Judaism is a fascinating religious and cultural identity that goes back thousands of years. In fact, Judaism is the world's oldest surviving monotheistic religion, dating back over 5,000 years. Today, there are estimated to be about 14-15 million Jewish people living around the world. They can mostly be found in Israel and the United States, but smaller communities exist on almost every continent.
Jewish people have a rich cultural and religious tradition which involves several unique holidays. It's the oldest of the Abrahamic religions, which includes both Christianity and Islam. Despite being related to these faiths and sharing some similarities with them, Judaic beliefs and festivals are incredibly different. While Muslims and Religious Jews both do not eat pork for religious reasons, Eid and Purim are very different celebrations! While many faiths celebrate some version of a midwinter festival, due to their shared pagan roots, Hanukkah is the roughly the Jewish equivalent of Christmas, and it lasts for over a week! However, there is a lot more to Jewish religious ritual and celebration than gift giving at Hanukkah.
If you think you know when to leave out the cup of wine for Elijah, try your luck at this Jewish Holidays quiz!
Shabbat is a holy Jewish observance that occurs from just before sundown every Friday to nightfall on Saturday. It's traditionally a day to rest and reflect and involves festive meals and ceremonies.
On Friday night at sunset, a candle lighting ceremony is held to mark the arrival of Shabbat. Traditionally, the woman of the house lights the candles, covers her eyes and recites a prayer.
The Talmud says that people should eat three meals on Shabbat. While this might not seem that strange to you, back in the day, people only ate two meals a day. The third meal should honor the Sabbath as a special day.
Challah is a type of bread that can be found at many Jewish celebrations. However, it only became a part of the Jewish tradition after being adapted from German egg bread. Some Sephardic Jews still opt for traditional flatbreads instead.
During Shabbat, it's common to sing during and after meals at the table. These table hymns are called Zemirot. The most famous of these is "Shalom Aleichem," which means "Peace be upon you."
The shofar is traditionally made out of a hollowed out ram's horn. It's blown at different times during the Rosh Hashanah morning service. Its different sounds are said to be different "voices."
Rosh Hashanah can, but does not always, occur on Shabbat. When it does, the shofar is not blown, even though it's traditionally blown on Rosh Hashanah. While Rosh Hashanah occurs yearly, Shabbat happens weekly.
Rosh Hashanah means "head of the year" in Hebrew. This two-day celebration is the first of the Jewish High Holy Days, which can be considered to include the whole 40-day period between the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
It's traditional on the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, to eat sweet foods to bring in a sweet new year. This includes eating round loaves of challah sweetened with raisins and dipping them in honey. Apples dipped in honey are also popular.
Traditionally, Jews would read about Isaac on both days of Rosh Hashanah. On the first day, they read about his birth. On the second day, they read about Isaac almost being sacrificed by his father Abraham.
Yom Kippur is a Jewish holiday built around atonement and repentance. It traditionally involves a day of fasting and prayer spent in services at a synagogue. It completes the annual period known in Judaism as the High Holy Days.
In the U.S. today, many Jews do not attend synagogue often or do many of the traditional Jewish things. However, Yom Kippur is so culturally important that it's the only time of year that some Jews attend synagogue.
In modern Israel, Yom Kippur is a legal holiday during which most of the country shuts down. Shops and businesses close, and there are no TV broadcasts. As many people fast, it's considered rude to be seen eating in public.
On the same day as Yom Kippur, some Muslims observe a day of fasting called Yom Ashura. In some countries in the Middle East and South Asia, it's become a national holiday, and many different cultural groups participate in it.
Sukkot always starts on the nightfall of the 15th, during the Jewish lunar month of Tishrei. This is when the moon is at its zenith. Sukkot lasts for seven days. The Jewish calendar, unlike our modern calendar, is based on the phases of the moon.
During Sukkot, it's traditional for sukkah (similar to a hut) to be built. These are structures covered with some sort of organic material that was harvested from the ground. They are meant to be lived in.
Sukkahs are traditionally built during the holiday Sukkot. They can be built almost anywhere; the only rule is that they must sit under the sky. In the Talmud, they're constructed even on oxcarts and on the backs of camels.
Judaism has a number of celebrations that last a few days. Sukkot lasts seven days. The last day of Sukkot is known as Hashanah Rabbah. On this day, it's traditional to have a festive meal in the sukkah.
According to the Torah, Israelites must make pilgrimages to the Holy Temple three times every year, on each of these holidays. Traditionally, they were supposed to bring donations, offerings and animal sacrifices.
In Judaism, it's said that the Seven Shepherds visit sukkahs during this holiday as special guests. They are also known as the ushpizin and include Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Jacob, Aaron, Joseph and David.
Hanukkah is celebrated in the winter for eight nights. It commemorates the Jews freeing themselves from oppressive rule against the odds and keeping a ceremonial menorah lit for 8 nights with only a single night's worth of oil.
One of the most famous symbols of Judaism and Jewish culture and celebration is the Menorah. This distinctive candelabrum holds nine flames, one of which is used to light a candle a night during Hanukkah.
As the Hanukkah miracle involved oil, it's traditional on this holiday to eat foods fried in oil. The most famous Hanukkah food is the latke, which is an Eastern European fried potato pancake.
Dreidels are four-sided spinning tops with a different Hebrew letter on each side. It's a fun holiday game played over a pot of coins, nuts, candies and other small objects like that. Most Jewish kids play with them on Hanukkah.
While in modern Hanukkah celebrations there's an emphasis on giving gifts, somewhat like Christmas, this was not always the case. Traditionally, gifts of only money were given to children.
Brisket is one of the biggest traditional Jewish holiday foods. It's enjoyed on the holidays of Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah and Passover. This tradition evolved from Kosher practices and from brisket historically being more affordable.
Purim is a spring Holiday which celebrates Jewish Persian Queen Esther, who stopped the Ancient Persian Empire from enacting a genocide on the Jewish people within its borders. This story can be found in the Book of Esther in the Bible.
Purim is a particularly festive and joyous holiday for those of the Jewish faith. It includes all of the above-mentioned activities, as well as wearing masks and costumes, drinking wine and even public parades.
Hamantaschen means literally "Haman's Pockets." Haman is the villain in the story of Purim. These triangular cookies are traditionally eaten on Purim and can be baked with a wide variety of sweet fillings.
Kreplach are a traditional Purim food served by Ashkenazi Jews. They are dumplings stuffed with chicken, meat or liver served in a soup. Different communities of Jewish people in different parts of the world have different ways of making holiday foods.
Esther was the Queen of Persia, which would later become Iran. Iranian Jews and many other Jewish communities in Western Asia consider themselves the descendants of Esther and visit her tomb during Purim.
Passover is a Jewish holiday which celebrates the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. This is described in the Biblical Book of Exodus. Some Jewish communities celebrate it for seven days, and others celebrate it for eight.
The Seder is the ritual feast held on the first or second evening of Passover that marks the beginning of the holiday. Passover always begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan in the Hebrew Calendar.
Traditionally, the whole family will participate in the Passover Seder, or ritual feast. The youngest child asks for questions which guide those attending about considering the symbolism of what is on the holiday table.
Shavuot is one of the festivals during which, traditionally, the Jewish people would make a pilgrimage to the temple and offer gifts and sacrifices. It also celebrates God giving the books of the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai.