessing is recited over wine as a way to sanctify the Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. As commanded by the Torah, the kiddush must be recited before the meal begins on the eve of Shabbat. They also honor the mitzvah of reciting kiddush by using a silver goblet, but they may also use other kinds of cups.
As a tradition, there should be two or three candles that must be lit before the sunset on Friday to mark the start of the Sabbath. The Jews are allowed to use any candles, but the white ones are preferred. They should make sure that it is large enough to burn during the entire Shabbat meal. The custom of lighting the Shabbat candles is a mandated law required by rabbis.
Commonly, the candle-lighting tradition is done by the woman in the family. However, a man is allowed to take over in the absence of a woman in their household. Once the candles are lit, the woman will then hover her hands from the candles going towards her. She will then cover her eyes while reciting a blessing.
Also, take note that the Jewish people are not allowed to light fires during Shabbat based on the declaration of the sages. That is why they used candles as an honor and make the evening festive. Girls who are as young as three years old are encouraged to light the candles. They should make sure that the Shabbat candles must be lit 1 minute before the sunset. It is also crucial to place them near the Shabbat meals, and a special blessing will proceed after the lighting.
SHABBAT CANDLESTICK HOLDERS
The Jews most often use Shabbat candlestick holders that are specially reserved during the Shabbat occasion. It is used to hold the Shabbat candles until they are completely burned during the duration of the Shabbat meal.
COVERS FOR SHABBAT PLATE
Cooking foods on an open flame is highly-prohibited on the Sabbath; however, the Jews are allowed to heat the foods as long as the heat is non-adjustable or indirect. In this instance, the importance of Shabbat plate covering comes to play. It is typically made of a thin sheet of aluminum which is called a blech. This item should also cover the control knobs to eliminate the risk of adjusting the flame on Shabbat.
A blech that can cover two to four burners is mostly preferred, so it is wide enough to perform its function. Keep in mind that the foods placed on this item are preferably half-cooked to prevent it from getting burned. All salt, including liquid and spices, must only be added before this occasion begins.
CHALLAH COVER AND CHALLAH BOARDS
The challah cover is a thick cloth which is usually made from embroidered velvet. It is allowed to use any fabric or paper, but the Jews want it to be decorative. It is used to cover the challah bread at the commencement of their Sabbath meal. A challah bread serves as a critical addition to Jewish holidays. It is a Kosher loaf of bread with a symbolic centerpiece in their celebrations. It is a Jewish custom to keep the loaves of bread until the final recitation of the Kiddush blessing over wine or grape juice.
Most challah covers are embroidered or painted to add a special and unique appearance to this item. They may also be adorned with interwoven silver or gold to make it more beautiful. This type of cover should be wide enough to cover the two-braided loaves to ensure that the bread cannot be seen on both sides. It is preferable that the fabric must also be opaque so the bread cannot be seen through the material.
Most of the time, you will see the words, “To honor the holy Shabbat” or “To honor Shabbat and Yom Tov” inscribed on the covers.
The challah boards, on the other hand, is the item where the two braided loaves of challah bread are placed. Both the appearances of the challah cover and challah board offers a decorative piece on the table. They bring a ceremonial presence to the event as well as symbolic and halakhic function.
HAND WASHING CUP (NETILAT YEDIAM)
Hand washing, which is also called netilat yediam, has been a part of the Jewish customs. They perform it not only on Shabbat, but also on different scenarios like waking up in the morning, before the blessing, or before eating bread. Most families prepare a special hand washing cup that is only intended for that purpose.
Siddurim, or siddur (singular term), are Jewish prayer books that contain the whole Jewish liturgy used not only on Shabbat holiday but also on weekdays and synagogue ritual. It is different from the mahzor since the latter is only used for the High Holidays. The benedictions and prayers in siddur include thanksgiving, petition, prayers for forgiveness, acknowledgment of sin, and sentiments of honors or praises. Some parts also contain short verses from the Psalms.
The Jewish tradition allows the addition of new hymns and prayers for the Jews to express their aspirations and prayers. Amram bar Sheshna from Babylonia was the one who first composed the complete siddur in the 9th century to provide the request of a Spanish congregation. Before the complete siddur was produced, the liturgy of prayer was already in use before the Second Temple was destructed in 70 AD. Many modern editions of siddurim were already made, and they are based on the local preferences, differences, and rituals of people involved.
