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December 12th 2013

Question 1-
The Jewish traditions hold many types of ceremonies and rituals that are celebrated during
the sacred holidays. As seen in class, they each have a different origin as well as a differing
meaning to them, as some have rabbinic roots and others biblical.
Biblical Holidays

The first sacred holiday covered in class was of biblical origin and it is the 1rst Passover.
It represents the Exodus from Egypt of the Jewish population and it occurs on the 14th of
the month of Nisan, which is usually held in the spring. As the Jewish calendar follows
the lunar calendar and not the solar one, it means that each month begins with a new
moon. Thus, the Jewish religious year begins when the first day of Nisan starts.
Celebrating Passover is also symbolic as the birth of a nation and of the covenant. It is
when the Jewish people went from a family to a nation. A specific characteristic of
preparing for Passover was the roasting of a lamb, for this animal is sacred to Egyptians
and therefore the public hanging of the creature represented the Jewish people’s rejection
of Egypt. The lamb was thus taken on the first of Nisan, tied up for ten days and then
roasted on the 14th of the month. The lamb’s blood was then used and smeared on doors’
posts. In biblical texts, it explains how approximately only twenty percent of the Jews at
the time decided to perform the ritual, for the general population was, for obvious
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reasons, afraid to join. This was a moment to go with the group and embrace the nation or
stay behind. It was time celebrate the passage of slavery to freedom.
As the Israelite slaves who decided to leave Egypt had to travel for a very long
time and leave in a haste, it is important to respect the tradition that the dough of the
bread cannot rise, for flat bread was the symbolic food of the trip. As the Jewish
population was in a hurry to leave, tradition wants that the dough cannot have the time to
rise on such an occasion. Thus, while celebrating Passover, also called the Feast of
Unleavened Bread, it is forbidden to eat anything that contains leaven. The biblical law
being heard as the word of God, practitioners prepare their own type of bread, the Matzo,
which takes eighteen minutes to prepare, with cold water from the faucet and a special
flour called kemach shel matzah shamura. Other specifics must be respected, such as
making the oven going through a self-cleaning cycle to ensure it to be kosher for the
event. To ensure that the Matzo remains kosher for Passover, it is important to verify that
no more than eighteen minutes pass from the time the flour and water are mixed to the
time it is placed in the oven. The bread is usually accompanied with wine for the occasion
as Jesus and the disciples ate the Passover meal in the early hours of this day.
It is named the 1rst Passover because we observe two stages to the holiday: the
Feast of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread which are, as seen earlier, related
and following each other. The latter occurs on the 15th of Nisan and is still celebrating the
release of the bondage from Egypt, but is seen as a one week long observance and
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convocation, a Sabbath day. It is traditionally in March or April, the time of year of the
latter rain.
Seven weeks following the celebrating of Passover, on the 50th day, is Shavuot. It is the
commemorating of the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It symbolizes the contract
between about 600 000 Jewish men present at Mount Sinai (thus adding children and
women, around 2.5 million people) and Moses that they would do and listen to his
actions. This represented a complete, total submission to God.
It is also called the Feast of Pentecost and thus celebrates the receiving of the
Torah, the public covenant and national identity. Wheat harvest and fresh fruits are
presented to the Lord, as this holiday is also known as the Feast of Weeks, the Day of
First Fruits and the Feast of the Harvests. In the New Testament, it is named the
Pentecost. It is also a convocation, Sabbath Day, where no servile work can be done.
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Rosh Ha-Shanah
On the first day of the 7th month (Ethanim / Tishri) comes another holiday that is
undergone as a Sabbath day where no work is allowed and it is Rosh Ha-Shanah, known as the
holiday involving trumpets. These artisanal wooden sticks are blown through to call out to God
for repentance. It is the time of the year to get closer to the Lord and to become a better person. It
is a cleansing of sins and a reconciliation with God for all troubles caused in the past year. Once
these prayers are heard, the Jubilee year may begin on Yom Kippur, around the end of
Yom Kippur
Known as the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur is celebrated nine days following Rosh-Ha
Shanah. It is a personal affliction day, where practitioners separate themselves from oil, food,
leather, washing themselves thoroughly, sexual intercourse and other luxuries. Also called
Judgment day, it is a time to fast and to wash away the sins of the past year. It is the holiest day
of the year and a very humble time. It is said that at the end of this period of judgment, probation
for humanity will have been closed and the seven Plagues of God will fall on the wicked.
Following this will be a second coming, to gather the righteous to join the Kingdom of God in
Heaven for the next one thousand years. It is therefore important in the Jewish ceremony to
remain respectful of the tradition and to repent. The evening of Yom Kippur is a grand
celebration and is time for re-calibration.
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Three days following Yom Kippur, the holiday of Sukkoth involves the building of the Sukka,
the symbolic hut representing the forty day journey in the desert of the freed Israelite slaves from
Egypt. It is the Harvest Festival, in which palms, willow branches and lemon are gathered with
other different species representing Jews from all over the world. It is a very happy holiday,
involving food and singing.
