Jewish services

Jewish services

Jewish services (Hebrew: תפלה, "tefillah" ; plural תפלות, "tefillos" or "tefillot" ; Yinglish: davening) are the prayer recitations which form part of the observance of Judaism. These prayers, often with instructions and commentary, are found in the "siddur", the traditional Jewish prayer book.

Traditionally, three prayers are recited daily, with additional prayers on the Sabbath and most Jewish holidays. A distinction is made between individual prayer and communal prayer in a "minyan" (quorum). Communal prayer is preferable, as it includes components that cannot be performed without a quorum.

Most of the Jewish liturgy is sung or chanted with traditional melody or trope. Depending upon the size and platform, many synagogues designate or employ a professional or lay "hazzan" (cantor) for the purpose of leading the congregation in prayer, especially on Shabbat or holidays.

"Daven" is the originally exclusively Eastern Yiddish verb meaning "pray"; it is widely used by Ashkenazic Orthodox Jews. In Yinglish, this has become the Anglicised "davening". The origin of the word is obscure, but is thought by some to have come from Middle French "divin" (short for "office divin", Divine service) and by others to be derived from a Slavic word meaning "give". Others claim that it originates from an Aramaic word, "de'avoohon" or "d'avinun", meaning "of their/our forefathers", as the three prayers are said to have been invented by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Talmud). In Western Yiddish, the term for "pray" is "oren", a word with clear roots in Romance languages — compare Spanish and Portuguese "orar" and Latin "orare".).

Orthodox Judaism regards "halakha" (Jewish law) as requiring Jewish men to pray three times daily and four times daily on the Sabbath and most Jewish holidays, and five times on Yom Kippur. Orthodox Jewish women are required to pray at least daily, with no specific time requirement, but the system of multiple daily prayer services is regarded as optional. Conservative Judaism also regards the "halakhic" system of multiple daily services as mandatory. Since 2002, Conservative Jewish women have been regarded as having undertaken a communal obligation to pray the same prayers at the same times as men, with traditionalist communities and individual women permitted to opt out. [ [ Rabbi David Fine, "Women and the Minyan", Rabbinical Assembly, 2002.] ] . Reform and Reconstructionist congregations do not regard "halakha" as binding and hence regard appropriate prayer times as matters of personal spiritual decision rather than a matter of religious requirement.

Text and language

Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer 1:4) relates that until the Babylonian exile, all Jews composed their own prayers. After the exile, however, the sages of the time (united in the Great Assembly) found the ability of the people insufficient to continue the practice, and they composed the main portions of the "siddur", such as the "Amidah". The language of the prayers, while clearly being from the Second Temple period, often employs Biblical idiom, and according to some authorities it should not contain rabbinic or Mishnaic idiom apart from in the sections of Mishnah that are featured (see Baer).

Over the last two thousand years, the various streams of Jews have resulted in small variations in the traditional liturgy customs among different Jewish communities, with each community having a slightly different Nusach (customary liturgy). The principal difference is between Ashkenazic and Sephardic customs, although there are other communities (e.g. Yemenite Jews), and Hassidic and other communities also have distinct customs, variations, and special prayers. The differences are quite minor compared with the commonalities.

According to halakha, all individual prayers [For example, the Mishnah mentions that this Shema need not be said in Hebrew ()] , and virtually all communal prayers [A list of prayers that must be said in Hebrew is given in . Of these prayers, only the Priestly Blessing is even applicable today. All are prayers said only in a Temple in Jerusalem, by a priest, or by a reigning King] , may if desired be said in any language that the person praying understands. Nonetheless the tradition of most Ashkenazi Orthodox synagogues is to use Hebrew (usually Ashkenazi Hebrew) for everything except for a small number of prayers, including the Kaddish, which had always been in Aramaic, and sermons and directions, for which the local language is used. In other streams there is considerable variability. Sephardic Orthodox communities may use Ladino or Portuguese for many prayers. Conservative synagogues tend to use the local language use in at least some prayers, while at some Reform synagogues almost the whole service may be in the local language.

