Torah Thinkers Forum



          Of course Shabbos is far too important to allow it to end without some acknowledgement or fanfare.  Its departure is marked by a brief but dramatic ceremony called Havdala (separation).  In it, we make blessings over wine, spices, and fire before declaring the separation between the holy and the mundane.  With that final reminder, we extinguish the candle in some wine spilled off from the cup and wish one another well for the coming week.

          When to Leave

          Once Shabbos is concluded, it's generally best to thank your host and to leave promptly.  Most people become very busy immediately after havdala and need to tend to matters other than entertaining.  Be considerate of that and, unless you have been invited to stay longer, a quick departure will not be seen as impolite.

          You can generally tell how much your host enjoyed having you by measuring how much you enjoyed being there.  Should you require a more concrete indication - "please come back again" from your host is a good sign.

          Don't be reluctant to follow up on their offer.  While every Jewish home creates its own singular Shabbos atmosphere and it is beneficial to gain a variety of experiences in order to broaden your knowledge and to appreciate the rich gamut of Jewish life; we strongly recommend that when you've found a place where Shabbos is enjoyable and comfortable, frequent it. Many beautiful, life-long relationships are established between guests and those with whom they shared Shabbos!

          These relationships, besides serving as a way to experience an authentic Shabbos, can provide the beginner with an invaluable resource for exploring Judaism. In fact, often times one’s Shabbos host can also serve as one’s teacher or rebbe.



          Common Sense Tips & How to Get Invited Back

          While the custom of hachnosas orchim (hospitality) is very much present in the Jewish world, making Shabbos invitations plentiful and easily obtainable, be advised that a guest who proves to be difficult will find them quite scarce.

          Now that you're prepared for what to expect from Shabbos and from your host, it’s fitting that you take note of what is expected from you.  Don't get nervous; these expectations are minimal and can probably be summed up with a concept you're probably acquainted with, even if the term sounds foreign - "derech eretz" i.e. common courtesy.

          This is an extraordinarily important concept to be familiar with and to practice; not only on Shabbos and not only in someone else's home, but always and in every facet of life.  Exercising derech eretz means to conduct yourself politely, pleasantly, and with consideration to others.  In Yiddish this is called acting like a Mentsch.

          As a Shabbos guest, your behavior should be similar to that which would be expected in most social situations: be polite and complimentary, try to be helpful and don't impose or attempt to run the show.

          Remember every Shabbos table is different: some sing a lot, some speak about the Torah portion, and some will discuss Jewish community issues.  Try to adapt yourself to your host’s style.  Allow your host to lead - you follow!

          The expression:  "When in Rome, do like as the Romans do," is most appropriate for a Shabbos guest to keep in mind.  This even applies to customs like standing or sitting during Kiddush.  Unless it's halachically inappropriate, one should do as his host does.  (If it is halachically inappropriate, one probably should not be there in the first place!)

          A word about children:  Chances are great that your hosts are going to have some.  Try to enjoy them - where that's not really possible, at least be patient and tolerate them.  Remember they are the pride and joy of your hosts.  Just as you wouldn't say the soup is awful, so you shouldn't express anything disparaging about the children.  The truth is they are not only a big part of the Shabbos experience (parents getting time to be with children) but they are also a most treasured and prominent part of Jewish life.  If you don't already, learn to like them.

          Leave nothing to chance regarding your arrangements.  As mentioned previously, Shabbos invitations generally include meals and lodging if you’re coming from outside the host’s neighborhood; make sure you've coordinated these plans before your arrival.

          Advise your host ahead of time of any specials needs you may have (especially dietary).  Most hosts would much prefer (and some even welcome the opportunity) to accommodate your needs than to have you sitting at their table unable to partake in the elaborately prepared meal as you politely attempt to assure them that "salad is plenty".

          As we mentioned earlier, try to time your arrival to be between thirty to sixty minutes prior to candle lighting.  Given the customary erev Shabbos pandemonium, you should arrive already showered and dressed.

          Many guests feel obliged to bring a small gift.  This is not at all necessary, although it is a nice gesture.  The most common gifts are flowers for the Shabbos table or a bottle of wine.  Be certain that if you bring the latter it is certified kosher, as should be the case with any other food items you choose to bring.  Be sure to present them with the gift before Shabbos to avoid any halachic complications.

          While these tips are intended to prevent some possible Shabbos faux pas, try not to be overly apprehensive.  Many newcomers consider Shabbos with trepidation, conjuring up a day rife with mysterious strictures and halachic booby traps set to trip at the merest wrong move.  Indeed, the laws of Shabbos are complex but nobody expects the beginner to be fluent with them.  Don't feel intimidated; a host family will certainly be indulgent towards the "classic" mistakes and should you happen to accidentally switch off the bathroom light, they will manage to endure.  In fact - and get ready for a real shocker – sometimes even a veteran Shabbos observer can also inadvertently slip up.  All that is expected of a guest is to make a polite earnest effort, not halachic expertise.

          It shouldn't take too long before you start to develop a real love and appreciation for Shabbos yourself.  You'll begin to understand how it really is one of the foundations of Jewish life and a source of great pleasure.

          If you didn’t enjoy this Shabbos experience, it’s possible the fit with the synagogue or the host family was just not right. We urge you to try to be placed in other communities and with other families. If after several attempts (where you have made a serious and genuine effort) you still don’t find Shabbos an enjoyable experience, your future as an observant Jew is pretty "iffy".  Most likely though, you'll start to wonder how you were ever able to live without it.



VIII.    The Holidays

          In addition to Shabbos, there are five major holidays in the Jewish calendar whose observance includes many of the same laws.  They are called “Yom Tov” and each one has its own special mitzvos, mood and focus.

          Rosh Hashana

          The first holiday, in chronological order, is Rosh Hashana and means “head (beginning) of the year.”  It is the beginning of the Jewish year and inaugurates a ten day period of serious reflection and repentance, culminating with Yom Kippur.

