Four Questions About Judaism

A student from the USA asked me four questions about my faith and customs. I found the questions extremely thought-provoking, and thought they’d make for an interesting blog post. With thanks to my interviwer, Matthew.

What sacrifices do you make for your faith?

I wasn’t born into a religious family, and when I became religious, I had to change my lifestyle, albeit gradually. I gave up many things, but becoming religious and doing ‘teshuvah’ (Hebrew for repentance) wasn’t as hard for me as it probably is for many people, as I had always had faith in G-d and tried to live in a way which would please Him. Common struggles and sacrifices which people encounter include dressing modestly and keeping the dietary laws named ‘kashrus’. Neither of these were a problem for me, but I do still make sacrifices for Judaism. Keeping shabbos- the day of rest, on which no work is permitted- was and still is very hard for me. It’s difficult to prepare everything when shabbos starts at 4 PM on Friday! Currently, I am struggling with the issue of secular music. Many Jews who belong to the Chabad-Lubavitch sect do not listen to non-Jewish music. I recognise the very valid reasons for this, and yet I am finding it difficult to give up secular music!

What religious rituals are a part of your faith?

Judaism probably has more rituals than any other religion. Our days are governed by laws, named halachos, and are filled with prayers, named tefillos. Festive meals to mark holidays are also a Jewish custom. Common foods include latkes (fried potato pancakes), salmon, chollah (braided bread), and a variety of meat and chicken dishes, including chicken and matzo ball soup. These massive meals are probably the reason why I always seem to be in the kitchen, and yet am always dieting. On the day of rest, shabbos, there are many rituals performed to observe and honour the day. These include ‘kiddush’- the blessing over the wine- the lighting of shabbos candles, and special morning prayer services. Giving charity, called tzedekah, is also a very important ritual.

How important is modesty to you?

This varies between sects, but among Orthodox Jews such as myself- particularly Chassidic Jews- modesty (called ‘tznius’) is exceedingly important. Countless books, articles and lectures have been written on the topic, but stringencies vary. The basic halachos for a woman or girl include wearing long sleeves which cover the elbows, a skirt or dress which covers the knees (no trousers!) and a top which covers the collarbone. Once married, a woman covers her hair with a wig (named a shaytel) or scarf. Some, such as myself, have additional personal customs, such as the wearing of thick stockings. For me, modesty means many things. It proves my love for, and devotion to G-d, and it also provides me with a sense of unity with other Jews. I don’t find the laws at all restrictive, and in fact I embrace them. I am proud and happy to be a Jewish woman who is tznius-observant.

What story or figure in the Torah is most important to you?

The Torah provides us with many inspirational and true stories, and many positive role models, which makes it incredibly difficult to choose just one. Many Jews would choose Avrohom (Abraham), one of the Patriarchs, who we read about in the upcoming Torah portions. Personally, I am inspired most by Moshe Rabbenu (Moses), and his faithful sister, Miriam. I find the story of Noah’s Ark- found in last week’s Torah portion- extremely inspiring, as it tells of righteousness in a corrupt world, but I wouldn’t say it’s the most important to me. Instead, I’d probably choose the miraculous Exodus from Egypt (called ‘Mitzrayim’ in Hebrew) which we remember each year with the festival of Peysekh (Passover)!

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