„Bat-Hillel” – Hebrew: “daughter of Hillel”. Traditionally, Jews have a Hebrew name for religious contexts, consisting of one (or two) first names and the first names of both parents. It is striking that Sophie Schneider calls herself “daughter of Hillel” but does not mention her mother’s name. This may also indicate that she locates herself in a particular rabbinic tradition, the school of Beth Hillel. Hillel (110 BCE – 10 CE ) was a famous rabbi and the founder of a way of thinking that is still the basis for basic religious and ritual decisions today. Rabbi Hillel is considered the inventor of the golden rule: “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to others”.
Betzalel – was the main artist in the building of the temple (Exodus 31:1-6 and chapters 36-39). The name Betzalel means “in the shadow/protection of God”, and so Betzalel was also the one commissioned to design the temple and its furnishings, as well as the priests’ garments, the oil and the perfumes used for worship.
Cemetery – hebr. Bet ha-chajim/Bet olam: House of Life/House of Eternity. Traditionally, burial in the ground is prescribed. A Jewish burial place is eternally inviolable, there is no “limited cemetery rest” as in church or communal cemeteries. Burials do not take place on feast days.
Circumcision – Hebrew: Brit Milah, a circumcision is performed by a trained mohel (male form) or a mohelet (female form). A male baby is circumcised on the 8th day of life. Provided the child is healthy, the foreskin of the penis is removed in a set ritual. Circumcision, even among non-religious people, is understood in Judaism as a sign of Brit, a sign of the covenant with God.
Deuteronomy – the fifth book of the Torah. The Torah consists of: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Torah is part of the Tenakh, the Biblical Scriptures in Judaism: Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets) and Khetuwim (Chronicles).
Food commandments – derive from the biblical regulations concerning animals released for consumption; fruits, grains and vegetables are generally permitted, dairy and meat products are strictly separated, pork and seafood are not eaten. The consumption of carrion and of blood is not permitted according to the biblical commandments, because blood is the seat of the soul and a symbol of life. Ritual purity is referred to by the Hebrew term kasher (coll. kosher). In addition to the food, the place where it is prepared or sold is also referred to as “kosher”. Kashrut is the set of rules for the ritually correct handling of food.
Head coverings: 1. Kippah – traditionally the permanent head covering for law-abiding male Jews. Meanwhile, more and more women are opting for a kippah as a religious head covering. 2. Wig – also called a parting, is traditionally the head covering for the married Jewish woman. As a sign that she is married, it should cover her natural hair. Until the end of the 17th century, women mainly used scarves for this purpose, but when wigs became fashionable (in France, Germany and Poland) Jewish women were so enthusiastic about this that they not only adopted this variant for themselves, but also enforced this on the rabbinate. 3. Hats or other forms – the requirement to wear headgear is a religious obligation, but beyond traditions (1 and 2), it is up to each individual to decide which shape or size seems appropriate.
Mezuzah – decorative receptacle on the doorposts of a house and dwelling, containing a small scroll with the biblical verses of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21. The mezuzah marks the points of transition mainly from the private to the public sphere and reminds us of the presence of God.
Pentateuch – refers to the unity of the 5 books of Moses, an assemblage of 5 (Greek: penta) scrolls (τεύχω [teuchō] = to make). Jewish tradition refers to this work as Torah, as God’s instructions for his people Israel. God’s instructions for right conduct are not only the legal sentences from the books of Exodus to Deuteronomy, but also the narrative passages. The equation Torah = Law derives from the Septuagint translation νόμος (nomos), which, however, limits the meaning of תּוֹרָה (tôrāh) too much. The term “5 books of Moses” does not exist. “Moses” does not refer to the author of the work, but to the main character of these texts. It is therefore important that this name emphasises the perspective of the overarching unity behind the individual books.
Slaughter – prescribed ritual slaughter of healthy animals that may be slaughtered by humans (these are: Animals with split hooves AND ruminants, poultry, fish with fins AND scales). The slaughtering is carried out by specially trained and educated people, the shochet. During slaughter, the throat and thus the carotid artery of the animal is cut with a single incision. The knife must be flawless and particularly sharp. The animal is stunned within seconds by the sudden loss of blood and the interruption of the oxygen supply and bleeds out completely (which would not happen if the animal was stunned before the cut). Blood is not allowed for consumption according to the biblical commandments, because blood is the seat of the soul and a symbol of life. Since Jews are forbidden to consume blood, the animal must be completely bled in order for the meat to be permitted. After slaughtering, the animal is cut up and it is now decided once again whether the animal was healthy. If the animal was sick, the meat is forbidden, even if it was ritually slaughtered correctly.
Synagogue – hebr. Beth Knesset: House of Assembly. Place for prayer, for learning and celebrating together. It has become customary that prayer is tied to a synagogue, but prayer can take place anywhere: in nature or in any house/flat with a mezuzah.