It is also called the Feast of the Tabernacles, and it is an eight day feast of ingathering. It
is the final feast of the year, and a celebration of collecting at the end of the harvest and it is a
time of fellowship and joy.
Rabbinic Holidays
As for the rabbinic holidays, we covered the celebration of the conquest over Antiochus,
Hanukah. Also called Festival of Lights and Feast of Dedication, it consists of the blessing of the
candles in the re-dedication of the temple by burning oil during eight days. As traditional views
differ on the origin and meaning of this sacred holiday, it is known that the story behind the
length of the holiday resides in the re-dedication of the Jewish temple after the rebellion of
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Mattityahu and his sons towards Antiochus. The candle that contained enough oil to burn for
only one day ended up burning for eight days and it became symbolic to include candles in the
religious rituals of this holiday.
Several versions of the Hanerot Halalu exist, which is the hymn recited during or after the
lights are kindled. Also, another hymn is sung each night after lighting the candles which is
called Maoz Tzur, which covers general themes of divine salvation and recalls the events of
tragic persecutions of the Jews throughout history and praises God for survival despite such
episodes. A good example of this would be the Exodus from Egypt and the long journey through
the desert.
Once again, as the Jewish calendar does not contain leap years but rather months, the lunar
calendar will make the sacred holiday dates alter from about eleven days yearly and stay in the
same seasons because the leap month will equal it out. This year, for example, Hanukah began
on the evening of November 27th and ended on Thursday, December 5th
. As there is no
correction done in the Islamic calendar, celebrations can occur at all times of the year.
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Tu Bishvat
This celebration marks the New Years of the Trees and it occurs on the 15th day of the month of
Shevat. In the modern times, this day is a short holiday used to celebrate ecological awareness
and in which trees are planted all over Israel and other parts of the world. In Jewish Orthodox
traditions, there are Jewish laws to follow, Halakah, concerning the age of the trees and on which
tree it is proper to pick ripen fruits from. In old Talmudic requirements, Tu Bishvat was used as
a cut-off date in the Hebrew calendar to calculate the age of fruit-bearing trees, which is still
used today as Orlah.
This sacred holiday commemorates the freeing of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian
Empire. In the class notes this is referred to as the Babylonian-Persian exile in the mid 6th
century. In the Scroll of Esther, it is explained how Queen Esther saved the Jewish population
from a major murder plot planned by Haman to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire. The day
of deliverance is thus a feasting celebration and is also focused on rejoice. It is celebrated by
participating in charity donations to the poor such as food and sweets baskets, exchanging gifts
such as food and wine and sometimes takes the form of a public carnival with beautiful costumes
and masks, which can also be seen as the ″Jewish Halloween″. In most traditional forms, the
celebration consists of listening to public readings at the synagogue, then exchanging gifts with
close friends and family, offering to charity and ending with a great feast.
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Question 2-
The destruction of the Temples brought many changes in Jewish religious patterns and many
symbols still used today in this day and age to represent Jewish legacy. As covered at the
beginning of the semester when discussing the destruction of both temples and at the end
describing the birth of new symbols, this is an overview of what the destruction of the
Temples brought to the Jewish world today, focusing on the destruction of the second
Temple along with its impact and changes.
The first Temple erected under Solomon’s reign in Jerusalem was destroyed by
the Babylonians when they invaded the tribe of Judah. Since the destruction occurred
while the Jewish people were being held in captivity in Babylonia, its re-dedication
created the base of what is today Hanukah, as the Holy temple was purified for eight
days. Also linked to the Diaspora, political and religious events during the Second
Temple period thus lead to the creation of new Judaism movements such as the
Sadducees (high aristocratic priesthood), the Pharisees (believed in the ancient scriptures
and traditions) and the Essenes (the most rustic, simple tribes who lived in the Judean
wilderness ). The discovery of these new types of religious tribes was made when the
Dead Sea Scrolls, an ancient library, was found in the desert of Qumran.
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Also following the second time the Holy Temple was destroyed, the Pharisaic, the
dominant form of Judaism, created a new type of religious study of Judaism in which the
concepts of the Torah were re-ignited by the sages of Yavneh through the MishnaTalmud,
oral laws. The Jewish people needed a new way of practicing without the
Temple yet following the line of the rituals and the Sages thus allowed its continuation by
reinterpreting Jewish traditions. Prayers thus arose in response to the destruction.
That is when the Midrash came in place as well, which is the interpretation of the
Torah, a topical arrangement of Jewish law and non-legal matters, Halakah and Aggadah.
The Tannaim developed sophisticated hermeneutics for expounding the Torah, which is
known as the Midrash. This was regarded as the crowning achievement of Tannaitic
Judaism. Later also came in place the Amoraim, which conducted analytical debates
about the interpretation of the Mishnah. These debates are the basis of the Palestinian and
Babylonian Talmuds. The latter were rabbinic interpretations, which were no longer in
the prophetic revelation era, which is no later than the destruction of the Holy Temple.
Rabbinic literature assembled oral traditions and produced new teachings in the realm of
the law.