          On Rosh Hashana, the entire world is judged by the Almighty and we proclaim Him as our King.  To evoke His mercy, we blow the shofar (ram’s horn).  The mood of the day is somber, yet celebratory, because we believe that G-d is merciful in his judgment and will grant us a good year.

          Yom Kippur   (the tenth day from Rosh Hashanah)

          On Rosh Hashana we are judged and on Yom Kippur our verdict is sealed.  It is our final chance to show our regret for our past misdeeds and to plead for forgiveness.

          Jews are not permitted to eat on this day; we fast for an entire 25 hours. We try to maintain our focus upon spiritual matters exclusively, hence prayer services are the only activity of the day and many spend the entire waking time in the synagogue.  We are taught Yom Kippur is a holy day when G-d is more accessible to receive our true repentance.

          The mood of the day is very serious, reflecting our constant awareness of standing before the Almighty judge, confessing our wrongdoings and pleading for His forgiveness; yet the Talmud advises us that Yom Kippur is the happiest day of the year precisely because on this day those who truly repent are granted forgiveness.



          Succos (The fifteenth day from Rosh Hashanah)

          Immediately after Yom Kippur, preparation for Succos begins and Jews head outdoors to construct a temporary abode known as a Succah.  We are commanded to “dwell” in it for seven days; which means to both eat and sleep in the Succah.

          The purpose of this mitzva is to recall how G-d provided us with shelter during the 40 years we wandered in the desert after leaving Egypt and to recognize we are always dependent upon His protection for our survival.

          The first day of Succos is a Yom Tov (the first two days in the diaspora), the middle six days (five in the diaspora) are called “chol hamoed” (the intermediate days of the festival), and the final day (two days in the diaspora) is also a Yom Tov.  The days of chol hamoed have some work restrictions and some aspects of the prayer service are similar to Yom Tov.

          There is another mitzva specific to the festival of Succos; the taking of the four species: esrog (citron), lulav (palm branch), hadasim (myrtle) and arovos (willow). Rabbinic literature tells us these four species symbolize all different types of Jews and when united with his brethren any Jew may find his place before God, even if individually undeserving.

          The esrog, is held in the left hand and the lulav, myrtle and willow are held in the right hand; they are joined together and shaken in six directions (east. south, west, north, up and down).

          After the seven days of Succos, there is a separate, new holiday called Shemine Atzeret. This day in Israel is also Simchas Torah, the yearly celebration of completing the reading of the entire Torah scroll. In the diaspora, because Yom Tov is two days, Shemini Atzeret is celebrated on the eighth day and Simchas Torah is celebrated on the ninth day after the onset of Succos.



          Passover (In middle of the seventh month from Rosh Hashanah)

         Springtime is the season for Passover, in fact, the Jewish calendar is periodically adjusted in order for this to occur. Seven times in every 19 year cycle we have an extra month to synchronize the Jewish (lunar) and secular (solar) years.

          Passover is similar to Succos in that it lasts for seven days in Israel and eight in the diaspora.  The days of Yom Tov and Chol Hamoed are the same as Succos: the first and last day(s) being Yom Tov with Chol Hamoed as the intermediate days.

          For Passover, the Torah bids us to remove or disown all leavened products in our property. To accomplish this feat, the women of the house do a sort of spring cleaning to make sure they have found every crumb of bread, pasta and cracker. Many jokes have been born to describe the enormous effort required to “make” Passover but the Code of Jewish Law specifically tells us not to make light of all the women’s efforts “because they have a source upon which to rely”.

          Once the holiday arrives, the main mitzvos center around the Passover seder, in which the story of the Jew’s exodus from Egypt is retold through a text called the Haggada, and Matzo, bitter herbs and wine are consumed. The story is told to the children, as a means of continuing the chain of our tradition and informing each generation of our being chosen by G-d.

          The restrictions against leavened products remain in effect for all eight days of Passover.



          Shavuos (in the 9th month from Rosh Hashanah)

          We are commanded to count 49 days, a complete seven weeks from the second day of Passover until the fiftieth day, which is called Shavuos (weeks).  Shavuos is a Yom Tov commemorating the day the Almighty revealed Himself at Mt. Sinai and gave us (the entire nation of Israel) the Ten Commandments.

          The seven weeks counted between Passover, when we were taken out miraculously from Egypt and Shavuos, when G-d selected us to receive his Torah (laws), indicate their connection; the Jews were redeemed from slavery in order to become G-d’s people and to serve Him.

          Shavuos is observed as a Yom Tov for one day in Israel and two days in the diaspora.  There are no mitzvos specific to Shavuos, besides the standard work restrictions of Yom Tov, but there are two very common customs which are observed.   Many Jews stay up all night engaged in Torah study, in order to demonstrate their eagerness to receive the Torah, which G-d gave early in the morning.  The other custom is to eat dairy foods during the holiday.



          Minor Holidays    

          A minor Jewish holiday refers to a celebration that was not mentioned in the Five Books of Moses but was instituted by the Sages after the Torah was given.  These two holidays are known as Chanukah and Purim.  They differ from the major holidays in that they are not considered a Yom Tov and therefore, have no work restrictions, only positive mitzvos which the Rabbis instituted.

          Chanukah   (beginning roughly three months after Rosh Hashanah and celebrated for eight days)

        This holiday lasts for eight days and commemorates two miracles that occurred during the second temple (approximately 162 B.C.E.).

          The first of the miracles of Chanukah, was the military victory a relatively small band of Jews won against the Syrian-Hellenist army. The second miracle was: upon winning a war against overwhelming odds the Jews returned to the desecrated Temple in order to rededicate it. They found but one vial of oil to kindle the Menorah; only enough to burn for one day. The single vial of oil burned for eight days. The following year, the sages instituted the mitzva of Chanukah: to light candles for eight straight nights. 

          There is also a custom to eat foods fried in oil (like latkes or donuts) to remind us of the miracle of the oil. 

