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The Mitzvot: Laws and Rituals

The Sabbath

The Sabbath begins on Friday evening with sunset and ends on Saturday evening.

Keeping the Sabbath day is the highlight of the week. The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week (Sunday is the first day of the week in the Jewish calendar), and the Jews celebrate God's rest on the seventh day of creation and the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

Orthodox Jews take care to rest and not work on the Sabbath. All household chores are done beforehand. No matter what act, no new situation may be created on the Sabbath. That is why devout Jews do not drive a car or turn on a light switch or stove.

The prayer

The most famous Jewish prayer is the "Shma Yisrael" (Hebrew for "Hear Israel"). At the same time, it is the Jews' urgent creed in one God. It consists of the Torah or Bible passages Deuteronomy 6.4, a verse from the Talmud (mJoma 6.2) and the sections Deuteronomy 6.5-9, 11.13-21 and Numbers 15.37-41 together.

Pious Jews pray three times a day, while the men wear kippah (skull cap), tallith (prayer cape) and tefillin on weekdays.

Tefillin are phylacteries made of leather. Male Jews wrap it around the arm seven times and then around the hand and middle finger three times. The tefillin also includes prayer pods that are worn near the heart and on the forehead. In the capsules there are texts from the Torah.

These mitzvot, which are observed during prayer, can be found in parts in the prayer text itself. Because the "Schma Yisrael" is a combination of creed and call for action to the pious Jews:

"Hear Israel: HE,
our God, he is one!
So love then
Him a god
With all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might.
So be these speeches that I command you today on your heart,
inculcate your sons,
talk about it
when you sit in your house and when you go on the road,
when you lie down and when you get up,
tie them to your hand as a sign,
they are in a bundle between your eyes,
write them on the posts of your house and in your gates! "

The custom of the mezuzah (Hebrew for "door post") is also mentioned in the "Shma Yisrael": What is meant is a small container that contains Torah sections on parchment and is attached to the right outer door post of a Jewish residential entrance for ritual purposes.

The circumcision

Jewish male babies are usually circumcised on the eighth day of life. Circumcision ("Brit mila" in Hebrew) is intended to commemorate the covenant that Abraham once made with God. Through the ceremony, the newborn is also accepted into this covenant.

Circumcision may even be performed on a Sabbath, although it involves work. However, the prerequisite is that the child was born on a Shabbat.

While babies were usually circumcised in the synagogue in the past, the ritual now takes place in a ballroom, at home or in a hospital. The circumcision is carried out either by a religious official, the so-called mohel, or a Jewish doctor.

The kosher diet

A special chapter of the mitzvot are the Jewish dietary rules (kashrut). Devout Jews follow the laws of kosher eating. Kosher means "suitable" and prescribes exactly what pious Jews are allowed to eat and what foods they must avoid.

Many of these food commandments can be found in the Torah, others are in the Talmud, the interpretation of the scriptures that has grown over the centuries by great rabbis.

Kosher foods include meat products from cloven-hoofed animals and ruminants, i.e. from sheep, beef, goats and deer. Poultry can also be eaten as long as they are vegetarian. Fish with scales and fins are also kosher foods. On the other hand, pork, shellfish and crustaceans are not kosher foods.

The food regulations also include a strict separation of meat and dairy products. Orthodox Jewish households therefore have two cookware: a milk cutlery and a meat cutlery.