Chapter 7 Jewish Culture




  • Sean N. Bennett, RN, MSN - Assistant Professor - Utah Valley University - Orem, Utah
  • Nicole Cornaby, RN, BSN - Utah
  • Nicholaus Haws, RN, BSN - Utah
  • Caitlin Krauss, RN, SN - Utah Valley University - Orem, Utah










An accurate definition of Jewish culture is difficult to define, as there exist distinct but interrelated components associated with the Jewish people. Jewish culture consists of but is not limited to the following components:



Ethnically, the Jewish people claim to be descendants of ancient Israelites, as explained in the Old Testament. [16] The Jewish people originally belonged to the United Kingdom of Israel as members of the tribe of Judah, one of twelve tribes that comprised ancient Israel. After the reign of King Solomon (sometime around 930 BC), the United Kingdom of Israel divided into two separate kingdoms, the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. Judah remained with the Southern Kingdom and was identified as the Kingdom of Judah. [17]


Although controversial, Jewish people are identified as belonging to an individual race, which separates them both biologically and genetically from the rest of humanity. According to Jewish scholar Harry Ostrer, Jews “made the choice in every generation to maintain their distinctiveness through endogamous marriage patterns, thereby safeguarding and transmitting Jewish customs and culture from ancient times to the present.” [19] The practice of endogamy also preserved the genetic heritage of the Jewish people.




In the ancient Near East, Abraham, an early Hebrew patriarch of the 20th century BC, developed the religion of the Jewish people, or Judaism. Due to Abraham’s obedience and worship, God covenanted with Abraham promising blessings of greatness (Genesis 12:12), numberless progeny (Genesis 15:5), and land (Genesis 13:14). Centuries later, the Hebrew people became enslaved in Egypt, where God renewed the Abrahamic covenant with Moses, their leader, and gave the Hebrews strict laws. The laws given to the Hebrews are recorded in the Torah, a core religious book of Judaism; other scriptural books include the Pentateuch (pen-tuh-took) and Talmud (tahl-moo d). Modern Judaism includes adherence to the teachings of these ancient scripts; however, Judaism has separated into four groups: Conservative, Liberal, Orthodox, and Reform Judaism. [20]

Values and Norms


According to Jewish belief, the goodness of an individual, which is reflected in speech, conduct, etc., is highly valued and encouraged. This belief directly relates to the Jewish expectation of lev tov, a Hebrew phrase that translates to “good heart.” [20] Essentially, a person with a good heart is selfless and charitable in thought and deed. In accordance to the Jewish lev tov, a person with a good heart has the ability to avoid begrudging others’ successes and to act joyfully for the benefit of others. Inclusive, envy, jealousy, and hate are feelings that someone with a good heart successfully averts; a peaceful nature is of great importance in Judaism. Furthermore, development of a good heart is an essential duty since Jews feel great desire to provide a moral legacy for their descendants. The fundamental tasks of the parent are to provide love and physical care as well as to teach children to be kind, moral people. [20]

Some Jewish traditions reflect the importance of lev tov by showing kindness to others. For example, a Bat Mitzvahs (bat mits-vuh), or a coming of age ceremony for 12-year-old Jewish girls, is celebrated by the Jewish community with joy and wholeheartedness in order to evoke feelings of belonging and worth from the young girl. Jews also attempt to help other feel accepted, understood, and welcome in the synagogue as well as in the community. [6]

Jewish tradition includes the practice of exactly 613 mitzvot, or commandments, that are derived from the Hebrew Bible. [21] The commandments are laws that are traditionally believed to come from God, and they require strict obedience. For example, to refrain from murder or theft is a divine mandate that is not merely considered a “good deed” or an avoidance of evil. [22] Other mitzvot are deeply incorporated in Jewish tradition and contribute to development of lev tov as they inspire acts of loving kindness, also know as gemilut hasadim (geh-mee-loot chah-sah-deem) in Hebrew. These mitzvoth include feeding the poor, acting kindly to the stranger, and observing the Sabbath. [23] Conclusively, all mitzvot are intended to be obeyed since they promote positive behavior.

Tzedakah (tsuh-daw-kuh) is the Hebrew word for charity. This is another highly held value of Judaism, and the practice thereof is regarded as an obligation, even for those who are poor. Traditional Jews give at least ten percent of their income to charity; this monetary donation has replaced the ancient practice of animal sacrifice. They also keep a container, such as a box or jar, in the home called a pushke (push-kee) that is meant for collecting coins for the poor. Conversely, Jews feel that the receiver of charitable acts has, in turn, kindly provided the giver with an opportunity to give. As a result of Jewish tzedakah, Jews have been found to make up thirty percent of America’s top charitable donors according to several reports. [24]