Conservative services generally use the same basic format for services as in Orthodox Judaism with some doctrinal leniencies and some prayers in English. In practice there is wide variation among Conservative congregations. In traditionalist congregations the liturgy can be almost identical to that of Orthodox Judaism, almost entirely in Hebrew (and Aramaic), with a few minor exceptions, including excision of a study session on Temple sacrifices, and modifications of prayers for the restoration of the sacrificial system. In more liberal Conservative synagogues there are greater changes to the service, with 20% to 50% of the service in English, abbreviation or omission of many of the preparatory prayers, and the replacement of some traditional prayers with more contemporary forms. There are often also additional changes for doctrinal reasons, including more egalitarian language, additional excisions of references to the Temple in Jerusalem and sacrifices, elimination of special roles for Kohanim and Levites, etc.

Reform and Reconstructionist use a format which is based on traditional elements, but contains language more reflective of liberal belief than the traditional liturgy. Doctrinal revisions which may vary from congregation to congregation but generally include revising or omitting references to traditional doctrines such as bodily resurrection, a personal Jewish Messiah, and other elements of traditional Jewish eschatology, Divine revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai, angels, conceptions of reward and punishment, and other personal miraculous and supernatural elements. Services are often mostly in English, with English content varying from 40% to 90%.


Individual prayer is considered acceptable, but prayer with a quorum of ten adults (a "minyan") is considered "prayer with the community", and this is the most highly recommended form of prayer. An adult in this context means over the age of 13 ("bar mitzvah"). Judaism has traditionally counted only men in the "minyan" for formal prayer, on the basis that one does not count someone who is not obligated to participate. Since 1973, many Conservative congregations have begun to count women in the "minyan" as well, although the determination of whether or not to do so is left to the individual congregation. Those Reform and Reconstructionist congregations that consider a "minyan" mandatory for communal prayer, count both men and women for a "minyan". In Orthodox Judaism, according to some authorities, women can count in the "minyan" for certain specific prayers, such as the "Birchot HaGomel" blessing, which both men and women are obligated to say publicly.

Various sources), and usually continue with the "Pittum hakketoret". The opening section is concluded with and the entire , followed by the Mourner's Kaddish. After this follows, in most modern rites, the "Aleinu". Ashkenazim then conclude with the Mourner's Kaddish. On Tisha B'Av, tallit and tefillin are worn during Mincha, and service leaders often may wear a tallit as well, and must wear one during Jewish fast days.

Ma'ariv/Arvit (evening prayers)

In many congregations, the afternoon and evening prayers are recited back-to-back on a working day, to save people having to attend synagogue twice. The Vilna Gaon discouraged this practice, and followers of his set of customs commonly wait until after nightfall to recite "Ma'ariv" (the name derives from the word "nightfall").

This service begins with the "Barechu", the formal public call to prayer, and "Shema Yisrael" embraced by two benedictions before and two after. Ashkenazim outside of Israel (except Chabad-Lubavitch and followers of the Vilna Gaon) then add another blessing ("Baruch Adonai le-Olam"), which is made from a tapestry of biblical verses. (This prayer is also said by Baladi Temanim in and out of Israel.) This is followed by the Half-Kaddish, and the "Shemoneh Esreh" ("Amidah"), bracketed with the full Kaddish. Sephardim then say Psalm 121, say the Mourner's Kaddish, and repeat "Barechu" before concluding with the Aleinu. Ashkenazim, in the diaspora, do neither say Psalm 121 nor repeat Barechu, but conclude with "Aleinu" followed by the Mourner's Kaddish (in Israel, Ashkenazim do repeat Barcheu after mourner's Kaddish).


Friday night

Shabbat services begin on Friday evening with the weekday Mincha (see above), followed in some communities by the Song of Songs, and then in most communities by the "Kabbalat Shabbat", the mystical prelude to Shabbat services composed by 16th century Kabbalists. This Hebrew term literally means "Receiving the Sabbath". In many communities, the piyut "Yedid Nefesh" introduces the Kabbalat Shabbat prayers.

It is, except for amongst many Italian and Spanish and Portuguese Jews, composed of six psalms, , representing the six week-days. Next comes the poem "Lekha Dodi". Composed by Rabbi Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz in the mid-1500s, it is based on the words of the Talmudic sage Hanina: "Come, let us go out to meet the Queen Sabbath" (Talmud Shabbat 119a). Kabbalat Shabbat is concluded by ). The custom to recite the biblical passage at this point has its origins in the Lurianic Kabbalah, and does not appear before the 16th century. It is therefore absent in traditions and prayer books less influenced by the Kabbalah (such as the Yemenite "Baladi" tradition), or those that opposed adding additional readings to the siddur based upon the Kabbalah (such the Vilna Gaon).

The Amidah on Shabbat is abbreviated, and is read in full once. This is then followed by the hazzan's mini-repetition of the Amidah, "Magen Avot", a digest of the seven benedictions. In some Ashkenazi Orthodox synagogues the second chapter of Mishnah tractate Shabbat, "Bameh Madlikin", is read at this point, instead of earlier. Kiddush is recited in the synagogue in Ashkenazi and a few Sephardi communities. The service then follows with Aleinu. Most Sephardi and many Ashkenazi synagogues end with the singing of "Yigdal", a poetic adaptation of Maimonides' 13 principles of Jewish faith. Other Ashkenazi synagogues end with "Adon `olam" instead.


Shabbat morning prayers commence as on week-days. Of the hymns, Psalm 100 ("Mizmor LeTodah", the psalm for the Thanksgiving offering), is omitted because the "todah" or Thanksgiving offering could not be offered on Shabbat in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem. Its place is taken in the Ashkenazi tradition by Psalms , , . Sephardic Jews maintain a different order, add several psalms and two religious poems. The "Nishmat" prayer is recited at the end of the "Pesukei D'Zimrah". The blessings before "Shema" are expanded, and include the hymn "El Adon", which is often sung communally.

The fourth intermediary benediction of the "Shacharit Amidah" begins with "Yismach Moshe". The Torah scroll is taken out of the Ark, and the weekly portion is read, followed by the "haftarah".

After the Torah reading, three prayers for the community are recited. Two prayers starting with "Yekum Purkan", composed in Babylon in Aramaic, are similar to the subsequent "Mi sheberakh", a blessing for the leaders and patrons of the synagogue. The Sephardim omit much of the Yekum Purkan. Prayers are then recited (in some communities) for the government of the country, for peace, and for the State of Israel.

After these prayers, Ashrei is repeated and the Torah scroll is returned to the Ark in a procession through the Synagogue. Many congregations allow children to come to the front in order to kiss the scroll as it passes. In many Orthodox communities, the Rabbi (or a learned member of the congregation) delivers a sermon at this point, usually on the topic of the Torah reading. In yeshivot, the sermon is usually delivered on Saturday night.


The "Musaf" service starts with the silent recitation of the "Amidah". It is followed by a second public recitation that includes an additional reading known as the "Kedushah". This is followed by the "Tikanta Shabbat" reading on the holiness of Shabbat, and then by a reading from the biblical Book of Numbers about the sacrifices that used to be performed in the Temple in Jerusalem. Next comes "Yismechu", "They shall rejoice in Your sovereignty"; "Eloheynu", "Our God and God of our Ancestors, may you be pleased with our rest"; and "Retzei", "Be favorable, our God, toward your people Israel and their prayer, and restore services to your Temple."

After the "Amidah" comes the full Kaddish, followed by "Ein ke'eloheinu". In Orthodox Judaism this is followed by a reading from the Talmud on the incense offering called Pittum Haketoreth and daily psalms that used to be recited in the Temple in Jerusalem. These readings are usually omitted by Conservative Jews, and are always omitted by Reform Jews.