          Purim   (occurring in the 6th month after Rosh Hashanah)

          Purim celebrates the Jews’ triumph of survival in the period after the destruction of the First Temple, when the Jews of Persia were threatened with annihilation.  Through a series of miraculous events, the ploy against them was foiled, demonstrating all world events are ultimately controlled by the Almighty.

          Purim is a most festive day on which the Sages enacted five mitzvos: to read the Book of Esther (called the Megillah), to give food portions to friends, to give money to the needy, to have a festive meal, and to drink wine in honor of the day.

          Purim is the one day a year when religious Jews allow themselves to get a little tipsy.



IX.    A Jewish Wedding

          An orthodox Jewish wedding is a celebration that includes the whole community of Israel. It represents a continuation of the Jewish people and is therefore considered a “simcha” (happy occasion) for the entire nation. The atmosphere at an Orthodox wedding is extremely festive. In fact, Jewish law bids us to create joy for a bride and groom.

          The guests are intent on fulfilling the mitzvah of making the “chosson” (groom) and “kallah” (bride) happy. The Talmud tells us that anyone who gladdens the heart of a groom and his bride is deserving of reward.  The guests come with this attitude: to entertain the wedding couple, and not to be entertained by them.

          A traditional Jewish wedding is composed of several parts, based on Jewish law and customs, each one rich in history, meaning, and symbolism. The following is a guide to the sequence of wedding events.

          Kabbalat Panim (Reception)

          Generally a wedding begins with the reception.

          Many follow a tradition in which the bride and groom refrain from seeing each other for a period of up to one week before the wedding. Therefore there are separate receptions; one for the bride and one for the groom.

          On their wedding day the bride and groom are likened to a king and queen. The bride sits in a special chair similar to a throne and greets guests. Meanwhile the groom is busy with the Rabbi in a separate room signing the marriage “kesuba” (contract) and the conditions of the marriage “tenaim” (agreement).

          Bedekan  (Veiling Ceremony)

          The groom is escorted to his bride with great singing and dancing. He then confirms that she is his intended and lowers the veil over her face. The guests then proceed to the chupah.

          Chupah (Wedding Canopy)

          The groom is escorted to the Chupah by his parents.

          He waits there for the bride who is brought down the aisle by her parents and circles around him seven times.

          The ceremony begins with the recitation of two blessings. Immediately thereafter the groom places a ring on his bride’s finger and the couple is married in the eyes of the Torah.

          The marriage contract is then read aloud.

          The second part of the ceremony involves seven blessings typically recited by honored guests.

           The ceremony is completed with the groom stepping on and breaking a glass amidst shouts of “Mazel Tov”.

          Privacy (Yichud)

          Accompanied, once again by singing and dancing, the couple is escorted to a private room where they will share their first few moments together as husband and wife. 



          The Wedding Meal (Seudah)

          The wedding meal, celebrating the mitzvah of marriage, is served and the guests begin eating while waiting for the newly married couple’s grand entrance to the ballroom.

          The Dancing

          The highlight of the wedding commences upon the couples return. They are greeted with enthusiastic singing and very spirited dancing in separate circles of men and women.  Keep your eyes on the middle of the circle where guests, intent on making the bride and groom happy, will be performing all kinds of amusing “schtick.”

          Most often, the dancing guests form two or three concentric circles around the bride and groom. Anyone standing on the perimeter of those circles will periodically be asked to join in the dancing and sometimes even physically pulled in. Join in the merriment; you’ll love it.

          Grace After Meals (Bircas Hamazon) and another Seven Blessings (Sheva Brochos)

          The celebration concludes with a communal grace-after-meals and seven additional blessings in honor of the bride and groom.

          For seven days after the wedding the bride and groom continue to celebrate their marriage with festive meals for family and friends, at which the seven blessings in their honor are recited.

          Jewish Weddings: A Torah Perspective

          A Torah Observant wedding is one of the religious events that captivates the interest and fascinates the secular person, whether Jew or gentile.

          The infectious joy and beauty of a traditional wedding is apparent even to a first time participant.  Jewish attitudes and values which help to create this ambiance are a bit more subtle, but worth noting.   As previously mentioned, the main intent of the guests is to fulfill the mitzvah (religious obligation) of making the bride and groom happy.  The wedding celebration then becomes infused with a religious fervor, excitement and sense of purpose.  Unlike secular weddings, the great majority of guests, with the exception of the infirm and a few real ogres, are actively involved in the proceedings. 

          In such an environment the usual focus on food, regardless of how delicious or plentiful, is lessened. In fact, it is not unusual for a few of the more exuberant dancers to miss eating all together.

          One who is inexperienced at Jewish weddings may also be impressed by the large attendance, which helps make a more festive atmosphere.  Every guest is not necessarily a close friend or relative of the bride and groom; they may just be friends of someone in the family.  They are invited and attend because a Jewish wedding is truly a community celebration for which all the Jewish people have cause to rejoice. Therefore, the guest lists tend to include extensive numbers of the couple’s community. 

          Another, somewhat unique aspect of a religious Jewish wedding is the level of modesty maintained. Despite the easy accessibility of alcohol, no one seems to get really drunk. Judaism utilizes alcohol as a means of enhancing one’s happiness only.  Wine is mandated for use in almost every Jewish celebration, but never is one permitted to lose his better judgment and behave crudely. 

          These are some of the features of a traditional Jewish wedding that make it so enjoyable and distinct from other types of weddings.



Stage IV: “Getting It All Together”


          If you’ve come this far, experienced, read and learned about everything in the previous chapters, and it’s been positive, the next step is clear- you’re ready to become observant.

          Although this is the logical next step, it’s still a little scary.  It’s a big step and will necessitate a couple of concepts not commonly found in our culture: commitment and sacrifice.

          While looking in from the outside may have been enjoyable and, indeed, Jewish life is a beautiful, pleasurable and fulfilling lifestyle, still it’s hard to revamp one’s way of living without confronting some difficulties and making some major adjustments.

          There are three important aspects of your life that are bound to be affected by becoming religious: career, social life and family relations.  Adherence to Jewish law will impose restrictions on both your work schedule and physical relations; your friends’ and family’s reaction to your new ideas may be a source of contention and alienation.

