For many Jews, the expression of religion and culture are two different things. There are numerous Jewish people who only enter their synagogue (if they even have one at all) on the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). They light candles during Chanukah and may attend a Passover Seder. For others, participation in Jewish communal service or other Jewish organizations fulfills their connection to Judaism. They volunteer, give Tzedakah and attend classes on Jewish subjects.
For the Torah (or observant, for lack of a better word) Jew, every action and every thought throughout the day can be guided by G-d. Here are five things that an observant Jew may do in his or her day that others may not even think about.
1. Do you pay attention to the time of sunset and sunrise? Jewish men are required to pray three times a day (women, once). The times for prayer are determined according to the sunrise, sunset and the division of the day into 12th’s.
The first set of prayers, called Shacharit, occur in the morning and must take place before 1/3 of the day is over (although, if necessary, they can take place within the first half of the day).
Mincha, the second set of prayers, is recited in the afternoon and must take place before sunset. Finally, Maariv takes place after sunset.
Prayer not only allows an individual an opportunity to talk with G-d but it also helps us form a connection between the physical and spiritual worlds in which we live.
2. The mitzvot provided to us by G-d are pathways for a deeper connection and a stronger relationship with G-d. They also help to elevate us from the physical plain in which we live to a deeper, more spiritual place.
Prior to eating anything, a prayer (or bracha) is recited. Whether it be a drink of water or a 3-course meal, a moment is taken for the expression of our gratitude. The appropriate blessing is recited prior to taking a bite and one does not speak between the blessing and the bite. There are various blessings for different foods and a specific order to the blessings when more than one type of food is being consumed.
3. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did not see nakedness. Until they ate from the forbidden tree, there was no separation between the individual’s physical and spiritual self. After they ate the forbidden fruit, their physicality became apparent.
The Laws of Modesty within Judaism ask us to view a person internally before looking at them externally. Men and women from observant homes may select clothes that cover much of their bodies – pants and long sleeves for men and ¾ length sleeves and skirts for women. Women may also cover their hair with a sheitel (wig), a scarf, or a snood (hair covering).
The bottom line is – while most people just throw on what’s comfortable, what’s fashionable or what makes them look hot – an observant Jew is more concerned with the expression of who they truly are, a reflection of their relationship with G-d.
4. If you don’t live in a city where Kosher restaurants are plentiful, meeting someone for
lunch can be a little tricky. An observant Jew (and many Jews from other denominations as well) keeps Kosher. Kosher food is food that has been prepared according to Jewish dietary laws. This includes the manner in which the food was prepared, the method by which the animal was killed, the use of all kosher ingredients and the assurance that the machines used to make the food were not also used to make non-kosher food.
Many Jewish people observe the laws of Kashrut (keeping Kosher) within varying degrees. But, an observant Jew will not eat in a non-kosher restaurant. The Laws of Kashrut are constantly on one’s mind when preparing food or sitting down to eat. It is another avenue of separation and pause, allowing a closer connection to G-d.
5. When he turns 13 years old, a Jewish boy may receive a pair of tefillin. Tefillin are black leather boxes with black leather straps. The boxes are tied – one upon the head and one upon the arm – during the morning service. Inside the boxes are pieces of parchment which contain the four verses commanding that Tefillin be worn. “Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a frontlet between your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-8)
The use of Tefillin is symbolic of the necessity to always hold Torah before one’s eyes. Our actions, our beliefs, our very being are all intertwined toward one greater purpose.
This is a brief list with even briefer descriptions of everyday moments in a Jewish person’s life that, perhaps, not all Jewish people think about.