The "Musaf" service culminates with the Rabbi's Kaddish, the "Aleinu", and then the Mourner's Kaddish. Some synagogues conclude with the reading of "An'im Zemirot", "The Hymn of Glory", Mourner's Kaddish, The psalm of the Day and either Adon Olam or Yigdal.


Mincha commences with "Ashrei" (see above) and the prayer "U'va le-Tziyon", after which the first section of the next weekly portion is read from the Torah scroll. The "Amidah" follows the same pattern as the other Shabbat "Amidah" prayers, with the middle blessing starting "Attah Echad".

After Mincha, during the winter Sabbaths (from Sukkot to Passover), "Bareki Nafshi" (Psalms ) is recited in some customs. During the summer Sabbaths (from Passover to Rosh Hashanah) chapters from the "Avot", one every Sabbath in consecutive order, are recited instead of "Barekhi Nafshi".


The week-day Ma'ariv is recited on Sabbath evening, concluding with "Vihi No'am", "Ve-Yitten lekha", and "Havdalah".

Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot

The services for the three festivals of Pesach ("Passover"), Shavuot ("Feast of Weeks" or "Pentecost"), and Sukkot ("Feast of Tabenacles") are alike, except for interpolated references and readings for each individual festival. The preliminaries and conclusions of the prayers are the same as on Shabbat. The Amidah on these festivals only contains seven benedictions, with "Attah Bechartanu" as the main one. Hallel (communal recitation of Psalms -) follows.

The Musaf service includes Umi-Penei Hata'enu, with reference to the special festival and Temple sacrifices on the occasion. A blessing on the pulpit ("dukhen") is pronounced by the "kohanim" (Jewish priests) during the Amidah (this occurs daily in Israel and many Sephardic congregations, but only on Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur in Ashkenazic congregations of the diaspora). On week-days and Sabbath the priestly blessing is recited by the hazzan after the Modim ("Thanksgiving") prayer. (American Reform Jews omit the Musaf service.)

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur

The services for the Days of Awe—Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur—take on a solemn tone as befits these days. Traditional solemn tunes are used in the prayers.

The musaf service on Rosh Hashana has nine blessings; the three middle blessings include biblical verses attesting to sovereignty, remembrance and the shofar, which is sounded 100 times during the service.

Yom Kippur is the only day in the year when there are five prayer services. The evening service, containing the Ma'ariv prayer, is widely known as "Kol Nidrei", the opening declaration made preceding the prayer. During the daytime, shacharit, musaf (which is recited on Shabbat and all festivals) and mincha are followed, as the sun begins to set, by Ne'ila, which is recited just this once a year.

Related customs

Many Jews sway their body back and forth during prayer. This practice (referred to as "shoklen" in Yiddish) is not mandatory, and in fact the kabbalist Isaac Luria felt that it should not be done. In contrast, the German Medieval authority "Maharil" (Rabbi Jacob Molin) linked the practice to a statement in the Talmud that the Mishnaic sage Rabbi Akiva would sway so forcefully that he ended up at the other side of the room when praying (Talmud tractate Berachot).

Money for "tzedakah" (charity) is given during the weekday morning and afternoon services in many communities.

