Passover: Commemorating the story of the Exodus

14 04 2014

Passover, or Pesach is an important Biblically-derived Jewish festival. The Jewish people celebrate Passover as a commemoration of their liberation over 3,300 years ago by God from slavery in ancient Egypt that was ruled by the Pharaohs, and their freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses. It commemorates the story of the Exodus as described in the Hebrew Bible especially in the Book of Exodus, in which the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt.

 

Matzo - unleavened bread

Matzo – unleavened bread

When the Pharaoh freed the Israelites, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread dough to rise (leaven). In commemoration, for the duration of Passover no leavened bread is eaten, for which reason Passover was called the feast of unleavened bread in the Torah or Old Testament. Thus Matzo (flat unleavened bread) is eaten during Passover and it is a tradition of the holiday.

The water that will be used in the making of Matzo is being collected from springs. Once collected, the water will sit overnight, and will be used the next day for the baking. That water is called “Mayim Shelanu”, water that has slept.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews collect spring water during the sunset for the traditional Jewish rite of "Mayim Shelanu" (water which has "slept") outside Jerusalem, on April 3, 2014. Using this water they prepare matzo for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins on sunset of April 14 this year. (Xinhua/Li Rui)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews collect spring water during the sunset for the traditional Jewish rite of “Mayim Shelanu” (water which has “slept”) outside Jerusalem, on April 3, 2014. Using this water they prepare matzo for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins on sunset of April 14 this year. (Photo by Li Rui/Xinhua)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather on the site to collect spring water during the sunset for the traditional Jewish rite of "Mayim Shelanu" (water which has "slept") outside Jerusalem, on April 3, 2014. Using this water they prepare matzo for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins on sunset of April 14 this year. (Xinhua/Li Rui)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather on the site to collect spring water during the sunset for the traditional Jewish rite of “Mayim Shelanu” (water which has “slept”) outside Jerusalem, on April 3, 2014. Using this water they prepare matzo for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins on sunset of April 14 this year. (Photo by Li Rui/Xinhua)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews collect spring water during the sunset for the traditional Jewish rite of "Mayim Shelanu" (water which has "slept") outside Jerusalem, on April 3, 2014. Using this water they prepare matzo for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins on sunset of April 14 this year. (Xinhua/Li Rui)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews collect spring water during the sunset for the traditional Jewish rite of “Mayim Shelanu” (water which has “slept”) outside Jerusalem, on April 3, 2014. Using this water they prepare matzo for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins on sunset of April 14 this year. (Photo by Li Rui/Xinhua)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews collect spring water during the sunset for the traditional Jewish rite of "Mayim Shelanu" (water which has "slept") outside Jerusalem, on April 3, 2014. Using this water they prepare matzo for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins on sunset of April 14 this year. (Xinhua/Li Rui)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews collect spring water during the sunset for the traditional Jewish rite of “Mayim Shelanu” (water which has “slept”) outside Jerusalem, on April 3, 2014. Using this water they prepare matzo for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins on sunset of April 14 this year. (Photo by Li Rui/Xinhua)

 

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PHOTO ESSAY: Jewish women take ownership of traditionally male rituals

15 07 2013

By Yasmine Hafiz/The Huffington Post

These Jewish women are shaking up the establishment in Israel by participating in rituals usually reserved for men only.

Chaya Baker was ordained as a rabbi. Tamar Saar has read from the Torah, the Jewish holy scroll. Anat Hoffman demands that women be allowed to pray as men do at a key Jerusalem holy site.

Depending on whom you ask, these women are either pioneers or provocateurs.

They are part of the liberal Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism, which allow women to perform rituals typically reserved for men under Orthodox Judaism, the dominant form of Judaism in Israel. They say they are exercising egalitarian worship, which runs counter to the traditions of Israel’s Orthodox establishment.

Under Orthodox tradition, women can’t become rabbis, nor can they perform a number of rituals men do.

The liberal denominations make up the majority of Jews in the United States, the world’s second largest Jewish community. What has emerged is a growing rift between the world’s two largest Jewish communities, which often disagree about religious affairs.

Baker became ordained as a rabbi in 2007. She performs many of the same duties a male rabbi would, such as holding prayer services, counseling congregants and leading study groups. But because of her affiliation to the Conservative movement, she is limited in the ceremonies she can perform. For example, the unions of the couples she marries are not recognized in Israel. They must have a second ceremony either with an Orthodox rabbi in Israel or travel abroad to marry.

