Jewish Traditions and Customs

My daughter at her Bat Mitzvah

My daughter at her Bat Mitzvah

About Jewish Life

Given that the Jewish calendar stretches back over 5770 years, a great number Jewish traditions and customs have amassed. Each tradition has its own customs, and each community has its own customs within those customs! From bris, (circumcision ceremony held on the male’s eighth day of life), to tahara, the ritual washing ceremony of the deceased, Judaism has created a compendium of rituals linking adherents not only to one another but to thousands of years of Jewish history and tradition.

To help organize the vast topic, I’ve listed some quick facts about Jewish traditions and customs. What’s special about this list is that these bulleted items also have links to stories of Jewish life. These are personal accounts of Jewish traditions and customs told by contemporary Jewish voices.

Facts and Stories of Jewish Traditions and Customs

  • On the eighth day of life, Jewish boys are ritually circumcised in a ceremony called a b’ris, or covenant. This is the moment when the infant is welcomed into the Jewish community and is brought into the covenant God made with Abraham according to Jewish tradition. Click here for more on Jewish birth rituals.
    Story: And on the Eight Day of You Shall…, Debra Darvick — the story of my son’s birth.
  • At Rosh Hashanah, it is traditional to eat apples and honey, symbolic of the wish for a sweet new year. Click here for more on Jewish holidays and celebrations.
    Story: Beginning the New Year at Sea, Deanna Silver Jacobsen — a Jewish student celebrates Rosh Hashana away from home.
  • It is a Jewish tradition not to leave the dead alone. Click here for more about Jewish burial traditions.
    Story: Should War Beset me, Still Would I be Confident, Judith Kaplan — a beautiful story about a young girl who fulfilled this tradition after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Every Friday night for months, she sang psalms in the presence of the victims’ remains.
  • During the holiday of Simchat Torah, it is a tradition to walk the Torah scrolls through the synagogue. Click here for more on Jewish holidays and celebrations, including Simchat Torah.
    Story: It is a Tree of Life, Jules Doneson — This story is a power account of this Jewish tradition. The time: 1945. The place: The Great Rothschold Synagogue in Paris, after Liberation.
  • Jewish children typically celebrate becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah at the age of 12 or 13. In the modern-day, some individuals celebrate this rite of passage later in life.
    Story: And Miriam Led the Women, Miriam Chaya — this is a story of a woman who took matters into her own hands when she turned 60, and drew on modern-day customs to create a ceremony of great meaning and fanfare.
  • Halloween isn’t the only time to dress up. Jews have Purim! A holiday filled with carnivals, costumes and really, really good pastries. Click here for more on Jewish holidays and celebrations.
    Story: Making the World safe for Pastry, Valerie Peckler — In this article Valerie discusses issues of her personal Jewish identity and Purim’s role as a part of that identity.
  • Of any Jewish holiday on the calendar, Passover is most likely the favorite. Click here for more on Jewish holidays and celebrations, including Passover.
    Story: Out of Bondage, Joanna Berger and Sholom and Esfira Ilyasov — a Jewish family recently freed from the bondage of the Soviet Union spends a Passover Seder in the US for the first time.
  • There are way too many Jewish wedding traditions and customs to list here. Click here if you want to read up on them.
    Story: My Beloved is Mine and I am His, Daniel Shapiro — A lovely story of self-acceptance and a gay Jewish wedding.
  • Usually adults are the ones who convert to Judaism. However, there are exceptions, like this next story.
    Story: A Child Chooses Jewish Life, Walter Raubeson — The story of a child so taken with Jewish tradition and ritual that he follows his own path to the religion.
  • Jewish funeral traditions are centered around respect for the dead and those who mourn them. There are a whole slew of Jewish funeral traditions you can read about here.
    Story: She is Pure, Kathy Engber — A moving story of a woman deeply involved in the sacred Jewish traditions of preparation and burial of the dead.

Front Cover of "This Jewish Life" by Debra DarvickMore Personal Stories of Jewish Life, Traditions and Customs

All of the stories above come directly from my book, This Jewish Life. The book is dedicated to contemporary personal accounts of Jewish life and culture. It is set up as one year of Jewish Life as told by 54 different voices and covers Jewish life, death, birth, marriage, holidays and more.

If you’re interested in the rest of my fifty-four stories, then check out my book, This Jewish Life, Stories of Discovery Connection and Joy. For more general information about Jewish life, continue to browse the articles provided in the left side bar.

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