Role of women

Men are obligated to perform public prayer three times a day with additional services on Jewish holidays. According to Jewish law, each prayer must be performed within specific time ranges, based on the time that the communal sacrifice the prayer is named after would have been performed in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem. According to the Talmud women are generally exempted from obligations that have to be performed at a certain time. Orthodox authorities have generally interpreted this exemption as necessitated by women's family responsibilities which require them to be available at any time and make compliance with time-specific obligations difficult. In accordance with the general exemption from time-bound obligations, most Orthodox authorities have exempted women from performing time-bound prayer. Orthodox authorities have been careful to note that although women have been exempted from praying at specific fixed times, they are not exempted from the obligation of prayer itself. The 19th century posek Yechiel Michel Epstein, author of the "Arukh HaShulkhan", notes: "Even though the rabbis set prayer at fixed times in fixed language, it was not their intention to issue a leniency and exempt women from this ritual act". Authorities have disagreed on the minimum amount that women's prayer should contain. Many Jews rely on the ruling of the (Ashkenazi) Rabbi Avraham Gombiner in his "Magen Avraham" commentary on the "Shulkhan Arukh", [Shulkhan Arukh section "Orach Chayim" 106:2] and more recently the (Sephardi) Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ("Yabiah Omer" vol. 6, 17), that women are only required to pray once a day, in any form they choose, so long as the prayer contains praise of (brakhot), requests to (bakashot), and thanks of (hodot) God. [ [ Women's Issues:Women And Prayer When Time is Short] , "Nishmat"] In addition, not all Orthodox authorities agree that women are completely exempt from time-bound prayer. The "Mishnah Berurah" by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, an important code of Ashkenzic Jewish law, holds that the Men of the Great Assembly obligated women to say "Shacharit" (morning) and "Minchah" (afternoon) prayer services each day, "just like men". The "Mishnah Berurah" also states that although women are exempt from reciting the Shema Yisrael, they should nevertheless say it anyway. Nonetheless, even the most liberal Orthodox authorities hold that women cannot count in a minyan for purposes of public prayer. Throughout Orthodox Judaism, including its most liberal forms, men and women are required to sit in separate sections with a mechitza (partition) separating them. Conservative/Masorti Judaism permits mixed seating (almost universally in the United States, but not in all countries). All Reform and Reconstructionist congregations have mixed seating.

Haredi and much of Modern Orthodox Judaism has a blanket prohibition on women leading public congregational prayers. Conservative Judaism has developed a blanket justification for women leading all or virtually all such prayers, holding that although only obligated individuals can lead prayers and women were not traditionally obligated, Conservative Jewish women in modern times have as a collective whole voluntarily undertaken such an obligation. [] Reform and Reconstructionist congregations permit women to perform all prayer roles because they do not regard halakha as binding.

A small liberal wing within Modern Orthodox Judaism, particularly rabbis friendly to the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), has begun re-examining the role of women in prayers based on an individual, case-by-case look at the historical role of specific prayers and services, doing so within classical "halakhic" interpretation.

Accepting that where obligation exists only the obligated can lead, this small group has typically made three general arguments for expanded women's roles:
# Because women were required to perform certain korbanot (sacrifices) in the Temple in Jerusalem, women today are required to perform, and hence can lead (and can count in the "minyan" for if required), the specific prayers substituting for these specific sacrifices. "Birchat Hagomel" falls in this category.
# Because certain parts of the service were added after the Talmud defined mandatory services, such prayers are equally voluntary on everyone and hence can be led by women (and no "minyan" is required). "Pseukei D'Zimrah" in the morning and "Kabbalat Shabbat" on Friday nights fall in this category.
# In cases where the Talmud indicates that women are generally qualified to lead certain services but do not do so because of the "dignity of the congregation", modern congregations are permitted to waive such dignity if they wish. Torah reading on Shabbat falls in this category. An argument that women are permitted to lead the services removing and replacing the Torah in the Ark on "Shabbat" extends from their ability to participate in Torah reading then.

A very small number of Modern Orthodox congregations accept some such arguments, but very few Orthodox congregations or authorities accept all or even most of them. Many of those who do not accept this reasoning point to "kol isha", the tradition that prohibits a man from hearing a woman other than his wife sing. JOFA refers to congregations generally accepting such arguments as Partnership Minyanim. On Shabbat in a Partnership Minyan, women can typically lead "Kabbalat Shabbat", the "P'seukei D'Zimrah", the services for removing the Torah from and replacing it to the Ark, and Torah reading, as well as give a "D'Var Torah" or sermon.