Traditions, Beliefs and Attitudes


Jews believe in general concepts that focus on the relationship between man and God rather than concrete laws. For example, Jews follow a set of guidelines known as Maimonides' (mahy-mon-i-deez) 13 Principles of Faith, which influences the relationship between man and God. These 13 principles are: 1) God exists, 2) God is one and unique, 3) God is incorporeal, 4) God is eternal, 5) prayer is to be directed to God alone and to no other, 6) the words of the prophets are true, 7) Moses' prophecies are true, and Moses was the greatest of the prophets, 8) the Written Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) and Oral Torah (teachings now contained in the Talmud and other writings) were given to Moses, 9) there will be no other Torah,10) God knows the thoughts and deeds of men, 11) God will reward the good and punish the wicked, 12) the Messiah will come, and 13) the dead will be resurrected. [2]

As with other religions, many Jewish beliefs have evolved into the practice of Jewish traditions, including the celebration of Jewish holidays. Some of these holidays include: The Sabbath, Passover (pahs-oh-ver), Shavuot (shah-voo-awt), and Yom Kippur (yawm kip-er). Interestingly, the holidays do not occur on the same date each calendar year; each holiday corresponds with a Jewish calendar based on moon cycles. [25]

Although Jewish holidays have religious significance, all Jews do not celebrate them. Most Jews, however, celebrate the holiday Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is recognized as the most important holy day in Jewish culture, partly due to its scriptural origin, as found in chapter twenty-three of Leviticus. Within this chapter, the Lord marked the tenth day of the seventh month as the “Day of Atonement,” known as “Yom Kippur” in Hebrew. [26] Historically, Yom Kippur became recognized as a day of mourning and abstinence during the Second Temple Period. [27] Whereas previously Yom Kippur was a priestly institution, the holy day has evolved into a day reverenced and celebrated by many Jews, regardless of gender and religious charge. [28] This particular holiday is a 25-hour period devoted to atonement and repentance of sins committed during the previous year. Over the course of 25 hours, practicing Jews will sacrifice worldly acts in order to devote themselves entirely to their relationship with The Divine. Some examples of sacrifice include fasting (the most common), refraining from washing, and abstaining from sexual relations. Jews will also spend the majority of these hours worshipping in a Jewish synagogue. The following three services are held at the synagogue: Shaharit (shah-khah-reet), the morning service; Minhah (meen-khah), the afternoon service; and Maariv (mah-ah-reev), the evening service. Whilst in the synagogue, a tallit (tah-leet), a special prayer shawl solely designated for worship during Yom Kippur, is worn at all times. Special prayers and ancient priestly rituals are reenacted during this period. [27]

The observance of Passover, or Pesach (pe-sahkh) in Hebrew, has great religious significance. Passover is celebrated in commemoration of the biblical account, found in Exodus, of God "passing over" the homes of Israelites in ancient Egypt who, as instructed, marked the doorposts of their homes with blood from a sacrificed lamb. Such obedience preserved the lives of their first-born males. The night of Passover preceded the Israelites' freedom, which was soon after granted by Pharaoh of Egypt. Once freed, the Israelites left in such haste that their bread did not have time to rise, which is why Jews refrain from consuming chametz (khah-mets), leavened bread, during modern celebrations of Passover. Chametz includes products made from wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt that have not been cooked within 18 minutes of coming in contact with water. Prior to Passover, all traces of chametz are eliminated from the home, which can take several weeks; Jews may even use toothpicks to rid their home of any remnants of chametz. As a replacement for chametz, matzah (maht-suh), or unleavened bread composed of flour and water, is consumed during Passover in symbolic remembrance of when the Israelites were freed from Egypt. Furthermore, all the first-born males symbolically participate in the "Fast of the Firstborn" prior to Passover in remembrance of the first-born males who were sacrificed during the original Passover in Egypt. Additionally, the first night of Passover is commemorated by a huge feast called Seder (sey-der) and is accompanied by joyous music. Passover is modernly celebrated over a period of eight days, and no work is allowed on the first two days and the last two days of the holiday. [13]

The Jewish people have many other traditions, some of which include circumcision of eight-day-old male infants (a practice performed by their fathers) and rest from work on the Sabbath. [13]



The Jewish people believe in one God, as based on the following tenet from the Torah, a written guide of Jewish scripture: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Jewish faith is based on the Abrahamic covenant, as described in The Torah in the book of Genesis. This covenant is a binding promise that Abraham made with God when he received the Gospel; succinctly, Abraham was promised blessings for himself and his posterity. The promises given Abraham include the promise of becoming the father of a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3), land for his nation (Genesis 15:18-21), and numberless progeny (Genesis 15:5). Modernly, the circumcision of all Jewish male infants symbolizes the Abrahamic covenant. [3]

