Articles on: Jewish Customs

The Tallit and Tzitzit

Written by Rich Rosinson

Visit a Saturday morning synagogue service, and you will notice that all the men and many of the boys are draped in white, fringed prayer shawls that are bordered with either blue or black stripes.

The prayer shawl is the tallit. Jewish people who use the East European Hebrew dialect usually pronounce the word "TAH-liss" (plural tallesim, "tah-LAY-sim"). The modern Israeli pronunciation, however, is "tah-LEET" (plural tallitot, "tahlee-TOHT"). The tasseled fringes on the tallit are the tzitzit (pronounced TSI-tsit).

Look and Remember

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, in order that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God." Numbers 15:37-40 Numbers 15 describes a four-cornered garment with fringes on its corners, which is today called a tallit, or a prayer shawl. A small version, sometimes worn under the clothing, is called the tallit katan, "small tallit."

Why We Wear Kippot

Written by Wayne Buse & Joseph Logue

F  rom the days of Moshe, one of the distinguishing marks of the Jewish people has been the head covering. Orthodox men are always seen wearing some kind of head covering, whether it is a kippah or a traditional hat. Conservative Jewish men wear a kippah for prayers and for home celebrations. Some Liberal (Reform) Jewish men wear a kippah only when they pray, if then. They follow the custom of the Jews of Biblical times who went bareheaded. Traditional Jewish women, even today, often have their heads covered with a scarf or a wig.

Over the last 300 years, traditional Jews have been well known for wearing hats or some other type of head covering. In some European communities, the hat was transformed into the smaller yarmulke (Yiddish)/ kippah (Hebrew). Yarmulke might be an acronym for the Hebrew expression, "Yirey m'Elohim (Be in Fear of God)." That means it was worn in respect or reverence for HaShem. Kippah is the Hebrew name for the head covering and it means "covering". Whatever forms the head covering may take, the lesson is clear. The Jewish people are to always walk in submission and humility before God who is always watching over them...

Lulav at Sukkot

O n Sukkot, our rejoicing before the Lord is to be done with certain types of produce and plants in hand. (Leviticus 23:40) Traditionally, these have been understood to be the citron (similar to a large lemon in appearance and known by its Hebrew name "etrog"), branches of the date palm tree, and twigs of the myrtle and the willow. Though the name of the palm branch is the "lulav," two sprigs of willow and three of myrtle are bound to the palm branch with strips of palm and the composite of the three together is called the "lulav." Though it could be argued that Leviticus 23:40 can be interpreted in a less specific fashion, the lulav and etrog have been the popular understanding of Israel at least since the days of the Maccabees. They appear on ancient Israelite coins and in early Jewish art along with other well-known symbols like the menorah, the shofar and the Ark of the Covenant.

According to Maimonides, it is likely that these "four species" as they are known, were chosen to symbolize Israel's emergence from the wilderness into the land of plenty. They were easy to obtain in ancient Israel, two of them have a pleasant smell, and they tend to retain their freshness over the week more than most other plants...

The Message of the Mezuzah

Written by Rich Robinson

V isit the home of an observant Jew, and as you enter, you will notice a small rectangular box attached to the outer doorpost. This object is a mezuzah (plural, mezuZOTE). Though it is small, it carries a big message.

The Word Mezuzah

In Bible times, mezuzah was simply the word for the doorpost of a house. The mezuzah was where the blood was applied at the first Passover (Exodus 12:7; 22, 23). The mezuzah was where a servant who wanted to serve his master for life would have his ear pierced (Exodus 21:6). We read that Eli, the priest, sat by the mezuzah of the sanctuary (1 Samuel 1:9). In a figure of speech found in Proverbs 8:34, blessedness belongs to the one who waits at Wisdom's doorpost (mezuzah), eager for instruction.

Today the meaning of the mezuzah has been transferred from the doorpost to the box attached to the doorpost. Sometimes the word mezuzah refers even more specifically to the scroll of parchment inside the box, on which two Scripture passages are written. (Traditionally these verses are Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Deuteronomy 11:13-21, but possible variations will be discussed later.)...

Bar/Bat Mitzvah

Written by Barney Kasdan

M y son,, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:1-5).

One of the best known customs of the Jewish people is that of Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Whether or not one is from a Jewish background, most people realize that the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is an important step in the life of a Jewish child. As the Hebrew/ Aramaic name implies (bar is Aramaic for "son"; bat is Hebrew for "daughter"; mitzvah is Hebrew for "commandment"), this is a milestone in the life of a Jewish child. It is a time when the child takes responsibility for his or her own religious life. It is considered the biblical age of accountability. The child crosses that precarious gap between childhood and adolescence, with its requisite duties.

