Shabbat Candles by Olaf.herfurth/Wikipedia

Ask A Jew: What are the most important rituals in the lifetime of a Jew?

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By Hyphen Parent

What are the most important rituals in the lifetime of a Jew? 

SPO_Ask-a-Jew-ad_042114First and foremost, thanks for this question. This is a very interesting one that prompted quite a bit of soul searching. Sometimes the answer to an Ask A Jew question is very straightforward. Other times it’s very open to interpretation. This is one of the latter questions. This is one of those questions that I want to ask all the Jews I know because I’m curious to hear their responses.

There’s no definitive answer to this. The answer is going to vary by each Jew you ask.

Rituals and traditions are very important in Judaism. They connect us to our past, our people, our laws, and our belief. There are some connected to the life cycle, some connected to daily activity, and some connected to the calendar.
Among them, one of the most important rituals is honoring Shabbat. Every week, we light candles, say blessings, and observe the day by resting and refraining from certain activities. For many honoring Shabbat involves going to Friday night and Saturday services at the synagogue. On Saturday night, a ceremony called Havdallah says, “Goodbye,” to Shabbat and welcomes the rest of the week. Shabbat gives us an island in a hectic week to step back, rest, and remember. Many Jews have fond memories of family Shabbat dinners. The home rituals allow us to celebrate the day with our families. Shabbat dinners are one way to connect to other Jews. It’s very common for visiting Jews to be invited to Shabbat dinner when they’re in a new place.  Many find comfort and awe in familiar prayers and Torah readings at the synagogue. The public rituals help us reconnect to our group of Jews. Even those Jews who don’t attend a daily service will often come to the synagogue for the Shabbat services. All of these connect us to our Judaism, our tradition, our past, and each other.  “More than the Jewish People have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews,” Ahad Ha’am.
In this Jew’s opinion, prayer is the most important ritual. It’s present in daily life and every holiday and life cycle event. Some prayers have evolved a bit depending on the branch of Judaism. Some contain the exact same language our great great grandparents chanted. Prayer forces us to pause for gratitude amid our hectic daily lives. Prayer voices our celebration. Prayer makes ordinary moments extraordinary. Prayer brings us together. Jews are expected to say a number of prayers daily. We mark seemingly ordinary things like eating and waking with prayers of thanks. Traditionally, Jews stop to pray three times a day. When another Jew says a prayer, those around him or her say, “Amen,” with that person and become part of that prayer. There are prayers one says individually and prayers that require a minyan (a group of ten adult Jews). Prayer is the most important of all rituals because it follows us from infancy through death. It connects us to our language, our celebrations, our G-d, our Judaism, our teachings, and each other.


About Hyphen Parent

Dorothy-Ann Parent (better known as Hyphen) is a writer, a traditional Jew, a seeker of justice, a lover of stories, the self-proclaimed Jewish Molly Weasley, hobbit-sized, and best not left unattended in a bookshop or animal shelter.

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One comment

  1. Thanks, I enjoyed this post. I find that the practice of meaningful ritual is a gift of connectivity, remembrance and communion. It’s a trellis for life to grow upon.

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