The Jewish religion is strongly based on practices, not just beliefs. Judaism teaches that there are 613 commandments, or rules, referred to as mitzvoth (meets-vaht). Many of the rules relate to temple rituals that were practiced at the time when the Torah was written, between 600 BCE and 400 BCE, and an estimated 270 of the 613 rules are applicable today. Obedience to the rules is important to Jews, because God commanded them; the commandments are given in order to help the human race become like God. By following the mitzvoth, men are improved and able to view the world through a divine perspective. Though God does not need men to obey Him, obedience is beneficial to men by helping them become more like Him. According to Jewish interpretation of the bible, some simplified ways of summarizing the mitzvoth include “keep judgment and do righteousness,” according to Isaiah; “seek [God] and live,” as stated by Amos; and “the righteous shall live by his faithfulness,” as mentioned by Habakkuk. Hillel, a historical and well-known Jewish leader, is noted for telling a Jewish convert that Judaism is best practiced by “living the golden rule.” [29]

Judaism particularly focuses on acts and behaviors performed during this life. For example Jews have high morale emphasizing good behaviors, service and social justice. [3] Although Jews believe in resurrection and life after death, it is uncommon for these beliefs to be emphasized in Jewish teachings. Jews believe that if excess emphasis is placed on these matters, they will be tempted to forget important aspects of earth life. [30]

Jews recognize that God created the world in six days followed by a period of rest on the seventh day. They believe Saturday to be the seventh day and observe the seventh day as a special day of worship known as Shabbat (shah-baht). Their creative work stops from nightfall on Friday until nightfall on Saturday in honor of Shabbat. [31]

Sense of Self and Space


Throughout history, being of Jewish descent has been circumstantially challenging. Indeed, Jewish history closely associates with several adverse events, during which Jews experienced varying degrees of prejudice, persecution, and affliction. Many of these difficulties were related to rejection of Jewish religious beliefs and practices, because other religious or cultural groups held bigoted views of Jews. Some examples of the horrendous difficulties Jews have endured include the mass destruction of over 1 million Jews by the Roman army in 70 AD as well as the systematic extermination of Jews during the Second World War. [32]

In order to avoid such hardships, some Jews chose to abandon their cultural identity. Yet, when other Jews faced similar persecutions, they became even more connected to their Jewish community, which included both cultural and ethnic ties. The strengthened connection to their cultural community helped Jewish people establish greater cultural identity while developing strong relationships with each other. Their relationships were based on acceptance, which was augmented by the unwavering social support system of the community. It seemed that the as connections deepened between members, cultural identity become more prominent. [14]

Presently, some Jews have partially abandoned their cultural identity as they have been influenced by trends of the modern world, particularly American Jews. Whereas previously differing cultural and religious groups more often rejected Jews, many modern American Jews experience much less persecution because of American rights and freedoms. Consequently, American Jews are more openly accepted by others, which allows them to freely associate and assimilate with non-Jewish cultures. Many American Jews have become less involved in their Jewish community as they are more accepted by outside communities. However, Jewish people still take pride in their cultural and ethnical history and find great importance in educating their children about their cultural and ancestral origins. In fact, most Jews view their Jewish culture as a positive aspect of their identity that helps define who they are and how they are suppose to live spiritually and ethically. [14]

Having a sense of Jewish identity has evidently increased the self-esteem of community members because of the devoted and continuous support system of the Jewish community. Furthermore, a strong Jewish identity also helps to shape the characters of both children and adults, as they strive to become better people. Together, community members learn how to be actively compassionate and supportive within their community. For example, members learn to refer to set guidelines of Jewish culture that highlight making righteous choices when faced with difficult decisions; this helps members develop a sense of virtue. [14]

Another aspect of Jewish identity, other than association with the Jewish community, is the Jewish language. Jewish linguistics has changed throughout history, but two components remain congruent amongst all true Jewish languages. These components are the presence of a Hebrew/Aramaic component and use of Hebrew-based orthography. Jewish language has endured since the beginning of Judaism and continues to influence modern Jews. However, once exclusively used by Jews, non-Jews, or those who do not identify themselves as Jewish, now use Jewish language. [33]

Communication Style and Language


Hebrew (hee-broo) is considered the sacred language of the Jewish people for two reasons. First, The Old Testament of the Bible was written in Hebrew, indicating the importance of the ancient language. [34] Second, Hebrew was the language by which God communicated with his prophets. Hebrew was not only spoken and written by ancient Israelites but has been spoken by the Jews throughout history. [5]