The historical background of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah custom is somewhat more difficult to track than many other traditions. This is primarily because there is no specific reference to the ceremony in the Hebrew Scriptures. However, there are dozens of verses that support the idea that there is an age of accountability to the commandments of the Lord. Some would find it ironic that the most detailed account of a Bar Mitzvah in the Bible is actually in the New Testament, at the "Bar Mitzvah" ceremony for Messiah Yeshua....

Wedding Customs and the Bride of Messiah

T here are many customs appointed by God as teaching tools. In a unique way, the Jewish Wedding Ceremony (as opposed to any other cultural expression) is a detailed illustration of the Messiah's relationship to His bride. The Shiddukhin - Arrangements preliminary to Betrothal What is Shiddukhin? Shiddukhin refers to the first step in the marriage process - the arraignments preliminary to the legal betrothal. It was common in ancient Israel of the father of the groom to select a bride for his son. Biblical Example of Shiddukhin - Genesis 24:1-4 Notice in this passage Abraham - makes arrangements for his son Isaac's wedding. While the father usually had the responsibility in Abraham's life it was not possible. It was acceptable for the father to delegate this responsibility by designating a representative - called a shadkhan - marriage broker or matchmaker. The next phase of this step was the - Ketubah Ketubah means - "written" Written in Hebrew as ....

Breaking of Bread the Jewish Understanding

Written by Lauana Fabri

B aruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, hamotzi lechem, min ha aretz." "Blessed are You, O LORD our God, King of the Universe, Who has brought forth bread from the earth."

At the beginning of the family meal, this blessing is said as the bread is broken. The blessing is referred to as "the breaking of bread".

Sharing meals is a very important part of Jewish family and community life. So important, that special blessings are said at the start and end of the meal. The term "breaking bread" is mentioned several times in the New Testament writings. It is important that we take a look at what it means in Jewish life, to "break bread".....


Written by Peggy Pryorr

I t is not the intention of the writer to criticize Christendom for the lack of understanding that abounds about immersion, or add to the controversy, or think that by this humble book there will be a great change across the world, that would be very much akin to trying to empty the Atlantic ocean with a tea cup. But for the few hungry souls that cry for understanding I pray that this will be a help. Understanding the Hebrew rites and rituals is a long journey for us that were not exposed to the teaching at an early age, and I dare say that not all that have had the privilege of experiencing them for most or all of their life, see the significance of their teaching as related to Yeshua/Jesus. I shall endeavor to help in a small way to expand on the understanding.

One of the most misunderstood teachings in the Bible is immersion. The Bible has much to say about immersion/or the doctrine of washing/baptisms. The first century believers understood the teachings of the different immersions and their purpose. In this brief writing it will be impossible to explore all the different immersions, but I would like to discuss briefly some of them, and in the process bring a glimmer of light to this most misunderstood teaching in scripture.

Tisha B'Av: Why are Some Jews Mourning this Month?

Written by David Brickner

If you have ever been to Israel (or looked at photographs for that matter), chances are you have seen the familiar view of Jerusalem from the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. There, glistening in the sun, is the golden Dome of the Rock, and just to the south sits the plainer looking El-Aksa Mosque. Both are recognized as Islamic holy sites. Both occupy a place upon the Temple Mount, Mount Moriah, the only truly holy site in all of Judaism.

It was on Mount Moriah that Solomon built the First Temple some 3000 years ago. It was there that Ezra built the Second Temple 2500 years ago. And there, this month, thousands of religious Jews mourn the Temple's destruction. According to tradition it was on Tisha B'Av (Hebrew for the ninth day of the month of Av) that both first and second Temples were destroyed.

Why does the memory of these ancient edifices still grip Jewish hearts? Why does their loss rend so many with sorrow? Why does the hope of rebuilding the Temple stir such passion and kindle such hopes and dreams? The answers take us all the way back to the days of Abraham and Isaac...

Tisha B'Av

The story of Tisha B'Av (the 9th of Av) begins in the second year of the Exodus. It is told in the book of Numbers:

"And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel... "And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan... "And they returned from searching of the land after forty days. "And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there.

"And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.

"And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!

"And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt. (Num. 13:1-2, 17, 25-28, 30-32; Num. 14:1-2, 4.)

In the midst of all of this wailing and moaning by the children of Israel against God; "Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel." (Num. 14:5)

"And Joshua (Heb. Yehoshua which is the same basic name as Yeshua. It was given to him by Moses and implies 'May God save you from the counsel of the spies'.) the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, ... rent their clothes: And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; Only rebel not ye against the LORD ... the LORD is with us: fear them not. But all the congregation bade stone them with stones...." (Num. 14: 6-10)

At this point in the story we have a remarkable scene that takes place between Moses and the LORD...