          Of course, it is possible that all these things will work out beautifully and you can accomplish this changeover seamlessly and without challenges - but don’t count on it.  While ultimately, all these areas of life will be enhanced, initially, sacrifices will need to be made and your commitment will be challenged repeatedly.

          In this section of the book, “Getting It All Together”, we will try to prepare you for some of these challenges and sacrifices and offer some advice on how to deal successfully with them.  



Chapter 9: How Will This Affect My Career?

          "Gather in your grain". (Deuteronomy 11:14)

          The oral tradition explains this biblical verse as a commandment to earn a livelihood.

          There is no contradiction between living a religious life and pursuing one's career goals. Although a Jew believes ultimate success or failure is determined by the Almighty, he is still bidden by the Torah to extend all his efforts towards earning a living.  Judaism repels the notion of an indolent zealot who depends entirely upon Divine support without plying his hands in labor.  Ever since Adam, the first man, was told, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread,” (Genesis 3:19); humankind has been expected to work for sustenance. 

          Livelihood must come from work that is honest, legal, and permitted by the Torah.  This, of course, rules out the possibility of becoming a "hit man" for the Mafia, producing pornographic videos and preparing cheeseburgers at Burger King.  It also limits someone who is a Kohein (from the priestly tribe), who is prohibited from coming into contact with a corpse, from pursuing a medical career or administrating a funeral chapel. 

          Still, almost all forms of work remain viable and it is possible to find religious Jews working as doctors, lawyers, policemen and engineers; many are involved in business enterprises, others are active in the arts.

          In and of themselves, none of these pursuits are contrary to observant Judaism, some however, are more difficult to fit into an observant lifestyle.

          In America today, Jews enjoy legal protection from job discrimination and cannot be fired for being Sabbath observers. Laws notwithstanding, if in fact a Jew is faced with the choice of keeping Shabbos or keeping a particular job, there is no room for compromise; he must seek other employment.

          Michael, who worked at the race track, handicapping horse races, had to seek other employment because his job required him to work on Shabbos.

          Susanne, a C.P.A., who works for a medium size firm, is able to maintain her observant lifestyle even during tax season by working Sundays and evenings, to make up for work missed on Saturdays.

          Where your job does conflict with a religious lifestyle, don’t get caught up in the all or nothing syndrome, which goes something like this, “I have this great job that I can’t see giving up, so I don’t want to pursue religion at all right now.”  This is very shortsighted thinking.  The job you love now may not be so fulfilling in another year; you may be relocated or your new supervisor may have a problem with anger control. Why place limitations on your personal lifestyle choices because of something so unpredictable?  You are better off pursuing your long term personal goals instead of putting all your eggs in the professional basket.

          It is hard to know ahead of time just how far one’s interest in Judaism will take him.  There may come a point when the practice of religion becomes more personally gratifying than one’s career.  There are numerous stories of people preferring observance over their current job.  It would not make much sense to deny yourself the possibility of increasing your personal happiness and fulfillment because you are momentarily content with your present employment.

          Realistically, we’re not suggesting dropping your current lifestyle to immediately embrace observance, but one should not be dissuaded from considering a more Jewish lifestyle on account of a decision that they may or may not be forced to make at some future time.  If such a choice should ever become necessary, you will be better equipped to make it after you have made yourself more fully aware of the rewards of each option.  You are, undoubtedly, aware of the benefits of furthering your career.  In the interest of making a wise decision, you should become familiar with the benefits a Jewish life has to offer.

          Don’t get us wrong! We’re not saying, “the heck with professional career opportunities.” We are saying, “you can be extremely successful in your job and at the same time be a devout Jew.”

          Why don’t you ask observant Jews, who do work in all sorts of professions and businesses, how they balance Judaism with their career. You don’t necessarily have to make an appointment with U. S. Senator Joseph Lieberman (Independent– Connecticut) to find out how he is able to be a highly regarded politician, run for president, and still be Sabbath observant. There are probably a few fine, friendly and successful observant Jews in your back yard; they would be thrilled to talk to you; go and speak to them!

          Other concerns a Jew in the workplace must be aware of, involve the myriad laws of Jewish business ethics. In fact, there is an entire section in the Code of Jewish Law addressing this topic.

          Jews are required to be scrupulously honest in their business dealings and to sanctify G-d’s name through acting fairly and pleasantly with all people, no matter what line of work they are in.

          Don’t be misled by the libelous accusations about religious businessmen being crooks and charlatans – that’s what the Jew haters say about Jews in general. It’s a lie, plain and simple. Those few “religious looking” who are bad apple, aren’t really religious.

          Religious Jewish law is very clear about maintaining a high standard of business ethics. Any religious Jew who doesn’t follow the law will eventually be ostracized and shunned by the community. The Talmud teaches us when a Jew comes up for the final judgment in heaven, the first question the heavenly court asks is, “did you deal honestly in business?” 

          Irving Bunim, a religious Jewish businessman and philanthropist, is known to have once called a gentile supplier and informed him, “Today is a special day for my business.”  The supplier asked why the day was special. Bunim answered,  “everyday Jewish law teaches us to act fairly and honestly in business but rarely am I given the opportunity to exhibit this behavior to others- but today is different. Today is special because I have the opportunity to demonstrate how a Jew conducts business.  You were supposed to send me one bolt of expensive cloth but instead you sent me 10 bolts - but charged me for only one; the mistake would probably never be found. I want you to know I’m returning the 9 bolts of cloth.”



Chapter 10: Social Life: A Surprising Assessment

          By becoming an observant Jew you gain automatic membership to an exclusive club. Almost anywhere in the world you might meet up with other members of the club who would offer you hospitality, friendly advice and make contacts for you. You are truly connected on a global level.