Havdalah is a special ceremony which is done to mark the end of Shabbat that happens on Saturday evening. It is a Hebrew term which means separation. Its rituals include four different blessings. It is also believed that the Shabbat has ended when you see three stars in the sky at night. When it occurs, people must prepare the sets of Havdalah consisting of multi-colored candles, a box of fragrant spices, and a cup of wine. Havdalah is also the perfect time for Jews to gather their families and friends.
SETS OF HAVDALAH
CANDLES OF HAVDALAH AND CANDLE HOLDER
Havdalah candle is a braided candle which plays a significant role in the Havdalah ceremony or a formal prayer that declares the end of the Sabbath. It means separation, and should only be recited when the dark comes in a Saturday night. During this event, the Jews have to smell aromatic spices as a way to uplift their spirits and rejuvenate them.
HAVDALAH SPICE BOX
A spice box is a decorative container which is usually made of silver or wood and used to store fragrant spices or besamim in Hebrew term. It is a way to beautify and praise the Mitzvah. That is why the Jews always make sure that this item is filled with all sorts of beautiful designs. The spices symbolize a compensation for the loss of the unique Sabbath spirit. They often include cinnamon, cloves, or cardamom.
After the holiday of Shabbat, the Jews would store the fragrant spices in the box. The rejuvenating and delicious smells of each of these spices serve as a reminder of the valuable symbol of this holiday. Their aromatic presence is believed to counteract the effect of sadness that one can feel as the holiday ends.
Some Jewish laws require specific spices that must be placed inside the box, but some allow the use of any type. Commonly, Jewish families prefer cloves because of its pungent aroma that can last for an extended period. The use of spices is also an excellent way for the Jewish people to reduce their sadness because of the departure of Shabbat.
Generally, one rule is applied to using the Havdalah spice box. That is, it should contain more than one spice. Any sweet-smelling herbs that you can find on your cupboard are acceptable.
Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration of the Jewish community. It is also known as Chanukah and also means “dedication” in Hebrew. The event begins on the 25th of Kislev based on the Hebrew calendar, and on the regular calendar that we are using nowadays, it falls in November or December. It is often called the Festival of Lights and many parts of the world also join the holiday.
Hanukkah is celebrated to commemorate the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C. In that era, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids or Syrian-Greeks. They forced the people in Israel to accept the culture of Greek and renounce their own beliefs on mitzvah and God.
However, this conquer did not succeed when a small group of Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, got the courage to fight and defeat the Seleucids. They drove the Greeks from the nation, and by that time, they were able to reclaim the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicate it to God.
Then, they decided to light the Menorah in the Temple. However, they found that there is only a single curse of olive oil left by the Greeks. They continued their plan, and to their surprise, that small amount of oil, which was only expected to be enough for one day, lasted for eight days. Because of that miracle that involved oil, the custom to eat foods fried in oil became their custom.
That surprising instance is also where the Hanukkah got its inspiration to be a Festival of Lights. The people celebrate it by lighting a menorah that holds nine flames. One of those flames is called the shamash, or attendant, and it is used to kindle the other eight lights. One fire should be lit each day until all of the lights are completely kindled.
The holiday also involves special blessings that should be recited before the menorah lighting. People also sang traditional songs and melodies. The menorah is typically placed in the doorways or window of every household. Nowadays, even the parks and buildings around the world are also celebrating this festive event.
You may wonder why you cannot find the story of Hanukkah in the Torah. It is because this miracle happened after the Torah was written. You can find it instead in the New Testament in the part where Jesus attends a “Feast of Dedication.”
Items for Hanukkah
Dreidel is a spinning top with four sides and marked with Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei, and shin. These letters are the acronym for nes gadol hayah sham, which means, “a great miracle happened there.” This object is mostly seen played by Jews during the Hanukkah festival and whoever won may receive a pot of coin, nuts, or other prizes.
Menorah, also known as hannukiyah, is a candelabra with eight candles that is used on Jewish worship or Hannukah, representing the eight miracle days. It has a new candle that is set apart, which is used to light the other eight. The first sacred candelabrum used in the Temple in Jerusalem has seven branches. It is usually placed in the sanctuary of the Tabernacle and lit by Kohanim or priests at the Holy Temple. The craftsman Bezalel originally crafted it.