The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters and is read from right to left. The vowels are not depicted as letters like in the English language; instead, they are written as symbols between or below the letters of a word. Despite its sacredness, Hebrew is not the only language Jewish people speak; they may also speak Yiddish (yid-ish), Aramaic (ar-uh-mey-ik) and Ladino (luh-dee-noh). In fact, Yiddish translated means "Jewish," and Yiddish and Hebrew have similarities despite being very different. Modern Hebrew, spoken amongst most Jews as well as Jews in Israel, is called Ivrit (eev-reet) which means "Hebrew reborn." Ivrit includes many new words as well as words from traditional Hebrew and European languages. For example, modern Yiddish is in part composed of German, Hebrew, Aramaic, and various Slavic and Roman languages. Many Jewish worshipers will reserve traditional Hebrew for sacred and religious purposes while using other languages for everyday dialect. Some basic Hebrew words include abba (ah-buh), or father; eema (ee-muh), or mother; shalom (shah-lawm), or peace; and Elohim (e-law-heem), or God. [5]

The communication styles for the Jewish people are welcoming and genuine with a sharp sense of humor. They appreciate honesty and benefit more from questions and answers than from lecture-style learning. The Jewish people are also very hospitable and respectful. For example, Jewish males do not touch, hug, or shake hands with females other than their spouse or children. In addition, men will also avoid eye contact with the opposite gender. [10]

There also exist common signs and symbols which serve as spiritual reminders in Jewish culture. These include mezuzah (muh-zoo z-uh), a biblical parchment scroll within a small case; tzitzith (tsit-is), a tassel worn on the the corners of the tallith (tah-leet), a shawllike garment; tefillin (tuh-fee-leen), a small, black, leather cube containing parchment inscribed with scripture; menorah (muh-nawr-uh), a candelabrum having seven to nine branches; yarmulke (yarhr-muh l-kuh), a skullcap worn during prayer; and Magen David (mah-guh n dey-vid), a hexagram symbolic of Judaism. Each of these signs or symbols communicates something sacred to people of Jewish culture. [35]

Traditionally, the mezuzah is nailed on an angle to the doorpost. Within the case is a scroll inscribed with scriptural passages that, if properly made, is handwritten and rolled in a particular way. The mezuzah serves as a reminder of God’s presence and His commandments. In order to acknowledge its presence, Jews touch the mezuzah and then kiss the same fingers that touched the small emblem while they pass through the doorway. [35]

The tallit refers to a four cornered garment that is worn at certain times by some Jews. If Jews are devout, the tallit may be worn throughout the entire day. Alone, the tallit has no significance but its purpose is to provide a garment appropriate for adornment of the tzitzit. The tzitzit is the fringe or tassel that hangs from the four corners of the garment. Like the mezuzah, the tzitzit also serves as a reminder of the mitzvot, or commandments. The tying of the knots of the tzitzit is done in a very particular way that is complex and filled with religious and numerological meaning. [35]

The tefillin refers to leather pouches tied on the hands and forehead. The pouches contain scripture and also serve as a reminder of the mitzvot [35].

The menorah, yarmulke, and Magen David are well-known symbols of Jewish culture commonly seen around the world. The menorah is a seven branched candelabrum that sits in Jewish temples and is symbolic of the nation of Israel. Outside of the temple, it is common to see varied versions of the temple candelabrum. For example, it may have six or eight branches. This purpose of varied candelabrums is to avoid the use of sacred objects outside the temple. The yarmulke is the small hat or skullcap worn on top of the head during prayer; however, the yarmulke is more a custom than a commandment. The Magen David is also commonly known as the Star of David. Its meaning is deep and complex to the Jewish people, but to the rest of the world, it is the most common symbol of Judaism. [35]

Food and Feeding Habits


Food and Feeding Habits


Kashrut (kahsh-ruh th) is the body of laws regarding Jewish dietary practices. Kashrut is derived from Hebrew word Kaf-Shin-Reish, which means fit, proper, or correct. Kashrut is more commonly referred to as kosher (kosh-sher). Kosher dietary practices are implemented year-round and are not limited to Passover or other Jewish holidays. However, additional dietary restrictions are practiced during Passover. [1]

Kashrut dietary practice includes the following regulations:

Fruits and Vegetables


All fruits and vegetables are permitted for consumption according to kashrut law, which is explained clearly by the following biblical verse: “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food” (Gen. 1:29). According to the Bible, it was not until the time of Noah that meat was included in the human diet (Gen. 9:3). A complete set of dietary laws (Lev. 11:1-43) was not given to the Israelites until they left Egypt. [40]



According to Jewish law, consumption of certain animals is prohibited and includes the flesh, organs, and milk of the forbidden animals. [1] In order for a quadruped to be considered kosher, it must chew its cud and have cloven hooves; both are required characteristics. The Torah specifically indicates ten herbivorous animals that meet these qualifications: antelope, deer, gazelle, goat, ibex, mountain sheep, ox, roebuck, sheep, and wild goat. [2] The Torah also specifies the camel, rock badger, hare, and pig as non-kosher animals since they lack one of the two qualifications. [1]



