Judaism Sacraments, Holy Days & Religious Practices

by Michele Rosen
The rituals, holy days and religious practices of Judaism are written in the Torah.

The rituals, holy days and religious practices of Judaism are written in the Torah.

Judaism is based on the teachings of the written Torah which encompasses the Books of Moses (Pentatuch), of Prophesies (Novi'im), and of Writings (Katuvah). Together, they are called the Tanakh. In addition, the oral Torah, known as the Talmud, explains the meaning of the written scriptures and how to interpret the commandments contained in them. While Judaism has no sacraments, like those in Christianity, these Holy Scriptures, together with additional rabbinic laws (halikhah), instruct the Jewish people about life-cycle rituals, Jewish Holy days, religious life.

Rituals in Judaism

Among the most well-known rituals in Judaism are the brit melah -- circumcision of a boy eight days after birth -- and the Bar/Bat Mitzvah of boys and girls when they are thirteen and twelve, respectively and considered adults. Other rituals include the requirement that married women go to a mikvah (ritual bath) following menstruation, the veiling of the bride by the groom before the ceremony (badeken), and the recitation of the Sh'ma (Shema) twice every day by Jewish men. While only Orthodox Jews observe all of these, it is common for all movements (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform) to have the brit and to celebrate the coming of age of both young men and women.

Shabbat

The most constant holy day in Judaism is Shabbat, a day of rest from work of any kind. It is meant to be a day of study and prayer. From sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday, the Torah commands that Jews set aside their everyday chores. This includes not only anything having to do with business, but also work in the home. Food is prepared before Shabbat begins so that cooking is not done on the Sabbath and lights are left on so that there is no need to even lift the switch.

Other Major Jewish Holy Days

Major holy days in Judaism include Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, ten days later. Five days after Yom Kippur, the Sukkot holiday is celebrated when many Jews build a small open-roofed structure to commemorate how the Jews lived while crossing the desert after the exodus from Egypt. Passover, which celebrates the Jews' exodus, is celebrated for eight days in the spring. In the middle of Passover there is the Omer which includes three holy days. The first is a day of remembrance; the second, Yom Hashoah, was established after World War II and is a memorial for the six million Jews exterminated by the Nazis; and the third, Yom Ha’atzmaut, is Israel Independence Day.

Minor Jewish Holy Days

Among the other holy days in Judaism are Shavuot which marks the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, Tishah B'av, the day on which the first Temple was destroyed, Tu B'shevat which marks the beginning of spring, and Purim, the festival celebrating the Jewish victory over the evil Haman in Persia. In addition, Jews celebrate the Festival of Lights, Hannukah, and Jewish women celebrate Rosh Chodesh, the first day of every month, which is dedicated to them.

Religious Practices

While some Reform Jewish men do not wear kippah (head coverings) in synagogue, all Orthodox and most Conservative men follow this practice. Orthodox married women customarily wear a scarf or wig (shytl) to cover their hair. One of the most well-known religious practices in Judaism is the eating of kosher foods. Another is the placing of a mezuzah, which contains a portion of the Sh'ma, on the entry doorpost to a home. Almost all Jews follow this practice, although the Orthodox place one on the doorpost of every room in the house (except the bathroom).

About the Author

Michele Rosen has been writing for more than 20 years. Her articles have appeared in the "Academy of Education, Journalism and Mass Communication Journal" and the "New Jersey League of Municipalities Magazine." She has also written numerous columns published in Gannett newspapers. Rosen holds a B.S. in industrial engineering and an M.A. in organizational communications.

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