The modern way of celebrating Chanukah is by giving gifts. One of the commonly given gifts is known as Chanukah gelt or gifts of money. It serves as a reward for kids to encourage them to show good behavior and stay devoted to the study of Torah. Most children who received the cash gifts also give it to tzedakah or charity.
Sukkot also called “Tabernacles” or “The Festival of Booths” is one of the most important religious celebrations of the Jewish community. The first two days that start from the sundown on October 13 until the nightfall of October 15 in 2019 is also referred to as yom Tov. It is the time when the Jews are not allowed to work. They also light the candles in the evening and gather together in Sukkah to eat their meals.
Kiddush, or the ritual words then precede the celebration and drink, that serves as the kickoff for the evening and daytime Shabbat meals. The latter requires the Jews to recite several verses from Exodus and preceded by a blessing on wine.
In this religious event, they use kosher wine, which is a particular type of wine that symbolizes the separateness and holiness of the Jewish people. It plays a significant role in Jewish law, allowing them to place a special requirement on how the wine should be processed and handled. It is essential to note that the production of kosher wine must be done exclusively by Jews. That means that they are responsible from start to finish of manufacturing and even after the seal of the bottle is opened. They are also not allowed to drink this wine when a non-Jew has touched it.
The intermediate days of Sukkot, which starts from the nightfall on October 15 until sundown on October 20 in 2019, are called Chol Hamoed or quasi-holidays. This time, the Jews dwell in the sukkah and consume the four species of vegetation. A sukkah is a temporary dwelling which is made of sechah like palm branches or corn stalks and covered with a thatched roof that is used during meals for the festival of Sukkot. Most Jews would sleep or spend long days in this shelter until the holiday ended.
The four species, also called arba’a minim, consists of four plants in the Torah. Torah in Jewish custom means “teaching,” “law,” or other terms similar to these descriptions. It can also be the first five books of the Tanakh, and the words are printed in rabbinic commentaries. The Jews tie the three branches – lulav, hadass, and aravah – together with one kind of fruit and wave them to celebrate the Sukkot holiday, except Shabbat. This ceremony symbolizes the Jews’ allusions to serve God.
· Etrog – a fruit which is similar to a lemon and is also referred to as a citron. It is characterized to have both good smell and desirable taste. It symbolizes those who lack good deeds and belief in Torah.
· Lulav – a dried branch of a palm tree that symbolizes a person with knowledge but refused to do good deeds. Take note that this plant is the largest among the four species and it is essential to purchasing a fresh lulav every year. This plant, on the other hand, has a good taste but has no smell.
· Hadas – boughs with leaves that come from the myrtle tree. It has a pleasant smell but has no taste, and represents those who do good deeds but do not study Torah.
· Aravah – branches with leaves that come from the willow tree. This plant has neither smell nor taste and signifies those who lack belief on Torah and don’t possess good deeds.
In addition to these qualities of these four species, their shape is also similar to the parts of the human body. Lulav looks like a spine, hadass seems like an eye, aravah looks like a mouth, and lastly, etrog is similar to the heart.
The Jews bind these four species together for a mitzvah to express their will to consecrate their whole being to serve God. They also wave it in different directions because these plants require abundant water for them to grow.
The lulav is usually grown on water valleys while the aravah and hadass best live near watery places. The etrog also requires more water than other kinds of fruit trees. As the Jews wave them in all directions, they also recite a prayer, wishing to receive abundant rainfall needed by the vegetation in the upcoming year.
During the period of the Temple in Jerusalem, the people used to perform a waving ceremony, and it was held in the Holy Temple on all the seven days of Sukkot. However, when the Temple was destructed, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai required the people to wave the four species everywhere, and it should be performed every day of Sukkot. That activity was done to commemorate that event.
The lulav should be bounded first and placed between the hadass and aravah. There should be two aravah branches placed on the left part; then three hadass must be situated to the left portion. Some people put the bundle in a unique holder while others use strips from another palm to bind it.
Generally, they must be placed on the direction that these four species grew. As an example, the stem end of the etrog should be positioned at the bottom while its blossom should be on top. When selecting these four species, many people don’t mind spending a large amount of money to ensure that they obtain the best item because it is their custom to beautify the mitzvah. This rule is also mentioned in halacha, which is a Jewish religious law that was also derived from the Torah. Some people even have as many as 40 extra aravos and hadassim.