Of all water living animals, only those with fins and scales are kosher approved because they are considered “clean” (Lev. 11:9-12). [40] Therefore, lobsters, oysters, shrimp, clams and crab are all prohibited. [1] Nachmanides, a medieval Jewish scholar, explained that fish with fins and scales occasionally swim near the water surface. Because of this behavior, they are warmed by the air temperature, which was thought to rid their bodies of impurities and caused them to become “clean.” Other water creatures that lack fins and scales keep close to the bottom of the sea, so their bodies are not purified; these creatures are considered “unclean.” [40]



The Torah specifically identifies 20 species of birds that are non-kosher; however, all other birds are approved for consumption (Lev. 11:13-19; Deut 14:11-18). Some of the non-kosher birds include falcon, hawk, kite, osprey, raven, and vulture. According to Nachmanides, non-kosher fowl are considered unclean because they are in some degree cruel. Therefore, those who eat the flesh of these birds are at risk for developing the same characteristic. [40]



Although the Torah lists four kinds of locusts that are permitted for eating (Lev. 11:21-22), rabbis have since declared all insects non-kosher because of difficulty in distinguishing species. However, insect products, such as honey from bees, are permitted for eating. [40]

Meat and Dairy


Meat (the flesh of birds and mammals) cannot be eaten with dairy products. However, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and grains can be eaten with either meat or dairy. Although, according to some views, fish may not be eaten with meat. Utensils; including pots, pans, and cooking surfaces; that have come into contact with meat may not be used with dairy, and vice versa. Inclusive, utensils that have come into contact with non-kosher food may not be used with kosher products; this applies only when contact occurred while the food was hot. [1]

Kosher Food Preparation


Kosher law not only regulates the types of food eaten but also manner in which food is prepared. For example, kosher animals must be killed in accordance with Jewish law. Shechita (ˈʃəxitɑ) is the law of ritual slaughtering with the goal to prevent unnecessary suffering to the animal. The slaughtering method includes using a sharp blade to make a quick, deep cut across the throat of the animal. This is considered the most humane method of slaughter, because it causes unconsciousness within two seconds. Shechitah method is also used because it ensures the blood drains quickly from the animal, which is essential to kosher preparation of any animal. Jewish followers are forbidden to ingest blood due to belief that the life of the animal (even the very soul) is contained in the blood. [1]

Other kosher food preparation laws include the following:


The eating animals that have either died of natural causes or were slaughtered by another animal (excluding fish) is prohibited. All blood must be drained from or broiled out of meat and poultry before eaten. Grape products made by non-Jews may not be eaten. [1] Certain parts of permitted animals may not be eaten including the sciatic nerve and fat portions surrounding the kidneys, liver, stomach, and intestines. [40]

Time Consciousness


The Torah explains that the best way to be productive by managing one’s time is to focus on one task at a time. More specifically, it is important complete the task at hand before you move on to another. In relation to this school of thought is a Chasidic (khah-sid-ic): “Whatever you are doing and wherever you are, be fully there and be present.” [15]

The Jewish people follow a calendar that differs from that of the western world. The Jewish calendar is based on three events that represent periods of time: the rotation of the earth, the rotation of the moon about the earth, and the rotation of the earth about the sun. The rotation of the earth around its axis equals one day while the rotation of the moon around the earth equals one month. The rotation of the earth around the sun is equal to one year. Each of these events are independent of each other. For example, the moon takes about 29.5 days to go around the earth, and the earth takes about 365.25 days to go around the sun. Because of these independent time frames, Jewish calendar months are last either 29 or 30 days, but Jewish calendar years last 12 or 13 months. There Jewish calendar also includes a leap year, which is referred to as Shanah Me’uberet (shah-nah-meh-oo-beh-reht). During the Jewish leap year, an additional month is inserted into the calendar. [36]

The days of the Jewish calendar are Yom Rishon (Yohm ree-shohn), Yom Sheini (sheh-nee), Yom Shlishi (sha-lee-shee), Yom R’vi’i (ra-vee-ee), Yom Chamishi (khah-mee-shee), Yom Shishi (shee-shee), and Yom Shabbat (shah-baht)--each Jewish calendar day correlates respectively with days Sunday through Saturday of the wester calendar. [36]

The months of the Jewish calendar include Tishri (tish-ree), Cheshvan (khesh-van), Kislev (kiss-lev), Tevet (tey-vet), Shevat (shuh-vat), Adar I (adar-beth) (this month only occurs in leap years), Adar (adar)Nisan (nee-sahn), Iyar (ee-yahr), Sivan (see-vahn), Tammuz (tah-mooz), Av (ahv), and Elul (eh-lool). The calendar begins in the Spring when Passover occurs. [36]

Jewish years are begin at the creation in the Bible. Accurate counting of years is done by adding up the ages of people in the Bible all the way back to creation. According to the calendar we are in the year 5,775. This, however, does not imply that they believe the Earth to be only 5,775 years old. The six “days” of creation are believed to have lasted over a much longer period of time compared to the current 24-hour time period known today. [36]