          If a Jew living in New York has to be in Skokie, Illinois over the weekend it is an extremely good bet that another observant family will be found to host him given a few phone calls. If a Jew is going for medical treatments and needs help getting back and forth from those treatments, it is an extremely good bet that another observant Jew will be found to transport him within a few calls. If you find yourself at an airport with all your luggage and realize you must attend to something in another part of the terminal you would have no hesitation asking another observant Jew, who you have never met before, to watch your luggage until you return.

          Observant teenagers visiting Disney World during winter break, are likely to run into scores of people they know from their school or community; they are either friends or friends of friends. Most people who are not observant have difficulty comprehending how you could know so many people hundreds or thousands of miles from home. But the observant Jew finds this quite logical and ordinary. After all, we’re all part of the same club. We all go to the same school, the same synagogue, the same summer camp and most likely have some distant relative (somehow) in common.  

          If you should, heaven forbid, become ill, the Torah observant community has the best volunteer ambulance service (Hatzalah) in the United States to respond, and if necessary rush you to the nearest hospital.  More than likely, a bikur cholim (visiting the sick) society in your neighborhood will be visiting you in the hospital. When your time to go to a far better place finally comes (after a hundred and twenty), you can be sure the Jewish burial society will be facilitating the funeral proceedings.
          Amazing, isn’t it, the incredible social network you become part of when you are a member of the observant community.

          The pluses of observant social life are numerous but there are social-life limitations that you should be aware of.

          Judaism places great emphasis upon friendship and social interaction.  There are, however, a few distinctions between religious social life and secular social life.  First and foremost is, not every type of social activity is permitted.  Jewish law would forbid attending some kinds of clubs and eating at non-Kosher restaurants.  There are definite restrictions on whom you can date and pre-marital intimacy. Don’t be frightened - most things a person enjoys doing or has an interest in, are appropriate activities and may be pursued and cultivated. 

          The Torah perspective about one's social life is that it should not be considered merely a way of "killing time" or purely the pursuit of pleasure; it should also be worthwhile and productive.

          In the remainder of this chapter we are going to discuss two major aspects of social life, friends and dating, and how they fit in with observance.



I.    Friends

          Friends are precious, and rare.  They are hard to find and require effort to keep but the effort is very worthwhile.

          A good friend is someone you can relate to comfortably, who can share your experiences and emotions and who sincerely desires the very best for you.  Obviously then, the best friends a person interested in Judaism can have, are other people interested in Judaism.  Finding others to talk to, who can offer support and share new experiences, is essential in your development and necessary for your success and well being. The Talmud tells us, acquiring a friend is as important as finding a Rebbe.

          Fortunately, there are thousands of Jews today that are in the process of becoming more Jewishly committed.  To meet them, one need only start attending Jewish functions.  Classes, lectures, Shabbatonim, and holiday retreats are the best places to meet people that can provide you with friendship and support.  It's guaranteed that the friendships you make at these types of events will be genuine.  It's common knowledge that people feel closest to those with whom they've shared meaningful experiences.  Therefore, you are going to feel very close to fellow Jews with whom you've spent a beautiful Shabbos.  The more meaningful the activity you experience with others, the stronger the friendship you develop.  This is why Jewish social life is tied so closely to Jewish religious life.  Your best friends will generally be the people you study with, pray with or spend holidays with.

          This is not to say, there's anything wrong with going bicycle riding with your friends, on the contrary, that’s great! We’re just saying, friendships based upon worthwhile shared activities will assuredly prove to be more valuable.

          There is no need to give up good, old friendships.  Close and meaningful relationships are rare and should be held onto.  A close friend ought to be supportive of your newfound interest and be able to talk to you about it.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  Many of your Jewish friends, according to our experience, will react negatively to your pursuit of religion and may find it difficult to maintain the friendship.  There are various reasons why this is so: some feel threatened by their own lack of observance, some will feel you have become critical of them and their lifestyle, and a few will presume you’ve been brainwashed - they will do their best to avoid you.

          Most secular Jews have serious misconceptions concerning their observant brethren. Secular Jews believe observant Jews don’t really consider them Jewish.  Such an attitude will naturally cause a strain on your relationship and will test the friendship.  You can, however, with great patience and avoidance of “preaching”, correct many of these mistaken notions.   The friends that listen and allow you to be yourself, are true friends.   

          As for non-Jewish friends, our experience has been, they usually are more supportive and respectful.  Perhaps this is because your religiosity has no real implications to them, positive or negative, emotional or psychological.

          Whether your friends are Jewish or not, there is nothing wrong with maintaining your relationship with them. Realistically, though, one should anticipate that some of your friendships will be affected by your becoming observant.  Don’t be deterred by this.  It’s a very good bet, as we’ve mentioned, that you will form new and more meaningful relationships based on shared interests, experiences and values as you become more involved in an observant Jewish life.     



II.    Dating

          “What about dating?” you’re wondering.

          This part of your social life will probably change significantly.  One’s social life, as we’ve mentioned, is intended to be purposeful and constructive - and dating is no exception.

          To a great degree, observant life is built around and emphasizes family; family means marriage.  Consequently, the purpose of dating is to get married.  It is not considered a social activity by itself, meant for fun and good times, but is a necessary preliminary to finding your life’s partner.

          It is believed that G-d has designated a particular spouse for every soul He creates and our task is to find that person, known as our “bashert”. This doesn’t mean that dating can’t be enjoyable, just that it ought to be purposeful as well.  The Hebrew word “tachlis” (purpose) is used to convey this idea and so, observant dating is said to be tachlis oriented.          
          Not only is the reason for dating different but the whole procedure probably varies somewhat from what you’ve been accustomed to.  Generally, there is a third party who acts as a go between. This person is referred to as a “shadchan” (matchmaker) and their role can range anywhere from proposing the “shidduch” (match) to just relaying information. With the help of a shadchan a lot of unnecessary discomfort and embarrassment can be avoided.
          With the emphasis on finding one’s bashert, the primary goal on a date is to determine whether the person you are with is somebody with whom you could spend your life and raise a family.  Consequently, the notions of romance, infatuation and physical attraction become secondary considerations to how well you get along, shared values and common lifestyles.  The goal of a date then, is getting to know the other person as best you can instead of having a “great time”.