Passover, or sometimes referred to as the Festival of Unleavened Bread, is another holiday celebrated by Hebrews to commemorate their liberation from slavery in Egypt. It is also a special event of “passing over” of the energies of destruction as well as saving of the firstborns of the Israelites. They also honor the day when the Lord smote the land of Egypt during the evening of Exodus.
It is a momentous day in Jewish life. It occurs on the 15th and 16th month of Nisan (first month in the Hebrew calendar), or March or April. On the seven or eight days of the festival, it is highly-prohibited to eat leavened bread or any food containing this ingredient. This time, only matzo or matzah, or unleavened bread, is allowed to be eaten. This food is placed on top of each other on a napkin or plate, and then covered with a matzah tray.
Passover is also a holiday for Jews that coincides with the harvest of barley. It is the only holiday they have where Seder is the centerpiece of the celebration. They are encouraged to remove the leavened foods, also called chametz, before this special event to make sure that they won’t consume it throughout the entire holiday.
Furthermore, all homes should be cleaned to make sure that there are no traces of bread or bread particles left on the place. In the morning of the Seder, they also begin to burn off the last vestiges of chametz.
In some Jewish families, they have a tradition to separate the matzo from each other with napkins or plate. The matzo signifies the suffering experienced by the Hebrew while they were in bondage. It also symbolizes the time when they left Egypt when Exodus took place.
The Cup of Elijah the Prophet is one of the Passover products that represent this special holiday in the lives of Jews. It is the fifth ceremonial cup of wine that is poured during the Passover family Seder dinner. Seder refers to a religious meal prepared served at the Jewish homes every Passover.
The custom of pouring a cup of wine, or the Cup of Elijah, is done after the reciting of the Seder’s Grace After Meals. Then, the family opens the door of their homes and recite the verses mostly taken from Psalms. It is believed that practicing this tradition allows them to receive the grace provided by the presence of Elijah the Prophet. He was the one who visited the circumcision ceremony of the Jewish children according to history.
During that visit, he testified that the people were still painstaking despite the mitzvah of circumcision. Males can only take part in the paschal offering once they were circumcised. Elijah became the witness to prove that these people are present during that time to be circumcised.
Although the issue of having four or five cups on the Passover remains to be unresolved, it is has been a custom to pour the fifth cup but not drink it. The four cups represent the “expressions of redemption” that were promised by God. The fifth cup, on the other hand, signifies the “fifth expression of redemption.”
THE PASSOVER HAGGADAH
The Passover Haggadah is also heard during this festival. It is a set of prayers, psalms, Midrashic comments, and benedictions that are recited at the seder ritual. Reading this book serves as a guide to the seder. The routines include drinking four cups of wine, washing hands, as well as the explanation of each of the traditional items placed on the seder table is typically performed.
You can also find the symbolic foods and bitter herbs placed on a seder plate. It is the centerpiece of the Passover seder table, holding five or six items. Each of the items symbolizes a part of the Passover story.
There are also different types of Haggadot to take note. It may vary in design and length. Some of them are printed in Hebrew words. There were also some that maintain the original text. Some modern Haggadot includes seder symbols and guide the participants to reflect the concepts of redemption and emancipation and incorporate it to their feelings of freedom and persecution.
Some Jewish communities make Haggadot as historical artifacts and consider it as their cultural touchstones. One of the oldest Sephardic Haggadot in the world was preserved in a museum in Bosnia in 1894. It is known as the “Sarajevo Haggadah,” and many believed that the Spanish Jews crafted it in 1350 in Barcelona. Its design is unique, which is based in the medieval style of illuminated manuscripts. Some of its pages were also noticed to have wine stains which are believed that it was used at seders way back in the 14th century.
It is worth noting that the Jews prefer to use honey for their meals instead of sugar. This practice is typically noticed on Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year festival. During this occasion, you can hear the blowing of the shofar, and the Jews also begin the ten days of repentance to culminate in Yom Kippur.
One of the primary influences of using honey on the Jewish dishes came from the scripture written in the Torah. It stated the Land of Israel as “flowing with milk and honey.” The Grace After Meals, or thanksgiving after a meal that includes bread, also mentions the Seven Species that include fruits, grains, and honey.