Relationships and Social Organization




Marriage is thought to be an essential aspect of the Jewish life cycle—as it creates a connection between human beings and God. This sacred union is considered the cornerstone of the Jewish community and is a monogamous practice. In biblical times, the fathers arranged all marriages; this was practiced because the father of the bride needed compensation for losing his daughter, a valuable housekeeper. The father of the groom would contribute a "bride price" called a mohar (mō-har) in exchange for the daughter. The bride would also receive gifts from the groom called mattan (ma’tan). When economic situations declined in the post-biblical era, the fathers began offering dowries to entice eligible bachelors. [4]

Until the late Middle Ages, marriage was composed of two distinct parts: the betrothal and the marriage ceremony. The betrothal was considered the "purchase" of the bride as well as a legal marriage that could only be dissipated by divorce. During Talmudic (tahl-moo d-ik) times, the couple signed a ketubah (kuh-too-bah), a formal contract, after the betrothal. The betrothal was later renamed the kiddushin (kid-du-shin) with the intent to sanctify and symbolize spiritualization of the property transaction. [4]

The actual wedding ceremony was held a year after the betrothal and was preceded by the bride being escorted to the groom's home. The huppah (hoo p-uh) was a canopy that was decorated in the house of the groom, also known as a wedding canopy in modern terms. Beneath the huppah is where the sheva berakhot, or seven blessings, were recited over a cup of wine. In modern times, both the wedding and the betrothal take place beneath the huppah. [4]

The relationship between spouses is a divinely mandated partnership. The importance of such a relationship is evidenced in Genesis 2:18, which, in reference to Adam, states, “It is not good for the human to be alone” as he needs a “helper opposite him.” Jewish tradition indicates practical reasons as to why marriage is important. One reason implicating the importance of marriage is ensure that women and children receive protection and sustenance. Another reason implicating the need for marriage is so men may have a legitimate sexual outlet to prevent improper conduct.

Parent and Child Relationship


The relationship between parent and child is considered sacred. Parents are viewed as co-creators with God in relation to producing and bearing children; therefore, God is honored as children honor their parents. A promised blessing is also associated with honoring parents as stated in Deuteronomy: "Honor your father and your mother so that your days will be lengthened on the land Adonai your God gave to you." Children can display respect by providing the parents with food, drink and clothing. Children also show respect by not standing or sitting in the parents’ assigned seating, contradicting the parents’ words, or taking an opposing view in a dispute. [4]

Parents are also expected to respect their children by following commandments given by God to parents. One important responsibility that parents have is the duty to educate their children of God's words through verbal communication and example. The Torah provides guidance in regard to the parent-child relationship, which, when followed by parents, exemplifies devotion to God and their sacred parental role. Some of the guidance given to parents in the Torah includes the following: 1) fathers circumcise their sons eight days after birth (Genesis 17:10-14), 2) sacrifice of children is forbidden (Leviticus 20:1), 3) incest is forbidden (Leviticus 18:6-7); and 4) first-born sons must be redeemed (Exodus 13:2,13). [4]

Education and Learning


History & Background


The Jewish tradition of obtaining education originated during biblical times. This tradition is reflected in one of the basic duties of the father: to provide for the instruction of his children by guiding their first steps towards a religious life and later enabling their sons’ education in Jewish schools. The father’s obligation to teach his children is set forth in the first paragraph of Shema Yisrael (shuh-mah iz-rey-uh l), a Jewish prayer: “Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and your gates.” (Deut 6:6-9). Deuteronomy contains several references of the important duty to provide education: “Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past; ask your father, he will inform you, your elders, they will tell you.” (Deut 32:7). The Book of Proverbs also has many verses that call for obedience regarding education within the family: “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your mind retain my commandments; For they will bestow on you length of days, years of life and well-being.“ (Prov 3:1-2). The educational principles of the Hebrew Bible were later applied within the context of Christian and Muslim societies. [9]

In recent years, pedagogues, or teachers, have acknowledged that the methods of instruction in ancient Israel indirectly anticipated many of the tenets of modern education. Compulsory attendance of elementary schools was required by Simeon ben Shetah as early as 75 B.C.E. and by Joshua ben Gamla in 64 C.E. The practice of educating older boys and adults in a beit hamidrash (beyt hah-mee-drahsh), a location for study and prayer, originated during the Second Temple Period. The importance of education is repeatedly stressed in the Talmud (Pirkei avot): children are to start school at the age of six – which is in accordance with present-day requirements throughout the world; they are not to be beaten with a stick or cane, but should receive only mild punishment; older students should help out in the education of those who are younger; and children should not be kept away from their lessons by other duties. The number of pupils in a class should not exceed 25; larger classes require the engagement of a relief teacher while two teachers have to be appointed if there are over 40 pupils. According to Judah ben Tema, “At five years the age is reached for studying the Bible, at ten for studying the Mishnah, at thirteen for fulfilling the mitzvoth, at fifteen for studying the Talmud” (Avot 5:21). According to this tradition, which has been partly maintained in modern practices, Jews taught their children in their own schools with the help of private tutors until the end of the 18th century. [9]

