Augusta Jewish Community Center

Judaism 101


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On what are Jewish observances based?
Jewish observances are based on a variety of concepts, including:

*Agricultural …celebrating the harvest, etc.

  Life Cycle: birth, death, bar/bat mitzvah*, weddings, etc.

 Relationship to God…high holidays, etc.

  Historical…Chanukah, Passover, Purim, etc.

   Shabbat – the Jewish Sabbath (Friday sundown to  Saturday at dark.)** 


 See following page for references for bar/bat mitzvah * and Shabbat.**

When do holidays begin?

Jewish holidays begin at sundown the evening before the holiday, with only the first full day usually noted on a non-Jewish calendar. Jewish holidays are based on the lunar or Jewish calendar, so the dates of observances may change from year to year.

Bar/bat mitzvah

*Bar/bat mitzvah (BAHR/BAHT MITS vah) is the life cycle event where a boy age 13, or a girl age 12 or 13, will go in front of the congregation,  traditionally during Shabbat** services, and read or chant, in Hebrew, from the Torah scroll.  After the service, he or she is technically considered an adult in the Jewish community, responsible for making decisions related to Jewish ritual observance, and is given/earns the rights of Jewish adulthood.  For example, now they are allowed to come up to the bimah (BEE ma), also known as the pulpit, and read or chant the Torah reading, the biblical portion for the week. They also count as part of a minyan (MIN yan), a community of at least 10 Jewish adults needed to say communal prayers.  It is appropriate to bring a gift when invited to participate in a bar/bat mitzvah ceremony.  Gifts often reflect the recipient’s personal interests or hobbies, but may be an item of Judaica (books, Kiddush cup or jewelry) or money.






 Torah (TOE rah)  The Hebrew scriptures are known as the Torah or Hebrew Bible.  The Torah is comprised of the first five books of the Hebrew bible. 



**Shabbat (shah BAT) is the Jewish day of rest. It begins on Friday evening with the traditional lighting of Shabbat candles, drinking wine and breaking bread; in this case, a challah (braided egg bread) (HA lah). Blessings are said or chanted for all three. It is traditionally followed with a special family meal. This is the day set aside each week for family, attending Shabbat (Sabbath) services, and studying. Jews may refrain from all manner of work on this day. This could include no shopping or handling money of any kind, driving (most Conservative and Reform Jews will drive to and from the synagogue), cleaning, cooking, use of    electricity or the telephone. Shabbat ends at nightfall on Saturday. As with many religious traditions, levels of observance differ among Jews of different movements.  For example, some Jews may have a special meal Friday night but do not refrain from work on Saturday.

Rituals and observances related to death

Jews believe that the body is holy and deserves dignity in death, as in life. In the Orthodox and Conservative movements, Jews are customarily buried as soon as possible following death. Reform Jews generally are buried within 3 days. Jews may allow an autopsy if it will help save other lives as a result.  All branches of Judaism do encourage at least a limited form of organ donation because saving a life is the highest value in Judaism. The funeral is very personal and reflects on the life of the individual who has died.  Jews often choose to be buried in Jewish cemeteries next to loved ones.

Shiva (SHEE vah), the seven-day-mourning period, as well as the kaddish (KAH dish) or mourner’s prayer (which does not even mention death but     reaffirms one’s faith in God), are two of the most important ways in which Judaism strives to comfort the mourners and perpetuate the memory of the deceased.  

During shiva, it is more traditional to provide food for the grieving family than to send flowers. Also, the family may request that donations be sent to a favorite charity in lieu of flowers.

Since there are many rituals and customs related to death in a Jewish family, they will not be listed here. Additional information is available to anyone who is interested in knowing more about this topic.