Honey symbolizes the spiritual fruits that Jews enjoyed in the messianic era as a reward of their effort during exile. Also, the heavenly manna consumed by the Jews for 40 years while they dwell in the desert tasted like “a pastry fried in honey.”
The Rosh Hashanah is considered as a High Holiday. It is their custom to dip an apple in honey while wishing that “God grant us a good and sweet new year.” Good, or Tova, means the esoteric divine quality of kindness. On the other hand, sweet, or mesukah, refers to the transforming and sweetening of the sublime severities. Together, it means “severities with kindness.”
Other Items for Judaica That Play a Significant Role in the Jewish Tradition
Matzah cover is a thick cloth that is used to cover the matzah or a thin, unleavened bread which is often eaten by Jewish people during the Passover.
SIDDUR (PRAYER BOOK)
A siddur is a Jewish prayer book where the liturgy recited in synagogue services is written. The Jews may have one to use for their own, and it is also available at synagogue services. There are various editions of the siddur based on the different periods of history when it was written. The Jewish liturgical traditions may influence some versions while others can be due to the differences in ideologies.
A siddur also contains a set order of daily prayers aside from those that are recited on holidays. The term was derived from the Hebrew word meaning order. From time to time, sages added various prayers and other hymns to the siddur.
It is also worth noting that there are siddurim that only contain prayers for weekdays, while others have both prayers for Shabbat and weekdays. Some also include the prayers for the three Biblical festivals: Sukkot, Shavout, and Pesach.
The oldest siddur is the prayer book of Rav Amram Gaon, Head of the Yeshiva of Sura in Babylon. It was produced about 1100 years ago. He made it provide the request of the Jews of Barcelona, Spain. That prayer book includes the prayers that are arranged for the entire year as well as the customs and laws that were established specifically for those prayers.
Yad is a Torah pointer made of either silver or wood held by the Torah reader during the synagogue services. It is shaped like a long rod and covered with fabric when not in use. The primary purpose of using a yad is to ensure that the parchment Torah scrolls are not touched during the reading.
The reader or anyone is not allowed to touch the parchment because it will render him ritually impure and to prevent it from getting damaged. Furthermore, the vellum parchment, or a material made of an animal skin that is used for writing on, cannot absorb the ink, which is why touching it would damage the lettering.
COVERS FOR TORAH SCROLLS
Since the Torah scroll is a religious item and should be well-taken cared, it is also essential to keep it in a mantel, or Torah is covering. The Torah is considered as a valuable item; therefore, it should not be left exposed. It must be covered with multiple coverings and dress it in a cloak before putting it back in the Ark. The mantel does not only cover the Torah scroll, but it also beautifies the item inside it. It is usually made of velvet and to make it more beautiful; it can be embroidered with a golden silk, thread, or any ornamental beads.
The Torah scroll refers to the Five Books of Moses that are written on parchment. Each verse in the scroll should be read aloud in synagogue services on holidays like Shabbat. It is the tradition of the Ashkenazi to affix the scroll in two wooden rollers. They then cover it with beautifully embroidered velvet. Sometimes, they top it with silver ornaments which are called rimonim, a Hebrew term for pomegranates.
Also called pushke in Yiddish, the tzedakah box is a receptacle that is used to collect money reserved for charity.
YAHRZEIT (OR YIZKOR) CANDLE
A Yahrzeit candle is a long candle that is lit for 24 hours to commemorate the anniversary of the person’s death. It is sometimes called a Yizkor candle, in which Yizkor refers to the memorial prayer service that is often recited on holidays.
Mezuzah is a small box that contains the verses from the Torah marked on parchment. These written verses are affixed at the right side of the doorpost of Jewish homes. Most often, the first one written in the parchment is the Hebrew letter Shin, which is the first letter of one of God’s names. These 713 words are written on mezuzah parchment on the verse of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 which generally states, “and you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of our house and your gates.” These verses are known as Shema and Varaha, respectively.
Mezuzah in Hebrew means ‘doorpost’ a and serves as an indicator of every Jewish home. It was believed in the primary book of Kabalah, the Zohar, that affixing a mezuzah to the Jewish doors allows God to protect the house against bad spirits. It serves as a warning to the messengers of evil. It derives from the word mezuzoth and combination of two words Maveth and Zaz, creating a meaning “Death, remove thyself.”