Talmud Torah, Heder and Yeshivah


Every Jewish community has had an important duty to support religious education, which is why schools were usually established before the community built its synagogue. Even small Jewish communities sought to keep their teacher: “Every community is required to appoint teachers; a city without a teacher should be put under a ban until the inhabitants thereof appoint one. If they persist in not appointing a teacher, the city should be destroyed, for the world exists only through the breath of school children.” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 245:7). In earlier times, lessons were usually held in the synagogue, and schools were housed in annexes or separate buildings in close proximity to the synagogue. Talmud Torah schools were established originally for the youngest children of parents who could not afford to pay for a private tutor. In smaller communities, there were usually not many children at such schools; pupils of various ages were taught in the same class or in two classes where older students helped younger ones. This form of learning was commonplace from the Middle Ages, particularly in the Ashkenazim (ahsh-kuh-nah-zim) area. The purpose of the heder (khey-duh r), a private Jewish elementary school, was to provide older children with a basic knowledge of Hebrew, Torah, Mishnah (mish-nuh), Jewish laws and customs. Heder, meaning "room," received its name from the fact that children were usually taught by a private teacher (melammed) in a room of his home; the term is now used for extra-curricular religious schooling under the supervision of the synagogue or Jewish community. After graduating from the heder, most children around 15 years of age went on to a yeshivah (yuh-shee-vuh). Yeshivah, which means "sitting," is a school of higher education primarily for the study of the Talmud. The prototype of the yeshivah was the beit hamidrash (“house of study”), as it was termed by ancient academies in Israel and Babylon, where the two main versions of the Talmud were written between the 2nd and 5th century C.E. In the age of antiquity, scholars considered the beit midrash to be more holy than the synagogue, as the “house of learning” usually served also as a “house of prayer” (beit tefilah) or “house of assembly” (beit hakneset) (i.e., a synagogue). In the Middle Ages, yeshivot (plural of yeshivah) were established throughout the Diaspora, and students came from afar to hear the lectures of famous scholars and academic heads of schools (rosh yeshivah). The Jewish community, various foundations, and charity associations were responsible for the running of yeshivot and for looking after the students. This system of higher education was later developed across Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. After the First World War, many Eastern European yeshivot moved to other countries, such as England, North America, and Israel, where they remain active to this day. The most illustrious yeshivot of the Czech lands were in Prague (Academia Judaeorum), Kolín, Tachov, Kroměříž, Prostějov, Holešov, Boskovice, Mikulov, Uherský Brod and Lipník nad Bečvou. Most of the Czech yeshivot were closed down during the 19th century; Rabbi Aaron Kornfeld’s yeshivah in Golčův Jeníkov was the last to be dissolved in 1881. [9] In 1940 the United Synagogue of America established the National Academy for Adult Jewish Studies with the purpose to encourage and promote learning throughout adulthood [39].

Current Trends


Although many Jewish adults have chosen careers uninvolved in Judaism, they recognize the importance and benefit of their Jewish education. They also are impressed with the sophisticated education and opportunity offered to their children and grandchildren at Jewish institution. Currently, emphasis is being placed on beginning education earlier in childhood; in fact, an estimated 100,000 out of 700,000 Jewish children younger than six years of age in North America are enrolled in education programs. Some of these early education programs even offer Hebrew immersion for kids as young as three years old. When a child is of school age, parents have the option to send their children to supplementary school as a primary source of Jewish education. This occurs on afternoons (after public, or other, school) and on Sundays. The educators involved in supplementary school are striving to find the most effective ways to educate the students in only two to six hours per week [37].

The Jewish Education Project is an organization involved in the early childhood education programs. There are currently over 250 centers in the New York area where they are focused. J-LINC is one of many initiatives/organizations on their website, and its purpose is to create Jewish educational programs for families with kids ages five and under. The organization is also working to improve education among congregations, within day schools, and among teens. [38]

Currently there seems to be a renaissance of Jewish learning. One possible reason for this is that older generations studied to “know how” but the modern generation is seeking more to “know why,” which is leading to more, and deeper study. Education and learning are lifelong pursuits for the Jewish people. [39]

Work Habits and Practices


The Jewish people are a hard working, dedicated people who commonly believe that "idleness is dullness". While God does not explicitly mandate that men and women must work, Jewish thought indicates that work is indeed part of a divine plan. [41] However, Jews choose not to work on the Sabbath because of a commandment which states, “Six days shall you labor and do all your work and the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God [on which] you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:9-10). This particular commandment emphasizes the importance of work ethic while implying that religious worship is of greater importance. [11]

