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published: 3/17/04
updated: 6/25/1

Jewish Rituals and Practices



What are Jewish religious practices?

jewish man

Jewish 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. (Also see Jewish beliefs)

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.

The descriptions below are intended to help the reader begin to understand Jewish religious practices. The links provided lead to more in-depth articles on the topics.



Judaism's religious practices

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.


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