After the words are inscribed and dried, the mezuzah is then placed inside a mezuzah case; then it is affixed to the doorposts. It contains specific verses written on a piece of parchment. The mitzvah or commandment of the mezuzah is a part of the Jews religious observance that has been practiced for hundreds of years.
The scribe, or sofer, is used for writing the parchment of the Mezuzah. It is a special quill pen that produces a permanent black ink. The parchment is made from the skin of a kosher animal like goat, sheep, or cow. The word Shaddai, or “Almighty” is usually inscribed at the back of the parchment. This term is one of the names of God in the Bible. Furthermore, it also an acronym for Shomer Deletot Yisrael, which means “Guardian of the doors of Israel.”
MERKABAH – STAR OF DAVID
Merkabah is the representation of the Star of David, and produces positive energy. The energy it releases can bring blessing and protect anyone when worn as a talisman. In Kabbalah, a person who meditates on Merkabah can be guided to access the spiritual plain. It helps them find the eternal knowledge and wisdom and knowledge offered by the universe.
Aside from using these valuable items during holidays and religious celebrations, the Jewish people also have rituals that are part of their lives. Their community reaches in traditions and customs that they have preserved for many years.
Washing hands has been one of their traditions, and is required whenever they need to recite a blessing before they eat their meal that includes bread or matzah. This ritual is also referred to as netilat yadayim and done using a two-handled vessel or silver cup.
Commonly, the water should be poured twice on the right hand then twice on the left. This direction is reversed when the person is left-handed. On the other hand, Hasidic custom requires the person to pour water three times at each hand.
There are different times that handwashing should be done:
- Before prayer
- When one left the lavatory, bathhouse, or latrine
- When one wakes from his sleep to eliminate the evil spirit from the person’s fingers. This ritual is known as negel vasser, and the water must be poured three times over each hand.
- When a person touches his private parts, cuts his fingernails, or touches sweat from his body except for his face.
- When one leaves the cemetery
- Before holding bread made from one of the five primary grains: spelled, wild barley, cultivated barley, oats, and wheat
- When the salt of Sodom was served at the table, a person must wash his hand after the meal
- Before the priests or some Jewish communities bless the people
- When one dips a morsel of food, except fruits, in a liquid like honey, oil, water before he eats
It is also required to recite this prayer after the ritual washing: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments, and commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.”
Keep in mind that the person is still required to do this ritual even if he assumes that his hands are clean. It is also their tradition not to speak after the recitation of the blessing or prayer or until the blessing for partaking the bread is recited.
This tradition of handwashing was derived from the rabbis of Talmud. They are a concern with their ritual impurity since the ancient Temple was built in Jerusalem. The priests who lead the rituals received gifts of wine, oil, and wheat, and they could only eat them after the ritual washing. From that time on, the ancient rabbis also extended this custom to the Jewish communities before they eat their meals.
Anyone who fails to follow this ritual is a sign of transgression. That is commanded most, especially before eating bread. They believed that anyone who disobeys this tradition would be uprooted from the world.
Jewish Jewelry and Ornaments
It is also interesting to know that Jews, especially women, love decorative pieces that express beauty. They often wear Jewish jewelry with pendants that have unique shaped symbols.
One well-known Jewish jewelry is hamsa, an amulet shaped like palm which is also famous in Israel and can also be used to ornate keychains, necklaces, or wall displays.
Hamsa is characterized by an eye embedded in an open hand was given different names such as the hand of Miriam. It plays a significant role in Jewish art and is considered as a kabbalistic amulet or mystic. It means ‘five’ and symbolizes the five books of the Torah.
The essence of Hamsa represents fellowship and peace. Other interpretation is related to communal prayer and healing of both physical and mental aspects of the body. The Jews who wear the Hamsa should pray continually for those who see it.
Hamsa is a symbol of Sephardic nature wherein Jews used it to counteract the effect of Evil Eye or to trigger the hand of God to protect anyone who has it. There are also kinds of hamsas that contain images of fish which is commonly based on Rabbi Yose son of Hanina’s words in the Talmud. That statement declares that the descendants of Joseph who earns the blessing of Jacob in multiplying like fish are protected against the Evil Eye like fish. These words were written in Genesis 48:16.
The Hamsa is still famous nowadays, although many modern decorative pieces were crafted. Some people hang it in some parts of their homes, and rarely seen on the rear-view mirrors of vehicles. They are mostly seen on wall hangings, necklaces, bookmarks, candlesticks, key chains, earrings, bracelets, and mezuzahs.