          The activities of a date are therefore, often rather dull, since the primary focus is to get to know the person you’re with. Becoming absorbed in a great movie or riding a roller coaster can be a significant obstacle to meaningful conversation.  Often, an observant date consists of nothing more than going to a public place like a hotel lobby and talking.  As unexciting as this may seem, it accomplishes more effectively the goal of getting to know another person.

          Perhaps the most difficult distinction, between secular and religious dating, involves the prohibition of physical contact between non-married men and women.  That’s right, no peck on the cheek, no holding hands, nothing!  Abiding by this rule, although challenging, helps to insure that you are establishing a relationship based on more than mere physical attraction and therefore, more likely to survive the myriad challenges married life brings.

          Statistically, observant Jews who marry, divorce significantly less than the rest of the population. They must be doing something right.       



Chapter 11:  Parents And Family: Am I In Or Out?

          The Torah clearly admonishes one to honor parents.  To promote peace and good feelings between all family members is a fundamental principle in the Talmud.  Even with regard to friends, indeed even strangers, we are told that one should greet before being greeted and show great respect to all persons.  How much more so are we required to honor and respect our parents.

          The particular problems you may run into with your parents and family when becoming religious, greatly depend on your conduct and personality (as well as theirs).  If you are not sensitive to their feelings then you are probably going to meet opposition.  Just remember all they have done for you and the important values they have instilled in you.

          There are tens of thousands of Jews who have become observant in the last two decades - learn from their experience!

          Let's not be naive.

          Your exploration may, and probably will, cause consternation, confusion, guilt and hostility amongst your parents and family.

          Let us assure you that statistically 99% of Jewish parents who manifest the aforementioned reactions come to sympathize, support, and even, in some cases, join with their child or sibling in adopting an observant Jewish lifestyle.

          On the other hand, let us mention: until you reach that acceptance, you may go through some gut wrenching experiences.  This chapter is written to help you anticipate and respond to these likely reactions.  If you adopt our do's and don'ts and follow our general suggestions it should make life a lot easier and more comfortable for all concerned.

          Bear in mind if you follow our prescription and you're not getting anywhere at all, even over time and with your best efforts - your parents, may be the unique 1% who are just not going to accept you.  In such a case the Torah directs us clearly.  You are obligated to respect your parents but not when this involves violating a Torah commandment.  Their opposition cannot affect your observance.

          Bottom line: There is almost no way out of small battle skirmishes, but if you persevere things will work out in the long run.

          To your parents and family, your newfound Jewish awareness represents an implicit rejection of their Jewish lifestyle.  By involvement in observant Judaism you are sending them signals.  Decoded, those signal add up to:

          * The Jewish education they provided, if any, was inadequate.
          * Their own commitment is similarly inadequate
          * Fundamentally, you are striking at the very essence of their entire life's values and meaning, saying they are deficient.

          This is how your parents will most likely react to your observance.  In a small percentage of cases your parents will encourage and aide you from the very start but don't count on it.

          Ignorance is your greatest enemy.  The more you learn about Judaism and can relay to your parents the less they will feel threatened and the less will be their guilt, hostility and opposition.




The Don'ts:

  • Don't impose on family by announcing that the oven has to be blow torched; you don't own your parent's kitchen!  Try to be as unobtrusive as possible.  Remember, the more you impose, the greater resistance you’ll meet.                                                                     
  • Don't suddenly start to wear a four cornered fringed garment on the outside of your shirt or radically change the way you dress.  Let's get one thing clear.  Right now, your Jewish knowledge may still be lacking.  Your parents may recognize just how little you know and become frightened and think you have become a member of a cult or gone off the deep end.  Your parents will think you have been brainwashed and they have lost the son or daughter they know and love.
  • Don't preach or make yourself out to be knowledgeable before you are. 

          If you are guilty of any of the above, you are not showing proper sensitivity.

The Do's:

          Let us now take an actual example directly affecting your relationship with your family and see how to handle it step by step.

Making your home kosher - some recommendations:

          Begin by explaining to your parents that you are exploring Judaism and it would mean a great deal to you if they could please allow you to eat kosher food on kosher dishes or paper plates, which don't create an imposition.

          Involve your parents by discussing the topic of kashrus with them so that they can become fellow travelers on the road to Torah knowledge.  They will learn a great deal, as will you, and you will have shown respect and sensitivity toward their feelings.  They may like keeping kosher as much or perhaps more than you.

          It's important to be realistic and practical - if your parents continue to resist your efforts to allow you to be kosher in their home,  (e.g. they pack your bags, they change the locks to the front door or still worse they threaten you with "Why are you doing this to us after all we have done for you?") then you are faced with a dilemma.

          You have to make your parents realize you are serious in your convictions to be kashrus observant. Let your parents know you are committed to keeping kosher.  Let your parents settle into the situation; give them time to reconcile themselves with your decision.  Bear in mind how long it took you to accept some of these new ideas.  Give them the same amount of time, or more.   They will eventually accept you and respect you for your courage and determination.

          If you want to begin any Torah observance we recommend the following:

          Learn about the mitzva from the sources in the Bible, Talmud and Code of Jewish Law with your Rebbe.  Then go through your newfound knowledge with your parents.  It's going to give your actions greater credibility.

          Be discreet.  Don't give them reason to say, "You're freaking out".  You can wear your wonderful new Talis Katan (fringed garment) neatly under your shirt.  Don't hurt your own growth in Judaism by giving others, obvious barbs to throw at you.

          Certain conflicts are inevitable because of specific implications of your new lifestyle.  A Torah Jew is respectful and sensitive to others but remains steadfast in belief and practice.

          When a spouse, parent or sibling develops a commitment to Judaism a different set of psychological and practical difficulties may present themselves.  As a rule however, most family’ relations problems are unrelated to the members’ level of observance, although it often becomes a convenient, substitute target for other problem issues already present.  Suffice it to say, if the problems persist or worsen, it is important to get counseling from a Rebbe, an outreach professional and/or a family therapist.



