Family and Community

Within a Jewish family, faith is demonstrated in the home through family life and worship as well as in the synagogue.

The home will have a mezuzah at every door except the bathroom as a constant reminder of the teachings of the Shema. There may be a small piece of wall unplastered or undecorated as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple. The kitchen is equipped with separate sets of utensils, crockery and equipment for the division of meat and milk foods.

There may be daily family prayer in the home but the key event is the Sabbath. Each week the family eat the Friday night meal together as an act of worship, the Sabbath candles are lit, the children are blessed and a man will praise his wife for her devotion to him, the family and their faith. The family then stay together throughout Saturday, probably worshipping at the synagogue together on Saturday morning, until the service of Havdalah (separation) which marks the end of the sabbath and the return to the secular world.

Many Jews who may not be very observant during the week will nevertheless ensure that they are together as a family on the Sabbath.

Family attendance at the synagogue for festivals, but particularly for the weekly Sabbath brings the Jewish community together in worship and socially. The family has always been at the centre of Jewish life and one of its major strengths as it is often in the home that the faith is most observed, stories are told and tradition maintained.

Judaism is a belief system but also a complete way of life. As such it affects both individuals and the wider community. In many countries of the Diaspora Jews are found in fairly close communities, they share a religion, a culture, a way of life and sometimes even a language.

The effect on the wider local community may be minimal as often Sabbath attendance on a Saturday goes unobserved in the bustle of weekend life. The requirements of being able to walk to the synagogue on the Sabbath and also the need to have shops which sell kosher food means that many Jewish communities tend to be small and tight knit. However, in many countries there may be particular areas of cities where there are large Jewish communities with all the facilities needed for an halakhic life.

One of the major fears of Judaism is of younger members ‘marrying-out’ and effectively leaving the faith and the community. Also it is often a struggle for teenagers and young people in the western world to adhere to the strict requirements of the faith when their colleagues and friends may be going out on a Friday night or encouraging them to eat with them away from their home. The family and the community offer support and strength but many may find it hard to resist the pull of some aspects of modern life.

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