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Introduction:

There are approximately 12 million Jews in the world today.

Judaism originated in the Middle East and is based on the belief in one God.  According to Torah, the central scripture for Jews, God is holy and unmitigated.  He is omnipotent, omniscient and eternal.  The rules and traditions an observant Jew follows are known collectively as the halakha (the path).

According to Orthodox Judaism, 613 commandments (or mitzvoth) lie at the heart of the halakha.  God in the Torah gave some of these, while others were added by the rabbis and derived from ancient Jewish customs.  Apart from the written Torah, there is a verbal Torah that is an attempt to understand and apply the written version.

The Jewish people are first and foremost a people and a nation. To speak of Judaism as simply another ‘ism’ or system of beliefs is quite misleading and inaccurate. Historically we have understood ourselves as having a special mission to perform in this world:

‘…and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel
Exodus 19:6

‘I, the Lord, Have Called you in Righteousness, and Will Hold your hand and Keep you. And I Will Establish you as a Covenant of the people, for a Light unto the nations.’                                                     Isaiah 42:6


The idea of being ‘selected’ or ‘chosen’ has historically been a source of great misunderstanding and contention. The Jewish people have never considered themselves superior to other nations, only that they had a specific Divinely sanctioned mission to carry out whilst on this Earth. This mission (in a nutshell) was to make the world aware that there was a G-d who created, loved and cared for them and the world they inhabited.

Beliefs and practices:

Certainly there are certain tenets associated with the Jewish faith that many Jews may recognise and adhere to, the belief in one G-d (the ‘o’ is left missing as a traditional sign of respect to the Divine name in accordance with Jewish custom), the belief that the Torah was given (or revealed) to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai etc. yet there has never been any successful attempt to systematically codify these beliefs into a universally accepted an recognised ‘doctrine’ (although one famous medieval Rabbi and physician, Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), came particularly close with his 13 Principles of the Jewish faith).

1. Belief in the existence of the Creator, be He Blessed, who is perfect in every manner of existence and is the Primary Cause of all that exists.
2. The belief in G-d's absolute and unparalleled unity.
3. The belief in G-d's noncorporeality, nor that He will be affected by any physical occurrences, such as movement, or rest, or dwelling.
4. The belief in G-d's eternity.
5. The imperative to worship Him exclusively and no foreign false gods.
6. The belief that G-d communicates with man through prophecy.
7. The belief that the prophecy of Moses our teacher has priority.
8. The belief in the divine origin of the Torah.
9. The belief in the immutability of the Torah.
10. The belief in divine omniscience and providence.
11. The belief in divine reward and retribution.
12. The belief in the arrival of the Messiah and the messianic era.
13. The belief in the resurrection of the dead.
Although a Jewish person may well identify with (and take up many aspects of) Jewish religious practice and observance, this in no way impacts on his or her status as a Jew!

From an Orthodox perspective (Jewish people who believe in the Divine origin, centrality and timelessness of the Halakha, the Jewish law) one is born a Jew via matrilineal descent i.e. if your mother was Jewish then you are also Jewish, according to the Halakha (law). More modern expressions of Judaism, Reform and Reconstructionist have different approaches to this question, with some groups recognising patrilineal (through the father) descent. 

Primarily the Jewish people value deed over creed. The Jewish life is typically one that is characterised by action, an obsession with justice, charity and the performance of mitzvot (good deeds). Through the carrying out of these deeds it is hoped that people of the world will see and feel the presence of G-d in this world.

Regular Worship

Depending on the level of observance this will vary from student to student. A very observant Jew may pray three times a day, Shacharit 30(early morning service, certainly before lectures, usually lasting about 30 minutes), Mincha (early afternoon prayers, usually lasting about 15 minutes) and Ma’ariv prayers in the evening (at sunset, usually lasting about 10 minutes).

Every Friday from sunset the Jewish Sabbath or Shabbos begins. The Shabbos is a time for rest, Torah study and family. Shabbos continues until the following Saturday evening.

You might therefore ask a Jewish student if they are Shomrei Shabbos (are they observant of the various laws of the Sabbath). These may include observing laws that explicitly forbid work, any form of writing, driving, using electricity (answering phones and mobiles etc.)

During the winter months (as the sun sets earlier) an observant Jewish student may need to complete their studies and return home in time before the Sabbath begins.

Sub-divisions:

Orthodox (Jewish people who believe in the Divine origin, centrality and timelessness of the Halakha, the Jewish law), and more modern expressions, Reform and Reconstructionist

Scriptures: Torah, Talmud

Festivals:

Jews celebrate many religious and cultural festivals associated with significant historical events in Jewish history.  The Passover commemorates the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year.  It coincides with beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance.  The last of these days is the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.  The Sabbath (Shabbat) is a day of complete rest and starts on Friday immediately before dusk and ends after dusk on Saturday.  Therefore a practicing Jew must be able to leave work in sufficient time to arrive home by the start of the Sabbath

Firstly a little guidance on Jewish time; for Jewish people this is not the year 2005, it is 5765. Although there are occasionally some overlaps (e.g. Easter is often close to the Jewish festival of Passover Pesach) the Jewish calendar is based mainly on the lunar calendar (with new months beginning with every new month beginning on the new moon) and so the Gregorian calendar is not particularly helpful in working out the times of the festivals.

