Jewish Culture


Please check back in September, 2014 for our most recent update of these resources. Sharon is home to nine synagogues ranging from ultra-conservative to more liberal expressions of the Jewish faith. They share many customs in common while, at the same time, they vary greatly in other ways. Even those Jewish families who are more secular in practice retain many of their favorite customs as part of their family tradition. Most Orthodox and other Jews are born and raised in the United States. Most are aware of general American culture and customs, though more traditional or Orthodox Jews may observe dIfferent customs connected to their religion.

Jewish Culture Protocol
Jewish Culture
1. Who is considered a Jew? Traditional Jewish Law holds that a Jew is anyone born of a Jewish mother or who converted to Judaism in accordance with Jewish Law. Judaism maintains that a Jew, whether by birth or conversion, is a Jew forever. Some American Reform synagogues accept the child of one Jewish parent (father or mother) as Jewish if the parents raise the child with a Jewish identity. Conversion to Judaism has traditionally been discouraged, and some Conservative and Orthodox groups may not recognize conversion. Today, while many mainstream forms of Judaism are open to sincere converts, Conservative and Reform Judaism may also not recognize conversion.
2. How many different denominations are there? The main denominations (outside Israel) are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform.
3. How do the denominations differ? Orthodoxy is divided into Modern Orthodox Judaism and Haredi Judaism. The latter is less accommodating to modernity and is distinguished from Modern Orthodox by its style of dress and more stringent practice. Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism have adopted many variations of the traditional practices while continuing to observe all holidays. Conservatives and many Reform follow Shabbot customs. Conservative Judaism is committed to traditional Jewish laws and customs, a positive attitude toward modern culture, and to traditional and modern scholarship concerning religious texts. Reform Judaism (Liberal or Progressive Judaism) defines Judaism as a religion rather than as race or culture. It emphasizes the moral lessons of the Torah and the ethical call of the prophets through lessons that are taught. A Reform synagogue has mixed seating and equal participation of men and women. [For additional information, see]
In addition, Reconstructionist Judaism is a modern American movement based on the ideas of Mordecai Kaplan (1881–1983). The movement views Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization. It originated as a branch of Conservative Judaism, before it splintered. The movement developed in the late 1920s to 1940s, and it established a rabbinical college in 1968. There is considerable diversity within the movement.
The second major American movement is the Humanistic Judaism movement founded in 1963 by Rabbi Sherwin Wine.
4a. What is Shabbot? “Shabbot,” the Hebrew word for Sabbath, begins at sundown on Friday afternoon/evening and ends at sundown on Saturday. Orthodox Jews traditionally eschew any form of “work.” For example, they do not drive or ride in cars nor do they use the telephone. They leave lights on or use timers (because turning lights on and off is considered work). They often prepare food in advance since cooking is prohibited. Activities prohibited as “work” are seen as interfering with respectful observation of the Sabbath.
4b. How do Jews celebrate the Sabbath? Prior to the beginning of the Sabbath hour, there are candle-lighting ceremonies and specific prayer readings which many Jews perform (no matter which denomination). On Saturday mornings, the more Orthodox members of the community may be seen walking to their synagogues. While Conservative and Reform Jews also observe Shabbot with prayers, candles, challah (a traditional braided bread), and other family traditions, they do not engage in the stricter prohibitions of the Orthodox. [See]
5. What is ‘kosher’? The kosher symbols below are widely-accepted and are commonly found on food products in the United States. Kosher Symbols The word “kosher” means literally “fit, proper or correct.” It describes food that is permissible to eat under Jewish dietary laws. Like many other cultures, Jews who “keep kosher” do not eat pork/pig meat or shellfish. Their dietary laws (called kashrut laws) also prohibit the mixing of “dairy foods” with meat. However, fish and dairy foods may be eaten together. Kosher food must be certified by an Inspector; this means that chicken and other animals are slaughtered in a more humane way (and all the blood is then drained). In the Orthodox tradition, separate cookware, dishes, and utensils must be maintained for dairy vs. meat. Some Conservative and Reform Jews (as well as the Orthodox) follow some or all of the kosher traditions although there is a great variability in practice. Most Orthodox Jews would not eat in a house that is not kosher. With Conservative and Reform Jews, it would be considerate to ask if they would come to your home for dinner and to learn what restrictions, if any, they have concerning what they eat. It would be thoughtful not to offer candy or other food to an Orthodox child (for example, at the playground), since they too must follow the dietary rules and do not eat non-kosher food.

[An American slang expression, ‘it’s not kosher,’ is an idiom meaning “It’s not acceptable” or “You can’t do that.” Similar to the English expression “It’s not cricket.”]

6. What is an “Eruv?” An Eruv is an enclosure around a home or community. It enables the carrying of objects out of doors for Jews on Jewish Sabbath that would otherwise be forbidden by Torah law. Without an Eruv, Torah-observant Jews would be unable to carry keys or tissues in their pockets or push baby carriages on the Jewish Sabbath, thus making it difficult for many to leave home. Sharon does have an Eruv near the center of town. That is the reason so many Hassidic Jews and other Orthodox groups live near the center and not on the outskirts of Sharon. (Also, houses in the Eruv usually sell faster and are more expensive as there is a high demand by observant Jews to live there.)
7. What is the role of men and women in Jewish society? In traditional Judaism, women are for the most part seen as separate but equal. Women’s obligations and responsibilities are different from men’s, but no less important. In orthodox synagogues, there is a wall or curtain separating men from women during religious services, and women are not allowed to go up to the Torah and pray with the men. The role of men is to pray and study Torah. The women take care of the children and the home.
In many Conservative and Reform groups, women and men sit together and women are encouraged to take an active part in the service.
8. What is a “mitzvah?” The Jewish religion, in all its forms, places a great emphasis on doing good works, that is, on helping others and helping the community. A “mitzvah” is a divine commandment or “a good deed.” When a child comes of age and is accepted into the synagogue’s community of adults, as part of the initiation he/she must perform a “mitzvah.” “Bat or Bas Mitzvah” is the coming of age ceremony for girls; “Bar Mitzvah” is the ceremony for boys, recognizing that they are taking on the responsibilities of being an adult Jew.
“Mazel tov” is a very common expression of congratulations for the birth of a child, a wedding, and a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.
9. How can I demonstrate respect for Jewish members of our community? Interacting with Orthodox Jews who are not known to you is sometimes difficult. If you attempt to speak with some casually, you may well be ignored. It is important not to take this as a personal slight; it is simply that their tradition holds them to be protective of their faith and, therefore, does not encourage interaction with other traditions which might distract them from their own. Also, it would be inappropriate for a man to try to shake hands with an Orthodox woman or for a woman of another culture to touch an Orthodox man. They believe in modesty and modest dress. The women do not show their hair, arms, or legs. These proscriptions apply to most in the Orthodox denominations.
On Saturdays and important Jewish holidays, Orthodox members of the community may walk three to six abreast in the roadway (street) on their way to synagogue. While this may be annoying to others who are in a hurry to drive down the street, it is generally necessary out of courtesy and kindness to accommodate this occasional inconvenience.