Is Judaism Ritualistic?

by Rivka Ray

Judaism is a religion steeped in rituals. Many traditions and rituals stem from biblical times. Some pertain to worship and others to every day life. Jewish rituals begin when a child is born and are adhered to after death. The purpose of all Jewish rituals is to bring a person closer to God.

Rituals Celebrating Life

Each landmark in Jewish life is replete with rituals. Newborn girls are named on a Monday, Thursday or the Sabbath. Those are the days the Torah scrolls are taken from the arc and read from aloud. A boy is named at the brit milah -circumcision- which is held on the eighth day after birth. A girl celebrates her twelfth year as a bat mitzvah -- daughter of the commandments -- and a boy at thirteen becomes a bar mitzvah -- son of the commandments. All these rituals are accompanied by music and festive meals. Perhaps no landmark of life is as steeped in traditional ritual as a Jewish engagement and wedding. Breaking a china plate by the two mothers of the couple seals the uniting of the families. The ketubah -- the marriage contract -- is read and accepted under the chupah -- wedding canopy. A glass is broken at the end of the ceremony to signify the couple's unity with God and each other and the yearning for the return of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. When a person dies the bereaved follow strict rituals to aid the soul on its journey to the afterlife and begin the grieving process.

Daily rituals

When a person opens his eyes in the morning the first thing he says is modeh ani -- I Thank You -- thanking God for returning the soul so that a person may do mitzvahs for yet another day. Once awake a person begins the first of the three prayer services. Men don prayer shawls and phylacteries in synagogues. The afternoon prayers are then said before mid-day and the night prayers at sundown. One ends the day by saying the Shema -Hear, O Israel- before going to sleep. Meals served during the day are preceded by washing of the hands and followed by the after meal blessings. Each group of food has its own blessings.

Sabbath Rituals

Sabbath -- that is the day set aside for prayer, family and rest begins Friday at sundown and is over Saturday at nightfall. The woman of the house brings the Sabbath in to the home by lighting candles. This has been done since the biblical days of Sarah and Abraham in Genesis. Guests are invited and when everyone returns home from the evening prayers songs of joy and a festive meal is eaten with blessings said before and after. Two more meals are eaten during the Sabbath day. The Sabbath is escorted out with the havdalah -- separation -- service said after the evening prayers on Saturday.

The Reason for Jewish Rituals

From dressing and eating to family life all traditions and rites are in place to make it easier for people to adhere to the laws that are in the Torah, the word of God given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The chain of tradition forged between God and Abraham will continue as long as the rituals are continued.

About the Author

Rivka Ray has been writing professionally since 1978, contributing to publications such as the National Review Online. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of North Carolina and a Bachelor of Science in medicine from the American College in Jerusalem. Ray has also taught English as a second language to adults.

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