It still plays a significant role in various Sephardic rituals done nowadays. One example is during the henna ceremony in which brides use it as a decoration on their body to beautify themselves for their wedding, which is also called ketubah. They used to wear a hamsa around their neck to counteract the Evil Eye.
A ketubah is a Jewish prenuptial agreement which is also an integral aspect of the Jewish tradition. It highlights the responsibilities of the groom as well as his rights when he marries the bride. In ancient times, the rabbis required the marriage couple to seal their marriage through the ketubah to protect their wife. It also served as a replacement of the mohar, which was the money that should be paid by the groom to his bride or her bride’s parents and also served as a contract.
STAR OF DAVID
The Star of David, which is also called Magen David in Hebrew and inspired by the hexagonal shield of King David, is the most famous and highly recognized symbol of Jewish identity. This Jewish jewelry has two meanings in Kabbalah.
One is the rule of God all over the universe in six directions – Up, Down, East, West, North, South – and the other one is the dichotomies that are essential to the existence of human: physical world vs. Spiritual realms, good vs. Evil, etc. It was believed that the structure of the Star of David is capable of attracting good fortune and protecting the person.
The Star of David can be found in different places like synagogues and Jewish tombstones. You can also see this sign on the flag of the State of Israel. This five-pointed star is believed to be a magical sign aside from being used as a decoration. Some medieval cathedrals also have this symbol marked on the different parts of the building.
Magen David, according to Jewish liturgy, symbolizes God as the shield of David. Because of its magical presence, the kabbalists use it to protect them against the evil spirits. The Jewish community of Prague first used the Star of David as their official symbol. It was in the 17th century when the six-pointed star turned into the official seal of many Jewish communities. That was also the period when Judaism used it as a universal symbol.
Those who wear a tallit must also pay attention to the importance of tallit clips. It is a piece of Jewish jewelry that is used to keep the tallit in place. It prevents the shawl from shifting while the person is praying. Usually, the Jewish prayer involves standing and sitting position, and clipping the shawl will help secure this clothing to make anyone feel comfortable as he wears it.
The tallit clips come in different designs, sizes, and shapes. They are designed to fit people’s preferences. Some are even marked with Jewish symbols while others feature silver or gold square shapes. You can also purchase some tallit clips with elegant designs to make your attire more decorative.
It is also advisable that both your tallit clips and the jewelry you wear complement with each other. You may choose those that have birthstones, colored gems, and diamonds. You should also base its size on the shawl so the other won’t appear distracting. Keep in mind that the small tallit clip may be covered with a shawl with thicker waves, so make sure that you always consider its size if you want it to enhance your style.
Some Jews wear Chai as a medallion. Chai in Hebrew means ‘alive,’ ‘life,’ or ‘living.’ The word consists of Chet Yod, Hebrew letters that represent wealth, longevity, and charity in the customary Judaism. This symbol has a numerical value of 18. It is where the tradition of Jews came from wherein; they usually provide charity in multiples of 18. Even the Kabbalistic texts also show that the letter Chet is linked to the Tree of Life’s 18th path, indicating both influence and intelligence.
It was first used as an amulet in Eastern Europe in the 18th century. In the medieval Kabbalah, Chai was considered the lowest emanation of God. A Greek rabbi named Shlomo Halcohen Soloniki also stated in his commentary on the Zohar that it is linked in the Kabbalah’s texts in the 12th century to attribute God’s motivation and will. Like Hamsa and Star of David, Chai also has a symbolic representation for Jews. Nowadays, chai is mostly used as jewelry due to its unique appearance and exciting background.
Chai has been crucial to the lives of the Jews. They are encouraged to stay good and maintain their ethical practices. They must exhibit thoughtfulness, kindness, and selflessness. The celebration of events like bar mitzvahs, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, weddings, and Friday Shabbat services are great ways to anticipate the good things that are about to come.
For Jews, Chai is a sign of the value of life. It reminds them to live and protect life. This term appeared three times in Deuteronomy and Leviticus chapters. Aside from considering the symbolic appearance of Chai, it is also widely used to adorn modern items like paintings, mugs, and even shirts. The religious clothing like tallits or prayer shawls are also decorated with Chai. It is also featured in mezuzahs.