Though Halloween isn't a Jewish holiday, with all the spooky fun going on in October now seems the perfect time to learn about Jewish mythical beasts and superstitions. First up: the Behemoth.
The Behemoth is a legendary creature that's mentioned in Job 40:15-24. Here the text tells us that the Behemoth is an ox-like creature that feeds on grass, yet is so large that his tail is the size of a ceder tree. The passage also names the Behemoth "first among the works of God," a statement that has led some to believe that the Behemoth was the first creature that God created.
According to the 2nd century B.C.E. Book of Enoch, the Behemoth still lives in the desert "east of the garden where the elect and the righteous dwell" (1 Enoch 60:7-8). There he awaits the end of days, when he will engage the Leviathan in a battle to the death.
Learn more about the Behemoth in: The Behemoth in Jewish Mythology
Image credit: "Behemoth and Leviathan" by William Blake, from his Illustrations of the Book of Job.
It's October and as far as emails in my inbox go, that always means one thing: lots of questions about Halloween and whether or not it is OK for Jews to celebrate the holiday. :)
Over the past few years Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser has written two formal responses to this question about American Jews celebrating Halloween. In both instances he traces the origins of Halloween, noting that what began as a Celtic holiday celebrating the harvest is now a secular holiday that is usually observed by dressing up in costume, giving out candy and going "Trick-Or-Treating." As a result, he concludes that - so long as festivities are not taken to excess - celebrating Halloween should be no more problematic for Jews than observing Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July.
Read Rabbi Goldwasser's answers in the following articles:
Image credit: Getty Images
Simchat Torah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the completion of the annual Torah reading cycle. During the year, a specific portion of the Torah is read every week and on Simchat Torah the final portion is completed with the last verses of Deuteronomy. Directly afterwards, we read the first few lines of Genesis and begin the reading cycle again.
In Hebrew "Simchat Torah" literally means "Rejoicing in the Law," and indeed it is a joyous holiday that includes marching the Torah scrolls around the synagogue, singing and dancing.
Simchat Torah begins this evening and if you'd like a quick refresher you can learn more about the holiday and how it is celebrated in these About Judaism articles:
Image credit: Getty Images/Steve McAlister
There are three major traditions associated with the celebration of Sukkot: building a sukkah, eating in the sukkah and waving the lulav and etrog. The lulav and etrog are actually four different kinds of plants (called the "Four Kinds" or "Four Species") that are brought together and waved while reciting blessings. They include a citron, a palm branch, three myrtle twigs and two willow branches.
But have you ever wondered why we wave the lulav and etrog? According to Rabbi Alfred Kolatch, the tradition of waving an item during worship can be traced back to Leviticus 7:34 and Leviticus 14:12. Here the act of waving is interpreted as bringing the offerer of a sacrifice closer to God, perhaps because the smoke from the burnt offering was being fanned towards the heavens. In Talmudic times, some rabbinic authorities also believed that the act of waving would shoo away evil spirits.
You can learn more about the Four Species and how to wave the lulav and etrog in these About Judaism articles:
Reference: "The Jewish Book of Why." Rabbi Alfred Kolatch. Jonathan David Publishers, Inc.: New York, 1981. pg.150.
Albert Einstein was a German-born Jewish theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity. His contributions to science revolutionized our understanding of physics and the universe. During his prolific career Einstein also shared his thoughts on everything from the nature of understanding to the importance of curiosity. He was also known for sharing many humorous observations, such as "The difference between genius and stupidity is; genius has its limits" and "Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy."
Read more Einstein sayings in: Famous Einstein Quotes
Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur may be behind us, but that doesn't mean the holiday season is over. A mere four days after Yom Kippur comes Sukkot, an eight-day harvest festival also known as "The Feast of Tabernacles."
Sukkot is a holiday that dates back to ancient Israel and a time when Jews would build huts called "sukkot" (singular: sukkah) near the edges of their fields during the harvest season. There are three major traditions associated with celebrating Sukkot, two of which directly involve a sukkah. First we have to build one, then we need to eat our meals in it.
Though most synagogues build a sukkah for the community to enjoy, many families also like to build their own sukkah in their backyards. Want to try and build your own too? According to Jewish law, a sukkah must meet certain standards in order to be considered a true sukkah. Check out "How to Build a Sukkah" for a brief overview of these requirements and happy building!
Yom Kippur is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar and begins today at sundown. Also known as "The Day of Atonement," during this holiday Jews focus on teshuvah (repentance), prayer and fasting. The purpose of these actions - all of which are viewed in a joyous light - is to bring about reconciliation between people and between individuals and God.
Wondering how to greet your Jewish friends during Yom Kippur? Since most Jews will fast during this holiday it is appropriate to wish them an "Easy Fast," or "Tzom Kal" in Hebrew. You can also use the traditional Yom Kippur greeting of "G'mar Hatimah Tovah," which means "May you be sealed for a good year (in the Book of Life)." This greeting reflects the view that God seals our fates on Yom Kippur and inscribes our names in either the Book of Life or the Book of Death. Finally, since Rosh HaShanah through Yom Kippur is viewed as the beginning of the New Year, you can also simply say "L'Shanah Tovah!" ("Happy New Year!")
Learn more about Yom Kippur and its meaning in: What Is Yom Kippur?
If you haven't started preparing for the Yom Kippur fast yet, there's still time. From cutting back on caffeine and focusing on complex carbs, to preparing a balanced seudat mafseket (final meal before the fast), taking steps to prep your body for a period without food and water can enhance your ability to focus on the spiritual effects of fasting.
Learn more about the best ways to prepare for fasting in: Best Ways to Prepare for the Yom Kippur (or any) Fast.
Image credit: Getty Images/Howard Sokol
Kol Nidre is an ancient legal formulation that means "All Vows." During its recitation a person asks God to annul any promises that may have been unintentionally made to God (not to other people) during the preceding year. Over the centuries several attempts have been made to eliminate Kol Nidre from the standard Yom Kippur service - partially because of its legal origins and partially because anti-Semites have misinterpreted Kol Nidre and attempted to use it as an example of Jews being untrustworthy. However, Kol Nidre is sung to such a hauntingly beautiful melody that for many Jews hearing its recitation is a defining part of the Yom Kippur experience.
Learn more about Kol Nidre's origins and meaning in: What Is Kol Nidre?
Image credit: Getty Images/Steve Allen
Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, begins today at sundown and if you're wondering how to wish fellow Jews and Jewish friends a "Happy New Year" here's the answer: "L'Shanah Tovah." L'Shanah Tovah literally means "For a Good Year." (The image above shows "L'Shanah Tovah" in Hebrew.)
There are a few other ways you can greet someone on Rosh HaShanah. For instance, you could simply say "Chag Sameach," which means "Happy Holiday" in Hebrew. You can also say "Gut Yontiff," which is Yiddish for "Happy Holiday."
Learn more about Rosh HaShanah in: The 8 Most Important Things to Know About Rosh HaShanah.
Image credit: Judaic Greetings Cards