Stage V:  “Some Words of Encouragement”


          Whew!  It’s been a long journey up until now.  Encountering so many new ideas and experiences can be exhausting as well as challenging.  You’ve had  a taste of authentic Judaism to  begin to get a feeling if it’s for you.   We’ve introduced you to many of its special events, places and people, guided you through some of its observances and rituals and presented its values and uniqueness.   We’ve also tried to navigate you through some of the obstacles and show you, although presenting challenges, all of them can be overcome. 

          If, at this point, you feel that you’ve given Judaism a fair look and have carefully considered its lifestyle but are not interested in pursuing it any further, keep in mind a few things.  First, acknowledge how much you’ve learned about your own history and heritage.  In many ways you have probably gained an immeasurable amount of newfound pride, appreciation and understanding for your own people.  .   

          Try to remember that Judaism, as we’ve mentioned before, is not an all or nothing proposition.  There are 613 mitzvos and a person receives reward for each one he does.  Those mitzvos you found meaningful and enjoyable you should continue to do.  They will serve you as a source of Jewish identity as well as a connection to Jewish values.    

           Never say never.  There may come a time in your life when Judaism may seem more attractive to you, more doable or may even make more sense.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’ve already heard or seen it all and have no more to learn. Continue to study Torah because it is a never ending, worthwhile pursuit, for every Jew, at every level of observance. 

          For those of you who want to continue your Jewish journey, congratulations!  You have decided to become an active member of the chosen people.  Your future will be infused with purpose and meaning.  You also need to bear in mind that Torah study is endless and that you can never complete it.  It is the key to limitless personal growth and fulfillment.

          Remember what we said about moving forward at an appropriate, measured pace with the guidance of a teacher or rebbe.  Moving too fast can be destructive and can undermine the solid foundation you’ve already established for yourself.  Each brick has to be cemented in tightly and securely for the building to remain standing. 

          Most likely there will be more obstacles to overcome.  The Midrash tells us that G-d promises to assist those who make an effort to overcome difficulties in their spiritual pursuits.  He says, “Open for Me an opening the size of a needle hole and I will open for you an opening wagons and oxen can fit through.”  We hope you will always be deserving of this kind of heavenly assistance.

          To all those who accompanied us on this journey, we wish you all the success and blessings in the world and may you always appreciate the beauty, pleasure and privilege of being a Jew!         




Orthodox - a term we are not going to use (see Observant)

The term, Orthodox, will not be used in this booklet because its sociological meaning is unique to the last 100 plus years in America; it was used to contrast the more religious Jews from their brethren who were conservative and reform adherents.
We will use the term “Observant” which more accurately describes the scope of our tradition over the past 3,500 years.

Ultra Orthodox - See Orthodox

Jew - a person born of a Jewish Mother

Gentile - a person whose mother is not Jewish, and has not converted!

Halacha - Jewish Law as part of the chain of tradition from Sinai.

Torah - the Five Books of Moses and the Oral Tradition from Sinai

Shomer Shabbos - Sabbath observer according to the Torah

Shabbos or Sabbath - the 25 hour period from sundown Friday to approximately one hour after sundown on Saturday

Kosher - food that is permitted to be eaten after all biblical and rabbinical prohibitions are taken into account.

Shul - synagogue

Mechitzah - structural separation between men and women in a synagogue

Treif - not kosher

Hashgachah - rabbinical supervision

Arvus - the responsibility one Jew has for his fellow Jew

Yeshiva - school where Torah is taught

Intermarriage - when a Jew marries a non-Jew

Conversion - when a gentile undergoes a halachic process to become a Jew

Tz'nius - or "Jewish Fashion" the concept of modesty not only in dress but in behavior as well.

Davening - Jewish Prayer

Kiruv - Hebrew term for bringing another Jew closer to Torah observance.

Rebbe - a teacher who imparts Torah knowledge and tradition

Kabbalah – the mystical tradition of the Torah

Ba'al Teshuvah - a returnee to observant Judaism

FFB - Frum From Birth

BT - Ba'al Teshuva

Talmud - the written transcription of the entire oral law

Frum - an observant person

Aishes Chayil – a song in praise of the Jewish woman

Aliyah – the honor of making a blessing over the Torah reading in the synagogue

Amud – a small lectern located toward the front of the synagogue where the person leading the prayers stands

Arovos – two branches of a willow tree used ritually on the holiday of Sukkos

Badeken – the Jewish wedding’s veiling ceremony in which the groom confirms that the bride is his intended and lowers the veil over her face

Bar-Mitzvah – when a Jewish boy reaches the age of thirteen and becomes obligated to perform all the commandments of the Torah

Bashert – the spouse G-d has designated for a particular person

Bas-Mitzvah – when a Jewish girl reaches the age of twelve
and becomes obligated to perform all the commandments of the Torah

Beis Medrash – a study hall where the study of Torah takes place

Bentch Licht – Yiddish for “Blessing the Lights”, referring to the ritual of lighting candles at the start of the Sabbath and the Festivals

Bencher – a small booklet that contains religious songs and commonly said blessings over food

Bikur Cholim – visiting the sick

Bimah – a small, bounded-off platform in the center of the synagogue where the Torah reading takes place

Birkas Hamazon – Grace after Meals

Bracha – a blessing

Challah – braided loaf of bread that is used for Shabbos and holiday meals

Chol Hamoed – intermediate days of the Sukkos and Pesach Festivals

Chometz – leavened bread and other grain-based items that are forbidden during the week of Passover

Chosson – a groom

Cholent – a traditional Shabbos food that consists of meat, potatoes, barley, and beans slow cooked together

Chumash – the Five Books of Moses

Chupah – the wedding canopy

Derech Eretz – basic good manners and politeness

Diaspora – anywhere outside of the Land of Israel

Erev Shabbos – Friday before sundown

Esrog – a citrus fruit that is one of the Four Species which are ritually waved on the holiday of Sukkos