Baker, 35, said many Israelis have become alienated by the Orthodox grip on many aspects of society and that the more liberal streams offer a Judaism that jives with a modern Israeli’s outlook. She said she sees a growing recognition in Israeli society of the more marginal streams, and with that, a greater role for women in Judaism.

“People are changing their concepts of gender roles within Judaism,” Baker said.

Saar is one of the few 12-year-old Israeli girls who are having Bat Mitzvah ceremonies as boys do. In this rite of passage marking the transition from childhood to adulthood, they study a particular portion of the Torah and read from it during the ceremony.

Saar wore an orange dress accented with a white and orange-pink prayer shawl she made herself as she recited the biblical passage in front of nearly 100 family members and friends in May. Tamar’s two older sisters also had Reform Bat Mitzvah ceremonies like hers, and she said more girls in Israel should, too.

“Girls make up half of the world’s population, and it is stupid that men are worth more, because we are exactly like them,” Saar said.

One of the most prominent groups pushing for the right of women to worship as men do is the “Women of the Wall.” The Jewish women’s group, led by Hoffman, holds monthly prayer services at the Western Wall, a remnant of the biblical Temple compound and the holiest site where Jews can pray, where they perform rituals Orthodox Judaism reserves for men.

Hoffman, often draped in a pink, purple and white prayer shawl, has been arrested for what she says is her right to pray as she wishes. The Western Wall’s ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz, has called the women “provocative,” but an Israeli court has upheld their right to pray there.

The court ruling is one of a string of recent achievements by Reform and Conservative streams in Israel. Israeli officials have proposed building an area for mixed male-female prayer at the Western Wall to accommodate those streams. The area currently has separate prayer zones for men and women.

Last year, Israel agreed to grant state funding to some non-Orthodox rabbis. Many Orthodox rabbis are paid by the government.

In 2010, the Israeli government froze a contentious bill that would have strengthened Orthodox control over Jewish conversions. The same year, Israel began allowing Israelis with no declared religion to marry outside the strict religious establishment – giving hope to many who reject the Orthodox monopoly on family matters. Civil marriages are generally banned in Israel.

Rabbi David Golinkin, who heads the Conservative Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, said that positive trend is attributable to Israelis’ search for an alternative to Orthodox Judaism. He said he sees greater recognition for the liberal streams, and the rights they grant women, continuing.

“There’s a growing recognition that there is more than one way to be Jewish. It’s legitimate to be Jewish in different ways, and the state of Israel has to serve of all its citizens,” Golinkin said.

Here’s a gallery of images from The Associated Press showing women performing Jewish rituals in Israel.

pioneers1

Israeli Rabbi of the Ramot Zion community, Chaya Baker, puts on Tefilin, also known as Phylacteries, at a synagogue in Jerusalem. Photo taken Wednesday, June 19, 2013.

pioneers3

Israeli Rabbi of the Ramot Zion community, Chaya Baker, poses with members of the community for a photo at their synagogue in Jerusalem. Photo taken Wednesday, June 19, 2013.

pioneers2

Israeli youth Tamar Saar, center, poses for a photo with the Rabbi of their community, Maya Lebovich, right, and her parents at a synagogue in Mevaseret Zion near Jerusalem. Photo taken Tuesday, June 18, 2013.

pioneers4

Israeli youth Tamar Saar, left, poses for a photo with the Rabbi of their community, Maya Lebovich, at a synagogue in Mevaseret Zion near Jerusalem. Photo taken Tuesday, June 18, 2013.

jewish women

Israeli Rabbis Miriam Berkowitz, left, and Valery Stessin, of the Kashuvot organization for pastoral care, also known as spiritual support, pose for a photo at a hospital in Jerusalem. Photo taken Thursday, June 20, 2013.

pioneers6

Israeli Rabbi and Torah scribe, Hanna Klebansky, poses for a photo at a synagogue in Jerusalem. Photo taken Wednesday, June 19, 2013.

pioneers7

Israeli Rabbi and Torah scribe, Hanna Klebansky, left, poses for a photo with members of the community at a synagogue in Jerusalem. Photo taken Wednesday, June 19, 2013.

pioneers8

Israeli Rabbi and Jewish law “Decider”, Diana Villa, poses for a photo at the Schechter Institute of Jewish studies where she teaches in Jerusalem. Photo taken Sunday, June 16, 2013.

pioneers9

Israeli Rabbi and Jewish law “Decider”, Diana Villa, center, poses for a photo with colleagues at the Schechter Institute of Jewish studies where she teaches in Jerusalem. Photo taken Sunday, June 16, 2013.

pioneers10

The chairman of the Women of the Wall organization, Anat Hoffman, poses for a photo in Jerusalem. Photo taken Thursday, June 20, 2013.





Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year

16 09 2012

In the name of the Central-European Religious Freedom Institute, I wish sweet and happy Rosh Hashanah to all Jewish communities around the world. 

Shana Tova Umetukah, 

Jura Nanuk, Founder & President

The Meaning of Rosh HaShanah

Rosh HaShanah literally means “Head of the Year” in Hebrew. It falls in the month of Tishrei, which is the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar. The reason for this is because the Hebrew calendar begins with the month of Nissan (when it’s believed the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt) but the month of Tishrei is believed to be the month in which God created the world. Hence, another way to think about Rosh HaShanah is as the birthday of the world.

Rosh HaShanah is observed on the first two days of Tishrei. This year Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on September 17-18. Jewish tradition teaches that during the High Holy Days God decides who will live and who will die during the coming year. As a result, during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (and in the days leading up to them) Jews embark upon the serious task of examining their lives and repenting for any wrongs they have committed during the previous year. This process of repentance is called teshuvah. Jews are encouraged to make amends with anyone they have wronged and to make plans for improving during the coming year. In this way, Rosh HaShanah is all about making peace in the community and striving to be a better person.

Even though the theme of Rosh HaShanah is life and death, it is a holiday filled with hope for the New Year. Jews believe that God is compassionate and just, and that God will accept their prayers for forgiveness.

Rosh HaShanah Liturgy

The Rosh HaShanah prayer service is one of the longest of the year. Only the Yom Kippurservice is longer. Rosh HaShanah service usually runs from early morning until the afternoon and is so unique that it has its own prayer book called the Makhzor. Two of the most well known prayers from Rosh HaShanah liturgy are:

  • Unetaneh Tohkef – This prayer is about life and death. Part of it reads: “On Rosh HaShanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, how many will leave this world and how many will be born into it, who will live and who will die… But penitence, prayer and good deeds can annul the severity of the decree.”
  • Avienu Malkeinu – Another famous prayer is Avienu Malkeinu, which means “Our Father Our King” in Hebrew. Usually the entire congregation will sing the last verse of this prayer in unison, which says: “Our Father, our King, answer us as though we have no deed to plead our cause, save us with mercy and loving-kindness.”

Customs and Symbols

On Rosh HaShanah it is customary to greet people with “L’Shanah Tovah,” which is Hebrew that is usually translated as “For a Good Year” or “May you have a good year.” Some people also say “L’shana tovah tikatev v’etahetem,” which means “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.” (If said to a woman the greeting would be: “L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’tahetemi”). This greeting refers to the belief that a person’s fate for the coming year is decided during the High Holy Days.

The shofar is an important symbol of Rosh HaShanah. It is an instrument often made of a ram’s horn and is blown one hundred times during each of the two days of Rosh HaShanah. The sound of the shofar blast reminds people of the importance of reflection during this important holiday. 

Tashlich is a ceremony that usually takes place during the first day of Rosh HaShanah. “Tashlich” literally means “casting off” and involves symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year by tossing pieces of bread or another food into a body of flowing water. 

Other significant symbols of Rosh HaShanah include apples, honey and round loaves of challah. Apple slices dipped in honey represent our hope for a sweet new year and are traditionally accompanied by a short prayer before eating that goes: “May it by Thy will, O Lord, Our God, to grant us a year that is good and sweet.” Challah, which is usually baked into braids, is shaped into round loaves of bread on Rosh HaShanah. The circular shape symbolizes the continuation of life.

On the second night of Rosh HaShanah it is customary to eat a fruit that is new to us for the season, saying the shehechiyanu blessing as we eat it to thank God for bringing us to this season. Pomegranates are a popular choice because Israel is often praised for its pomegranates and because, according to legend, pomegranates contain 613 seeds – one for each of the 613 mitzvot. Another reason for eating pomegranates on Rosh HaShanah has to do with the symbolic hope that our good deeds in the coming year will be as many as the seeds of the fruit.

