Just the facts on religion.

Jewish practices

In Judaism, rituals and religious observances are grounded in Jewish law (halakhah, lit. "the path one walks." An elaborate framework of divine mitzvot, or commandments, combined with rabbinic laws and traditions, this law is central to Judaism.

Halakhah governs not just religious life, but daily life, from how to dress to what to eat to how to help the poor. Observance of halakhah shows gratitude to God, provides a sense of Jewish identity and brings the sacred into everyday life.

In addition, the Jewish religion recognizes several significant occasions in a person's life. While many times the individual is the focus of the festivities, the family, and in many cases the entire community, participate in the commemoration. These special events are some of the most important practices of Judaism.

The Mitzvot

The Hebrew word mitzvot means "commandments" (mitzvah is its singular form). Although the word is sometimes used more broadly to refer to rabbinic (Talmudic) law or general good deeds ("It would be a mitzvah to visit your mother"), in its strictest sense it refers to the divine commandments given by God in the Torah.

The 613 Commandments

The important Jewish philosopher Maimonides made a list of the 613 commandments he found in the Jewish Bible, and here they are.

Rabbinic Law

In addition to the 613 mitzvot, Jewish law incorporates a large body of rabbinical rules and laws. These are considered just as binding as the mitzvot, although the punishments for violating them are less severe. Another difference is that it is possible, though unlikely, for the rabbinical laws to be changed, but no rabbi can change the Torah mitzvot. The rabbinical portion of halakhah falls into three groups: a gezeirah, takkanah, and minhag.

The Synagogue

The Jewish house of worship is a synagogue. The synagogue predates the destruction of the Second Temple, but it became central to religious life after the Temple was lost. The synagogue replaces ritual sacrifice with Torah readings, prayer and teaching.

Jewish Worship and Prayer

Guide to characteristics of Jewish worship and prayer, the weekday and Sabbath prayer services and etiquette for visitors.

Keeping Kosher: Jewish Dietary Laws

One of the most well-known Jewish religious practices is that of eating kosher foods. The laws of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) may be puzzling or meaningless to the outsider, but they have held great meaning for the Jewish people throughout their history. Not only are they an opportunity for obedience to God, they also strongly contribute to Jewish unity and identity.

  • Bar Mitzvah

    ## What is a Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah? In Judaism, children are not required to observe the 613 commandments, though they are certainly encouraged and taught to do so... full article →
  • Jewish Divorce

    In Judaism, divorce is viewed as a great tragedy, but a sometimes necessary one. Allowances for divorce have always been a part of Jewish law. full article →
  • Jewish funerals and funerary rituals

    While the preservation of life in Judaism is of paramount importance - taking precedence over nearly all other priorities and observances - death is not therefore abhorred or devalued, according to Jewish beliefs... full article →
  • Jewish mourning rituals

    ## What are the mourning rituals in Judaism? Mourning rituals in Judaism are extensive. Ritualized mourning has several purposes: it shows respect for the dead, comforts those left behind, helps prevent excessive mourning, and eventually helps the bereaved to return to normal life... full article →
  • Jewish naming rituals

    In Judaism, on the first Sabbath after a child is born, the infant's father is called forward at the synagogue to recite the aliyah and ask blessings for the health of mother and child... full article →
  • Jewish weddings

    Participation of a rabbi is not necessary for a marriage to be binding under Jewish law. Traditionally, a legal marriage occurs when payment of money, a contract, or sexual intercourse has taken place... full article →
  • Jewish worship

    ## Characteristics of Jewish Worship and Prayer In the Jewish religion, recitation of prayers is the central characteristic of worship. These prayers, often with instructions and commentary, are found in the siddur, the traditional Jewish prayer book... full article →
  • Kosher

    ## What is Keeping Kosher? Perhaps the most well-known of all Jewish religious practices is that of eating only foods that are "kosher... full article →
  • Rabbinic law

    In addition to the 613 mitzvot, Jewish law incorporates a large body of rabbinical rules and laws. These are considered just as binding as the mitzvot, although the punishments for violating them are less severe... full article →
  • Redemption of the Firstborn

    ## What is the Redemption of the Firstborn? In Judaism, the ritual of Pidyon Ha-Ben ("Redemption of the Son") is grounded in the Jewish concept that the first and best things belong to God: in Numbers 8:17, God declared: "Every firstborn among the Israelites, man as well as beast, is mine... full article →
  • Sabbath

    Most people know the Sabbath as the day of the week on which Jews are forbidden to work. However, in the Jewish religion the Sabbath is not about rules but about joyful celebration and rest... full article →
  • The Jewish Calendar

    The Jewish calendar is significantly different from the standard Western calendar. This is primarily because the Jewish calendar is lunar (based on the cycles of the moon) whereas the Gregorian calendar is solar (based on the cycles of the sun)... full article →
  • circumcision

    In Judaism, the ritual of circumcision (brit milah) is performed on the eighth day of a boy's life. The ritual usually takes place in the morning at the family's home... full article →
  • mitzvot

    Jewish practices are grounded in Jewish law (Halakhah, lit. "the path one walks." This law, which consists of an elaborate framework of divine commandments (mitzvot) combined with rabbinic laws and traditions, is central to Judaism... full article →