Treatment of Animals And "Sport Hunting"

"Herod also got together a great quantity of wild beasts, and of lions in very great abundance, and of such other beasts as were either of uncommon strength or of such a sort as were rarely seen. These were trained either to fight one with another, or men who were condemned to death were to fight with them. And truly foreigners were greatly surprised and delighted at the vast expenses of the shows, and at the great danger of the spectacles, but to the Jews it was a palpable breaking up of those customs for which they had so great a veneration." -Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews.

A righteous man knows the soul of his animal - Proverbs 12:10.

Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim: Cruelty to Animals

Judaism places great stress on proper treatment of animals. Unnecessary cruelty to animals is strictly forbidden, and in many cases, animals are accorded the same sensitivity as human beings. This concern for the welfare of animals is unusual in Western civilization. Most civilized nations did not accept this principle until quite recently; cruelty to animals was not outlawed until the 1800s, and even now it is not taken very seriously.

In the Bible, those who care for animals are heroes, while those who hunt animals are villains.Jacob, Moses and King David were all shepherds, people who cared for animals (Gen. 30, Ex. 31, I Sam. 17). The Talmud specifically states that Moses was chosen for his mission because of his skill in caring for animals. "The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said 'Since you are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of My flock, Israel.'" Likewise Rebecca was chosen as a wife for Isaac because of her kindness to animals. When Abraham's servant asked for water for himself, she volunteered to water his camels as well, and thereby proved herself a worthy wife (Gen. 24).

On the other hand, the two hunters in the Bible, Nimrod and Esau, are both depicted as villains. The Talmud tells the story of a great rabbi, Judah Ha-Nasi, who was punished with years of pain because he was insensitive to the fear of a calf being led to slaughter....


What About the Oral Law?

Written by Dr. Michael Brown
Whether you are a religious Jewish person or not, it is clear that all modern forms of Judaism, from Orthodox to Reform, are based upon the idea that two Torahs were given on Mount Sinai-one written and the other oral. Eventually, the oral Torah was written down, codified, commented upon and passed along to future generations of Jewish people and became known as the Talmud-the judgments and interpretations of our Sages.

All Jewish people today-whether religious or not-generally participate in Jewish religious life by engaging both biblical truth and the traditions passed along by our rabbis. It is impossible to practice normative Judaism without relating to Jewish tradition. But we should ask the question, "Does Jewish tradition carry the same weight and religious authority as the Bible?"

This might be something that many of our Jewish people take for granted, but have you ever considered the implications of this way of thinking about God and our relationship to Him as Jews?

What do you think about Jewish tradition and Scripture? This is the significant subject addressed by Dr. Michael Brown in the following article.


If you are an observant Jew, then the rabbinic traditions are very important to you. After all, without the traditions, there would be no such thing as traditional Judaism!

For you, these traditions are your direct connection to Sinai, and you believe that you stand at the end of an unbroken chain of tradition going back to Moses, who, you claim, received both an Oral and a Written Torah from HaShem. For you, these traditions are essential, telling you how to keep the commandments, how to understand the Scriptures, and how to live your life before the Lord. Without these traditions you would feel lost.


An Alternative to Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein's Operation Aliya

T housands of well-meaning Christians have poured millions of dollars into Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein's ministry Wings of Eagles, airlifting thousands of Jewish people out of Eastern Europe and Russia and on to Israel for relocation. This is a good work. But, I wonder how many know that Rabbi Eckstein is an outspoken opponent to Messianic Judaism and Messianic Jews. Here is an excerpt from his recent book entitled, What Christians Should Know About Jews and Judaism.

Hebrew Christians also insist that they constitute the only truly fulfilled Jews and that far from abandoning their Judaism, they are really completing it. In fact, by sprinkling the Christian lives of faith with Jewish customs and rituals taken out of their proper context, they pervert Jewish symbols and make a mockery of the Jewish faith. Many Hebrew Christians, furthermore, claim they are another Jewish denomination alongside Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. From a Jewish standpoint however, one can be part of only one historic faith community either Christian or Jewish, and Hebrew Christian represents neither. A Jew who accepts Jesus as Lord or messiah effectively ceases to be a Jew. He is viewed almost treasonously as having abandoned his faith, given up his Jewish heritage and severed all links with the Jewish peoplehood. He is like a defector who walked out on God and people. (page 295, What Christians Should Know About Jews and Judaism)

We applaud Rabbi Eckstein's effort to help our Jewish people escape Eastern Europe. However, wouldn't it make more sense for Christians to support a ministry doing the same work as Rabbi Eckstein but one that brings glory to the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus)? The MJAA's Russian Aliyah Project does just that, uniting the financial resources of Messianic Jews and Christians in a public testimony of unity and love for our Jewish people....

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