Gadol (Plural - Gedolim) – one of the leading rabbinic authorities of the era

Gemarah – completed in Babylonia 1,500 years ago, a compilation of Jewish legal and ethical discussions that comprise a major component of the Talmud

Hachnosas Orchim – The Mitzvah of hospitality

Hadasim – three branches from a myrtle tree used ritually on the holiday of Sukkos

Haggada – a book used at the Seder to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt

Halachically – performed in a manner which conforms to Jewish Law

Hamotzie – the blessing recited over bread at the beginning of a meal

Havdallah – a short prayer recited at the close of the Sabbath over wine, fragrant spices, and a braided candle

Kabbalas Panim – the reception at the beginning of an observant Jewish wedding

Kabbalas Shabbos – the Friday evening prayer service when we greet the arrival of the Sabbath

Kaddish – a short prayer that is commonly recited in memory of departed relatives

Kallah – a bride

Kashrus – the Jewish dietary laws

Kesuba – the Jewish wedding contract

Kiddush – a blessing over wine recited at Sabbath and Festival meals

KofK – one of the large kosher supervisory agencies in North America

Kohein – a Jew who is a descendant of Aaron the High Priest

Kollel – a select group of Yeshiva students who receive a small stipend for their Torah scholarship and who have dedicated themselves to full-time Torah study

L'shem Shomayim – for the sake of Heaven, to the exclusion of any ulterior motive

Lubavitch – a group of Hasidic Jews headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, known for their extensive outreach activities

Lulov – a palm branch used ritually on the holiday of Sukkos

Maariv – evening prayer

Mazal Tov – congratulations

Megillas Esther – the biblical Book of Esther read from a parchment scroll both evening and day on Purim

Menorah – the candelabra used on the eight nights of Chanukah

Menucha – rest

Mezuzah – a parchment with two sections from the Torah affixed to doorposts in an observant family’s house

Mikva – ritual bath used to attain spiritual purity

Mincha – afternoon prayer

Minyan (Plural – Minyanim) – A quorum of at least ten Jewish men required for public prayers

Mishna – compilation of the Oral Law by Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi circa 200 CE

Mitzva – a commandment of the Torah

Musaf – additional prayer recited on the Sabbath and Festivals

Neilah – the final prayer recited on Yom Kippur

OK – one of the large kosher supervisory agencies in North America

OU – the largest kosher supervisory agency in North America

Pesach – the Jewish holiday of Passover celebrating the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt

Pidyon HaBen – a ceremony involving a first born son in which money is given to the Kohein after the thirtieth day of the boy’s life

Rashi Script – an alternative font for the Hebrew alphabet

Satmar – a group of Hasidic Jews headquartered in Brooklyn, New York

Schlugged Kaporos – an ancient Jewish custom of waving a chicken over one’s head then donating it to charity, as an atonement before Yom Kippur

Schtick – when guests, intent on making the bride and groom happy, perform all kinds of amusing dances and tricks

Seder – a evening full of ritual, reenacting the exodus from Egypt, conducted on the first two nights of Passover

Sefer Torah – a parchment scroll of the Five Books of Moses usually stored in a special closet called an “Aron Kodesh” (Holy Ark)

Semicha – Rabbinical ordination that certifies an individual competent to render decisions in matters of Jewish religious law

Seudah – meal

Shabbosdik – an aura reflective of the special quality of Shabbos

Shacharis – morning prayer

Shadchan – matchmaker

Shalach Manos – gifts of food given to friends on the Jewish holiday of Purim

Sholom Aleichem – a song welcoming the angels that accompany a Jew home from synagogue on Shabbos eve

Shatnes – a mixture of linen and wool biblically forbidden in clothing

Shavuos – the Jewish festival celebrating the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai

Shemonah Esrai – the silent devotion - a prayer that is the core of the Jewish prayer service

Shmini Atzeres – a festival that is celebrated the eighth day after the onset of Sukkos

Shofar – ram’s horn that is sounded on the Jewish New Year

Shulchan Aruch – the principal code of Jewish Law compiled in the sixteenth century by Rabbis Yosef Karo and Moshe Isserles

Siddur – a Jewish prayer book

Simchas Torah – the yearly celebration of completing the public reading of the entire Torah

Sofer – a scribe who is certified to write the parchments for holy writ e.g. the Sefer Torah, Tefillin, and Mezuzah

Streimel – a fur hat that Jews used to wear in Eastern Europe and that some Hasidic Jews still wear in modern times

Sukkah – a temporary booth-like dwelling Jews live in during the seven day Festival of Booths

Sukkos – the seven day Festival of Booths

Synagogue – a Jewish house of prayer

Tachlis – the Hebrew word for “purpose”, with regard to matrimony used to convey the idea that observant dating ought to be purposeful and marriage-oriented

Tallis Katan – a four-cornered fringed garment, where the fringes are called tzitzis, worn by Jewish males in fulfillment of a biblical commandment

Talmid – disciple or student

Tanach – an acronym for Torah (The Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ksuvim (Holy Writings), which together comprise the Jewish Bible

Tefillin – leather boxes containing holy writ parchments, attached to leather straps that Jewish adult males wear on their arm and head every day

Tenoim – an agreement, signed before the wedding ceremony, between the families of the bride and groom, proclaiming that all outstanding financial obligations of both sides have been met

Tisha B’av – the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, the Jewish national day of mourning commemorating the destruction of both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem approximately 2,400 and 2,000 years ago respectively, it is the saddest day in the Jewish calendar

Tzitzis – the fringes of a four cornered garment Jewish males are required to wear

Yarmulke – a head covering worn by Jewish males

Yichud – with regard to the marriage ceremony, when the newlywed couple is escorted to a private room where they will share their first few moments together as husband and wife before rejoining their guests at the wedding banquet

Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement spent by Jews in fasting and prayer

Yom Tov – a Jewish Festival

Zemiros – religious songs that are commonly sung together at the Sabbath table



Held at Congregation Adereth El

Last updated on: 11/16/2019
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