Role of minors

In most divisions of Judaism boys under Bar Mitzvah can't be a Chazzen for any davening that contains "devarim sheb'kidusha," i.e. Kaddish, Barechu, the amida, etc., or receive an aliya or chant the Torah for the congregation. Since Kabbalat Shabbat is just psalms and does not contain "devarim sheb'kidusha", it is possible for a boy under Bar Mitzvah to lead until Barechu of Ma'ariv. Some eastern Jews let a boy under bar mitzvah read the Torah and have an aliyah. [Epstein, Morris. "All About Jewish Holidays and Customs". Ktav Publishing House, 1959. p. 89 ]

In liberal branches of Judaism

Conservative services generally retain the structure and order of Orthodox prayers. Conservative liturgy varies from congregation to congregation. In traditional Conservative congregations, the liturgy is almost identical to the Orthodox liturgy with the exception of a few changes, including the omission of references to the restoration of sacrificial worship and, in some congregations, the addition of references to the Matriarchs of Judaism where the traditional liturgy refers only to the Patriarchs. More liberal Conservative congregations make additional changes, including eliminating references to past sacrificial worship, abbreviation (omitting non-core prayers), substitution of the local language for 10-40% of the prayers, and including alternative prayers. Also, in most (but not all) Conservative services, women can have most or all of the prayer and prayer leadership roles that in Orthodox synagogues are available to men.

Reform Judaism has made greater alterations to the traditional service in accord with its more liberal theology including dropping references to traditional elements of Jewish eschatology such as a personal Messiah, a bodily resurrection of the dead, and others. The Hebrew portion of the service is substantially abbreviated and modernized and modern prayers substituted for traditional ones. In addition, in keeping with their view that the laws of Shabbat (including a traditional prohibition on playing instruments) are inapplicable to modern circumstances, Reform services often play instrumental or recorded music with prayers on the Jewish Sabbath. All Reform synagogues are Egalitarian with respect to gender roles.


*"Head covering". In most synagogues, it is considered a sign of respect for male attendees to wear a head covering, either a dress hat or a kippa (skull cap, plural "kipot"). It is common practice for both Jews and non-Jews who attend a synagogue to wear a head covering. [International Council of Christians and Jews, [ Jewish-Christian Relations :: A glossary of terms used in the Christian-Jewish dialogue] , "Non-Jewish male visitors to the synagogue are offered skull caps at the entrance and are asked to wear them."] [Rabbi Amy R. Scheinerman, [ Who? and What? in the Synagogue] , "Non-Jews who are guests in a synagogue can cover their heads; it is a sign of respect and not at all inappropriate for people who are not Jewish."] Some Conservative synagogues also encourage (but rarely require) women to cover their heads. Many Reform and Progressive temples do not require people to cover their heads, although individual worshippers, both men and women, may choose to. Many Orthodox men wear a head covering throughout their day, even when not attending religious services.
*"Tallit" (prayer shawl) is traditionally worn during all morning services as well as the Kol Nidre service of Yom Kippur. In Orthodox synagogues they are expected to be worn only by men who are halakhically Jewish and in Conservative synagogues they should be worn only by men and women who are halakhically Jewish.
*"Tzeniut" (modesty) applies to men and women. When attending Orthodox synagogues, women will likely be expected to wear long sleeves (past the elbows), long skirts (past the knees), a high neckline (to the collar bone), and if married, to cover their hair. For men, short pants or sleeveless shirts are generally regarded as inappropriate. In some Conservative and Reform synagogues the dress code may be more lax, but still respectful.

ee also

* List of Jewish prayers and blessings
* Siddur
* Shiv'ah
* Shuckling



* "To Pray As a Jew", Hayim Halevy Donin, Basic Books (ISBN 0-465-08633-0)
* "Entering Jewish Prayer", Reuven Hammer (ISBN 0-8052-1022-9)
* "Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer", Seth Kadish, Jason Aronson Inc. 1997. ISBN 0-76575-952-7.
* "Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals", Reuven Hammer, The Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
* Rabbi S. Baer. "Siddur Avodath Yisrael" (newly researched text with commentary Yachin Lashon), 19th century.
* "A Guide to Jewish Prayer", Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Shocken Books (ISBN 0-8052-4174-4)

External links

* [ Prayer: an Anthology]
* [ Outline of prayer services]
* [ - The Worldwide Minyan Database]
* [ Introduction to Jewish Prayer]

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