In the Second Temple period, when the Jewish Revolt occurred in 66, the Jews
either thought that the evil beat God and that He had lost the fight or that God was
punishing them as though for the First Temple destruction and that He has left His house,
the house of the deity. The New Jerusalem was therefore centered on the Torah and its
study rather than the Temple and sacrifices. Such change was brought along by the post-
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destruction movements such as the myth of Yavneh. Rabbis thus unofficially emerged
from the same cultural religion, matrix.
Thus, the Bar Kokhba revolt changed the rabbinic movement, resulting in Jews
being expelled and causing a shift to the lower Galilee and Jordan valley. Also, Rabbi
Judah the Prince ruled a newly created Roman office, which caused the rise of the Torah
study, where Jewish parents were told to teach one’s children literal words.
As covered in the last class of the semester on the temple destruction, the
assassination of Gedaliah, the governor of the Yehud province of Judea, resulted in a
major loss of autonomy. It led to the destruction of the first Temple and the Jewish Sages
established the third day of Tishrei as the Fast of Gedaliah to lament the loss of the
The principle of head covering with the symbolic Kippa represents that a Jew is
always a subject to God, a burden. It is believed that, at the time of the creation of such
symbols, only free men were bareheaded. There are different types of representations of
the wearing of the Kippa, as some are pro-Zionists and others are anti-Zionists, in which
case the caps are different. Wearing Tzitzit, which are strings added on all garments in
blue or white is another important Jewish symbolic principle.
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The Tefillin is another material symbol that must be worn for an hour every
morning to remind the Jewish man to serve God during the day, for it contains Torah
scrolls inside. These are small black leather boxes containing parchment scrolls inscribed
with prayers. The way to wear it is properly described in the Talmud, the authoritative
oral tradition for rabbinic Judaism. It is worn as a sign of remembrance that God brought
the children of Israel out of Egypt. The goal of wearing these symbols is a reminder of
what the Jewish people went through and a reminder to be distinct.
This also brought the blessing of all elements of Jewish life such as wine, bread,
flour-based food, fruits and vegetables from the trees and the Earth, for not blessing any
of these is considered stealing. There are also other general blessings such as blessing the
thunder, friends, new seasons, world leaders, etc.
The role of women was also celebrated for its internal glory, because the daughter
of the King must be modest. The womanly behavior must be internalized and women
must not wear men clothing. It is important to specify that the beauty is inside, not about
the figure. As seen in class, women must wear high necklines, modest colors and covered
hair. Hair is seen as erotic and has to be kept for the husband. There is an ongoing
controversy regarding the hair being shaved and the wearing of wigs for it is not the same
everywhere. As written in Niddah lev 15:19, the impurity of a woman will vary between
7+5 days when in her menstrual cycle and in contact with blood, the time depending on
rabbinic and biblical studies.
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Question 4 –
The Diaspora and exile of the Jewish people has led to Jewish religious development. A great
presence of Persian and Babylonian influences was felt in the religion. In Diaspora centers such
as Alexandria in Egypt, the Torah was translated in Greek, the Septuagint, to which were added
the philosophical touches of Philo. This helped to develop the Jewish religion in various parts of
the world and add to its culture, such as Hellenism, a blend of Greek and Middle-Eastern roots.
The Jewish people moving around thus tainted the traditions and rituals with new cultures. This
therefore also led to the creation of transportable tradition and canonization. This brought the
writing of many sacred texts and literatures such as the book of Ezra-Nehemiah, describing the
return from Exile of the Jews and the lamentations were also written, which are the mourning of
the destruction of the Temple. A set of sensual, erotic poems was also written, the Songs of
Songs, symbolizing the eternal relationship between God and Israel. It is traditionally viewed
that all political and religious issues that occurred to the Jews during and following the Diaspora
are the result of God punishing Israel for not respecting the covenant and the religious
obligations related to it. When Abraham agreed that his people would slave for four hundred
years and they were freed after approximately two hundred.
As the Diaspora created an infusion of Babylonian and Persian features in the Judaism
practice, the conquest of Alexander the Great also had a profound impact of the Jews, for this is
what brought Hellenism as stated earlier and developed both in Judea and in Diaspora
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communities. It also created three principle sects: The Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes, to
which an additional movement was added, the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, which were later
involved in a new religion: Christianity. The Diaspora became a permanent feature of Jewish
history, for the Bible describes how the returning exiles formally accepted the Law of Moses, the
Torah, as their national law. Several Persian ideas were also absorbed into the Jewish religion
under Persian rule.
Out of the Second Temple era emerged two main models of Jewish religious leadership:
the hereditary priesthood of the house of Zadok and a scribal tradition rooted in its scholarly
mastery of the Torah and ancestral traditions. These were embodied in the Sadducees and
Pharisees movements. The receptiveness of Hellenism differed in Jewish communities.
Lastly, the Hasmonean dynasty installed themselves as high priests and Kings of Judea,
antagonizing traditionalist Jews who believed that they were not entitled to these positions. The
Pharisees and Sadducees disagreed over several issues, including the status of the afterlife and
the authority of oral tradition, which established righteous standards with respect to purity of
food, human free will, the belief in angels and other aspects.


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