The Jewish calendar has the following months:
Nissan 1 30 days March-April
Iyar 2 29 days April-May
Sivan 3 30 days May-June
Tammuz 4 29 days June-July
Av 5 30 days July-August
Elul 6 29 days August-September
Tishri 7 30 days September-October
Cheshvan 8 29 or 30 days October-November
Kislev 9 30 or 29 days November-December
Tevet 10 29 days December-January
Shevat 11 30 days January-February
Adar 12 29 or 30 days February-March
Adar II 13 29 days March-April
In leap years, Adar has 30 days. In non-leap years, Adar has 29 days.

The most important festivals are discussed below:
• Rosh Hashanah (on the first and second days of Tishri) The Jewish new year. No work is carried out during this day festival (see the section on Shabbos). Many Jewish people may spend the day at a Synagogue. It is a time of reflection and prayer.
• Days of Awe The 10 days leading up to Yom Kippur (the day of atonement) are a time for carrying out as many acts of kindness and charity as possible. It is a time to right wrongs, and make peace with those we may have been in conflict with.
• Yom Kippur (10th day of Tishri) ‘The Day of Atonement’ is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. No work may be carried out and one is commanded to fast (no food or water) for 25 hours. The fast begins before sunset on the evening prior to Yom Kippur and ends the following nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur. This is an intense period of repentance, spiritual purification and renewal.
• Sukkot (15th day of Tishri) Literally means ‘booths’ and is a festival that commemorates the 40 years that the children of Israel spent in the wilderness of the desert, having to live in temporary shelters. Sukkot lasts for seven days, and one is not permitted to work for the first two days (the remaining five one may proceed to work as usual).
• Pesach: Passover (15th day of Nissan) This festival commemorates the mass exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt following their being freed from slavery. This is almost certainly one of the defining narratives of the Jewish people. Pesach lasts for eight days outside of Israel (where it is celebrated for seven days). During this festival observant Jews are to avoid eating anything made from the five major grains; wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt, that has not been completely cooked within eighteen minutes after coming into contact with water. The dietary laws become stricter during this period of time and food has not only to be kosher (permitted food) but Kosher l’Pesach (permitted for Pesach). Jews of Eastern European descent may also avoid rice, corn, peanuts, and beans. This seemingly strange law reminds Jewish people that when G-d commanded them to get out of Egypt they had to leave in such haste that their bread had no time to rise, the hence the Matzah or flat bread that is often eaten at this time.
• Shavu'ot (usually on the 5th or 6th of Sivan) This festival commemorates the giving of the Torah (the law, the five books of Moses, including the famous ten commandments) at Mount Sinai. What marks this event out as different from other world religions is that it involved a Divine revelation to an entire nation (the Jewish people), not simply an individual, Moses. Work is not permitted during this day.
 
There are several other festivals which due to constraints of space I will be unable to discuss here, but for a more complete guide please consult: http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday0.htm

Special food restrictions:

 Observant Jews may keep the laws of Kashrus which are a collection of very strict and often complicated dietary laws which describe which foods are kosher (permitted) and which are treif (unclean).

Most people know that Jewish people don’t eat pigs, yet they may not be aware that there are also certain kinds of fish that may not be eaten (e.g. shellfish) and that a Jewish person will not be allowed to use cooking utensils or eat of plates that have had non-kosher food on them. The mixing of milk and meat products is also forbidden e.g. an observant Jewish person would not have a kosher steak followed by a cup of tea with milk in. For more details see http://www.jewfaq.org/kashrut.htm

There is a Jewish regulatory body called the Beth Din who supervise all kosher food preparation to ensure it’s status as kashrut. If you wish to cater for Jewish students you would need to contact the Manchester Beth Din. It’s quite complicated so you would do well to consult:
Dayan O. Westheim, Rabbinic Administrator
The Manchester Beth Din
435 Cheetam Hill Road, Manchester,8, England;
Tel: 0161 740 9711
Fax: 0161 721 4249
Email: info@mbd.org.uk

Other restrictions/ customs:

Dress Code

An observant Orthodox Jewish male may wear a Kippah or Yamulkah a head covering (which symbolises our constant awareness of and devotion to G-d). They may be many different colours and designs.

He may also wear tzitzis, an undergarment that symbolises the 613 Jewish commandments and is mostly hidden aside from the fringes of the garment that may hang a few inches to one’s side beneath one’s shirt.

Orthodox observant women may dress modestly, not allowing the arms and legs to be bare.

Practical dos and don’t’s

If a man or woman is Orthodox and very observant then they may be Shomer Nagia which will mean that it is forbidden for them to touch or be touched by a member of the opposite sex (who they are not related to or married to). You may always ask of someone if they are Shomer Nagia (if they stare blankly back at you, you may assume they are not, or that perhaps they didn’t hear the question).

If you are asking for a firstname it may well sound offensive or alien for a Jewish person to be asked for his or her ‘Christian name’, better simply ask for a ‘first name’.

Dress Code

It is imperative that practising Jewish men keep their head covered at all times generally by wearing a Kippah (skull cap).  Orthodox Jewish women are required to dress modestly.

Bereavement

Funerals must take place as soon as possible after following the death – the same day where possible – and therefore take place as short notice.  Following a death, the immediate family must stay at home and mourn for seven days (Shiva).  Following the death of a Father or Mother, an observant Jewish man will be required to go to a Synagogue to pray morning, afternoon and evening for 11 months of the Jewish calendar.

Manchester Contacts:

Manchetser Jewish Students

Jewish chaplain to the universities