Rituals and Customs
Virtually everything a devout Jewish person does from the beginning to the end of life is regulated by an adherence to Jewish law and obedience to the will of God. This is most evident in the various rites, rituals, and customs of the faith. Most Jews have a mezuzah on every doorpost in the home (excluding the bathroom and toilet) to remind everyone to keep God's laws.
A mezuzah is a parchment inscribed with religious texts in a case attached to a doorpost in a Jewish home as a sign of faith. When it comes to prescribed ritual, rites, and customs, Jewish people generally happily conform to their religious heritage.
Birth, as far as Jewish boys are concerned, means circumcision on the eighth day. The Torah says it's the fulfillment of the covenant between God and Abraham (Genesis 17:10–14). This procedure is performed by a specially trained person called a mohel. The mohel recalls the Covenant and recites a blessing while cutting off the foreskin. The baby's name is said at the same time.
Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah
Bar mitzvah is a ceremony held when a Jewish boy is thirteen and considered old enough to take responsibility for himself and his obedience of the law. In Jewish religious terms, he is considered an adult. The boy will be able to wear phylacteries (religious symbols worn on the forehead and left arm) during weekday and morning prayers. He may also be counted as an adult when ten males are needed to make a quorum for public prayers.
The public act of acknowledging religious maturity requires the boy to be called upon during the religious service to read from the Torah. Bar mitzvah generally takes place on a Sabbath. After the ceremony, there is frequently a festive Kiddush, or prayer, over a cup of wine and a family social dinner or even a banquet.
In modern times, Reform and Conservative congregations introduced bat mitzvah ceremonies for girls, to parallel the bar mitzvah celebrations for boys. Thereafter, Modern Orthodox congregations also instituted ceremonies for groups of girls together, usually on a Sunday. More traditionalist Orthodox groups rejected the bat mitzvah altogether, seeing it as a modernist innovation imitating reform or Christian practice.
Marriage and the raising of children is an important part of Jewish life, just as it is in other religions. The role of matchmaker is still an important one in Jewish communities. The wedding ceremony can be held in a synagogue or in the open air. In the Jewish faith, though, it cannot take place on the Sabbath or on a festival. The bridegroom places a gold ring on the bride's forefinger, then the kethubah or marriage contract is read and the rabbi recites the seven marriage blessings. At the end of the ceremony, the bridegroom traditionally breaks a wineglass under his foot.
What are the skull caps called that Jewish men wear?
They are called yarmulkes (Yiddish) or kippahs (Hebrew) and serve as physical symbols that demonstrate the wearer's submission to God. Most Jews, except the most liberal members of the Reform movement, wear yarmulkes during religious services. Some Jews wear yarmulkes any time they appear in public.
The Jewish marriage contract has, in some ways, similarities to a prenuptial agreement; it has conditions stipulated that guarantee the bride's right to property when her husband dies. In the Orthodox and Conservative congregations, it is a prerequisite for marriage. Originally, the contract was made to make divorce more costly for husbands as a deterrent against marriages that were made in a highly emotional state.
Death in the Jewish faith goes along with the belief of other religions on the resurrection of the dead. Differences are evident when deciding on what happens to the body — burial or cremation — which depends on the sect to which the individual belonged. The body must be buried as soon as possible after death (within twenty-four hours is typical) and in Jewish consecrated ground. The body is washed, anointed with spices, and wrapped in a white sheet. For a week after the death, close relatives sit at home observing shivah, wearing a torn or cut upper garment and taking no part in everyday life. Friends and relatives have a duty to visit and bring food and succor. For eleven months after death, a prayer known as the kaddish is recited every day at the synagogue and the death is remembered every year thereafter.