Talmud /talmudic – a polyphonic rabbinic commentary on religious and civil topics written between the 2nd – 6th c. CE. With its multi-layered reflections on laws, stories and customs, the Talmud is the foundation of Jewish study and practice. Characteristic of the Talmud is the culture of argumentation that has been handed down to us with it, describing “Talmudic” not only as a temporal classification, but as a form of argumentation.
Movements in Judaism
Orthodox Judaism – attempts to preserve Jewish tradition, law and rite largely unchanged (includes Ultra-Orthodox, Modern Orthodoxy and Hasidism). Women are – with few exceptions – not admitted to the rabbinate, but e.g. Yeshiva Maharat in New York City offers training for Orthodox women: Rabbi Rebecca Blady now works in Berlin.
Masorti/Conservative – Non-Orthodox movement that seeks to preserve Jewish tradition through an evolving law. Women are admitted to rabbinical studies: Rabbi Amy Eilberg became the first woman ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, in 1985.
Liberal Judaism – refers to the non-Orthodox movements in Germany (also known as Reform Judaism) as well as their successors in Israel, Great Britain and the USA. The first woman, Rabbi Regina Jonas, was ordained in 1935 in a private ordination by Rabbi Max Dienemann in Berlin. Caused by the Shoah, there was not a woman in the rabbinate again until 1972 with Rabbi Sally Priesand, ordained by Hebrew Union College, Cincinatti.
There are 11 women rabbis in Germany (as of December 2020).
The Jewish calendar consists of 12 months, which – unlike in the Islamic calendar – are regulated by a leap month in such a way that they are movable on the one hand, but cannot “wander” through the whole year on the other.
Hanukkah – 25th Kislev (November/December; Kislev is the third month according to the Jewish calendar). The festival commemorating the rededication of the Temple. The Temple had been reclaimed by the Maccabees after being destroyed and desecrated by the Greeks. Special oil was needed for the rededication, which was only available in quantity for one day… but the oil was enough for the entire EIGHT days needed for the ritual consecration of the Temple. Therefore, Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days, lighting one more candle on the Hanukkiah each day and eating food baked in oil, such as pancakes. The Chanukkiah is the eight-branched candelabrum with a 9th light to light the others on the corresponding days.
Passover – from 15th Nissan (March/April). The festival celebrated to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt: from slavery to freedom. The festival is observed for 8 days; any leavened food is banned from the house for that time. “Any leavened food” means bread, beer, vinegar etc. There are special “Kosher lePessach” foods for this time.
The evening before and the first evening of Passover are called “Seder evening”, they are celebrated with ritual feasts. Especially on these evenings, the history of the Jewish people is passed on: L’dor va’dor – from generation to generation.
Purim – on 14th Adar (February/March). The festival that commemorates the rescue of the Jewish people of Persia (now Iran) by Queen Esther. A joyful festival on which children and those who have stayed young like to dress up.
Rosh Hashanah – the festival on 1 Tishri (September/October) celebrates a new Jewish year for 2 days. Rosh Hashanah begins a period of 10 days of reflection and taking stock of the past year, seeking reconciliation with people we have wronged. The time of taking stock culminates in Yom Kippur, where account is given to God.
Schavuot – 6th/7th Siwan (May/June) is called the Feast of Weeks because it is celebrated 7 weeks after Passover. It is the festival of the harvest, lasts two days and commemorates the revelation and gift of the Tablets of the Law with the 10 Commandments, which according to tradition Moses received from God on Mount Sinai. Traditionally, a ‘learning night’ is held, during which people often study texts from the Hebrew Bible together until dawn, including reading the Book of Ruth or learning other knowledge.
Simchat Torah – 23rd Tishri (September/October; Tishri is the first month according to the Jewish calendar). The festival of Torah joy. Feast that closes the annual cycle of reading the Torah (5 books of Moses) immediately following Sukkot and begins a new cycle.
Sukkot – from the 15th of Tishri (September/October; Tishri is the first month according to the Jewish calendar). The festival that commemorates the wandering of the people of Israel through the desert. For eight days, at least, meals are eaten in a self-built hut, through the roof of which one is supposed to see the stars; some people live in the hut for the whole time. Jewish communities usually build their own sukkot (leaf hut) so that people can ‘live’ in it, especially if they do not have the means to build a hut themselves. ‘Just hanging branches’ is not enough to fulfil the mitzvah, the commandment.
Every Jewish festival, but especially Sukkot, is a festival that emphasises hospitality and tzedakah (lit. justice, i.e. gifts for the needy).
Yeshiva Maharat — Jewish educational institution for women only in New York
Yom Kippur – on the 10th of Tishri (September/October). Conclusion of the 10 Days of Awe, Day of Atonement. Day of fasting, day of repentance and confession of one’s own faults, failings and negligence towards God, through a focus on prayer and on the soul.