Work ethic is emphasized in Jewish tradition for a variety of reasons. One reason is the belief that self-reliance is greater than dependence upon charity for basic needs. Moreover, Jewish Rabbi Louis Jacobs stated, “Human dignity is enhanced when man sustains himself by his own efforts.” Essentially, men and women can find self-assurance and peace when they are capable of caring for themselves. Additionally, work provides constructive purpose to a man’s life as he contributes to society. The Talmudic tale (BT Ta’anit 23a) illustrates this thought perfectly as a man who is planting trees explains, “Surely, it is my duty to plant trees that those who come after might enjoy their fruit.” The purpose of work, as clarified in the Talmudic tale, is not only to benefit the individual who works, but others as well. [41]

Although work is extremely important to the Jewish people, they believe that balance should exist between work and familial responsibilities. For example, the Jewish man is taught to perform work that not only benefits himself but also his family. Furthermore, individuals are taught to work hard to achieve academic and professional goals, but they are also expected to encourage similar work ethic in their posterity. Work ethic is thought to be a character trait that is initially taught and developed within the home. [11]

Along with work ethic are the moral and intellectual virtues that influence how work should be conducted. Jewish religion emphasizes the importance of become perfected, both morally and intellectually—a lifelong objective that crosses over to all aspects of life, including work performance. Jews are expected to be virtuous in all work relations, while intelligence that influences their work (including profession, religious, and familial) is to be obtained by continuous academic study. [42]



Scriptures teach that people should seek to heal others as well as taking care of their own bodies. Jews generally have a positive attitude toward medical practices, and many Jews have become medical professional. In Jewish communities, physicians are highly respected while many leading rabbis in history have been physicians. Furthermore, 28 percent of Nobel Prize winners for medicine are Jewish. [44]

Judaism teaches that human life begins when the child’s body is more than halfway emerged from its mother. Because of this belief, abortion is permitted. In some cases, it is abortion is mandatory, according to Jewish law. In the instance that an unborn child is jeopardizing the mother’s life in any way, Judaism requires that the baby be aborted. [43]

Birth control is permitted as long as couples intend to eventually multiply and replenish the earth, as scripture commands. [43]

Cesarean section, or any other means necessary to preserve life, is permitted within Jewish culture. It is also taught that the woman and the man should remain sexually separated for seven days after the birth of a male child and for fourteen days after the birth of a female child. One of the most well known Jewish beliefs regarding childbirth is the practice of circumcision. It is also the most universally observed. [43]

The Talmud actually forbids one to live in a city without a physician. Because of their beliefs, Jews do not permit suicide or assisting another to commit suicide; however, it is important to note that preventing an unnecessary delay in death is not viewed as suicide within Jewish culture. [44]

It is also interesting to note that smoking has only recently been frowned upon among Jewish culture, and many Jews are still hesitant to call it a sin. In past generations the act of smoking was praised. There are now a few who would teach that smoking is strictly against Jewish law, but the majority will not go further than to say it is an unwise practice. [44]

Jewish tradition states that after a patient has died, burial should be performed as quickly as possible. Jewish law also states that no autopsies should be performed unless absolutely necessary. Withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining measures is deeply debated, and some Jewish followers greatly oppose it. Most will consult a rabbi to help aid in end of life decisions. [7]

As a Registered Nurse (RN), it would be important to recognize:

1. The Sabbath day is a very sacred day to the Jewish people. Traveling, the use of electricity, or writing is not allowed during the Sabbath. The Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and ends after dark on Saturday. The nurse needs to confide with the patient and if possible plan for discharge after the Sabbath is over so they do not have to travel. It would be important for the nurse to know that the Jewish patient may not receive very many visitors during the Sabbath. That is unless the patient’s friends and family members live within walking distance so they do not have to travel either. No work of any kind is allowed on the Sabbath, normal daily activities are also prohibited. Examples of such activities include: turning lights on and off, television, shopping, cooking, using money for any purpose, and using any electrical appliance. The nurse will need to frequently check on the patient because they will not use the call light for needs. Nothing can be cut, torn or ripped this even includes toilet paper. The nurse should try and accommodate the patient during the Sabbath and provide pre-torn toilet paper if possible.

2. Jewish people have certain dietary restrictions and practices. They can only eat Kosher foods and meat and dairy cannot be eaten together. The nurse should inform dietary of the patient’s food preferences and provide them with Kosher meals.

3. Some Jewish people may want a healthcare provider of the same sex, the nurse should try and accommodate whenever possible. Jewish women are very modest, the nurse should try and make a mental note to always keep this patient covered when feasible. [8]






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