Some people choose to send New Year’s greeting cards on Rosh HaShanah. Before the advent of modern computers these were handwritten cards that were snail mailed weeks in advance, but nowadays it is equally as common to send Rosh HaShanah e-cards a few days before the holiday.

Source: About.com





German court outlaws religious circumcision

27 06 2012

Members of the high priesthood place their hands to bless a baby
after a Rabbi performed a ceremonial circumcision (AFP/File, David Furst)

BERLIN — Circumcising young boys on religious grounds amounts to grievous bodily harm, a German court ruled Tuesday in a landmark decision that the Jewish community said trampled on parents’ religious rights.

The regional court in Cologne, western Germany, ruled that the “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents”, a judgement that is expected to set a legal precedent.

“The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised, if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised,” the court added.

The case was brought against a doctor in Cologne who had circumcised a four-year-old Muslim boy on his parents’ wishes.

A few days after the operation, his parents took him to hospital as he was bleeding heavily. Prosecutors then charged the doctor with grievous bodily harm.

The doctor was acquitted by a lower court that judged he had acted within the law as the parents had given their consent.

On appeal, the regional court also acquitted the doctor but for different reasons.

The regional court upheld the original charge of grievous bodily harm but also ruled that the doctor was innocent as there was too much confusion on the legal situation around circumcision.

The court came down firmly against parents’ right to have the ritual performed on young children.

“The body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision,” the court said. “This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs.”

The decision caused outrage in Germany’s Jewish community.

The head of the Central Committee of Jews, Dieter Graumann, said the ruling was “an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the right of religious communities to self-determination.”

The judgement was an “outrageous and insensitive act. Circumcision of newborn boys is a fixed part of the Jewish religion and has been practiced worldwide for centuries,” added Graumann.

“This religious right is respected in every country in the world.”

Holm Putzke, a criminal law expert at the University of Passau, told the Financial Times Deutschland that the ruling was “enormously important for doctors because for the first time they have legal certainty.”

“Unlike many politicians, the court has not allowed itself to be scared off by charges of anti-Semitism or religious intolerance,” added Putzke.

The World Health Organisation has estimated that nearly one in three males under 15 is circumcised. In the United States, the operation is often performed for hygiene reasons on infants.

Thousands of young boys are circumcised every year in Germany, especially in the country’s large Jewish and Muslim communities.

The court specified that circumcision was not illegal if carried out for medical reasons.

© 2012 AFP




Happy Hanukkah!

25 12 2011

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Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, a Festival of Light, celebrated for eight days and nights. It starts on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, which coincides with late November-late December on the secular calendar.

In Hebrew, the word “hanukkah” means “dedication”. This holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C.E.

According to Jewish law, Hanukkah is one of the less important Jewish holidays. However, Hanukkah has become much more popular in modern practice because of its proximity to Christmas.

Hanukkah falls on the twenty-fifth day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar based, every year the first day of Hanukkah falls on a different day – usually sometime between late November and late December. Because many Jews live in predominately Christian societies, over time Hanukkah has become much more festive and Christmas-like. Jewish children receive gifts for Hanukkah – often one gift for each of the eight nights of the holiday. Many parents hope that by making Hanukkah extra special their children won’t feel left out of all the Christmas festivities going on around them.

Every community has its unique Hanukkah traditions, but there are some traditions that are almost universally practiced. They are: lighting the hanukkiyah candleholder, spinning the dreidel  spinning wheel and eating fried foods.

Lighting the hanukkiyah: Every year it is customary to commemorate the miracle of the Hanukkah oil by lighting candles on a hanukkiyah. The hanukkiyah is lit every night for eight nights.

Spinning the dreidel: A popular Hanukkah game is spinning the dreidel, which is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters written on each side.  Gelt, which are chocolate coins covered with tin foil, are part of this game.

Eating fried foods: Because Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil, it is traditional to eat fried foods such as latkes and sufganiyot during the holiday. Latkes are pancakes made out of potatoes and onions, which are fried in oil and then served with applesauce. Sufganiyot (singular: sufganiyah) are jelly-filled donuts that are fried and sometimes dusted with confectioners’ sugar before eating.

In the name of Central-European Religious Freedom Institute,
I wish Chag Urim Sameach to all members of Jewish community!

Jura Nanuk,
Central-European Religious Freedom Institute








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