Rituals and Symbols

Jewish tradition is rich with objects and rituals which elevate the meaning of an event to a higher spiritual plane. Jewish living is designed to make us partners with God in creating a just and compassionate society and to help us live in accordance with God's will and perspective on the world. As symbols, our ritual objects point to that which is holy, for Judaism teaches us to imbue the mundane with a spirit of sanctity. To live life so as to elevate everything to a level of holiness seems an unattainable task, and so our rituals, holy objects, and sacred texts assist us in infusing our lives with greater holiness.

Historically speaking, some of our rituals and ritual objects derive from other cultures, but each has been reshaped by Jewish values and Jewish experience and given new meaning in the context of Jewish living. Many ancient peoples brought food offerings to their gods. The midrash tells us that, ironically, Avram's father was an idol-maker and Avram worked in his shop selling idols when he was a youth. Yet the sacrificial cult of ancient Israel, through which our people brought food offerings to God, was unlike the pagan cults. Pagan cults appeased their gods, often angry deities who would inflict wanton destruction upon people out of irritation and for their own convenience. The God of Israel stood in covenant with the people Israel and sacrifices served to cement the bond of love and commitment between a caring, protecting, yet demanding God and a people called to God's service.

As a sign, rituals often point us in a direction our lives should follow. The tallit, for example, a prayer shawl constructed to fulfill the commandment to wear fringes on the corner of one's garments, is worn daily because the fringes, themselves, remind the wearer of his/her religious obligations.

Here you will find descriptions of a number of Jewish rituals and ritual objects. The offerings are by no means exhaustive, but each is like a keyhole, offering a view into Jewish values, thinking, and living.