Living a Jewish Life: Jewish Traditions, Customs, And Values for Today's Families

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  • Edition: Revised
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2010-03-30
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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Living a Jewish Life describes Judaism as not just a contemplative or abstract system of thought but as a blueprint for living fully and honorably. This new edition builds on the classic guide, which has been a favorite among Jewish educators and students for years. Enriched with additional resources, including online resources, this updated guide also references recent changes in the modern Jewish community, and has served as a resource and guide for nonJews as well as Jews. Addressing the choices posed by the modern world, Living a Jewish Life explains the traditions and beliefs of Judaism in the context of real life. It explores the spectrum of liberal Jewish thought, from Conservative to Reconstructionist to Reform, as well as unaffiliated, new age, and secular. Celebrating the diversity of Jewish beliefs, this guide provides information in ways that readers can choose how to incorporate Judaism into their lives. Readers will learn how to choose the right synagogue, and discover the meaning and significance of lighting Sabbath candles. "Shabbat," "Torah," "kosher," "mitzvah" and other key words are all defined in all of their complex and potent meanings. On the most basic level, this book explains the essential Jewish vocabulary, but more importantly, LIVING A JEWISH LIFE is a sensitive and comprehensive introduction that reveals the timeless nature of Jewish tradition, rich with history and relevant in the modern world.


Living a Jewish Life, Updated and Revised Edition
Jewish Traditions, Customs, and Values for Today's Families

Chapter One

The Jewish home has been called a mikdash ma'at, a little sanctuary. It is an evocative image. From the moment you walk through the doorway of a sanctuary, you know you are entering a place that defies the idea that space is always neutral.

A sanctuary looks different from other places. It is defined and ornamented by ritual objects, books, and art. A sanctuary feels different from the workplace and the marketplace. In a sanctuary, the mundane criteria for success and failure fall away. What matters is not what you do but who you are.

A sanctuary is a place of safety and asylum. It is where the dispossessed go for shelter, where the hungry go for food, where the weary find rest. Sanctuaries are filled with voices, sometimes singing in unison, sometimes raised in disagreement. And sometimes, a sanctuary is as still as a garden.

Today, when many American families feature two wage-earners and a constant juggling of roles, needs, and schedules, making a home into a sanctuary seems more difficult than ever -- and more important. The tools for making a home into a mikdash ma'at are the mitzvot described in the following pages.

"A Little Sanctuary" elaborates the Jewish vision of the peaceful home as a place of hospitality and beauty. "Shabbat -- The Sabbath" is an introduction both to Judaism's core insight and to creating a personal and family day of rest. "Good Deeds" explains the Jewish view of charity and social justice, and how they can be incorporated into daily life. "The People of the Library" is divided into two sections: the first defines and explains some of the major Jewish texts, such as the Bible, Torah, Talmud, and Midrash; the second contains suggestions for building a home library. "What Jews Eat" explains the Jewish dietary laws and their contemporary relevance and practice. Finally, "Travelling Jewish" discusses the portability of the insights and practices of the Jewish home.

No sanctuary is perpetually filled with all the beauty or meaning it might contain. No home is ever fully or finally a sanctuary. But the ongoing process of making Jewish choices is what makes a home into a mikdash ma'at, a little sanctuary, an island of peace, a safe harbor, a beautiful Jewish place.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is, when people live together as one.

A Little Sanctuary

With the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the focus of Jewish religious and ritual life had to change. The Jewish home became the new center of Judaism. But this little sanctuary -- this mikdash ma'at-- is not a museum for vestigial rituals and ceremonies. It is home, the place where basic human needs are expressed and met. According to the Jewish paradigm, home is the primary source of identity and education, as well as affection, recognition, and sexual fulfillment. This chapter introduces a few of the fundamental ideas-in-action, or mitzvot, that Jews traditionally have considered essential to making a home into a little sanctuary: peace, hospitality, beauty, and the mezuzah.

Peace at Home

One of the primary reasons for adding a consistent Jewish dimension to family life is to create Opportunities for sharing moments of peace. The Hebrew name for the goal of a "peaceful home" is shalom bayit.

In these times, family peace and harmony are the province of psychologists and counselors, who regularly prescribe that couples and families under stress make appointments to share relaxed time, to talk, even to have fun. Furthermore, all sorts of experts have written about the importance of rituals to children. Morning and bedtime routines, annual holiday celebrations -- these are powerful and positive ways of grounding and reassuring kids about the predictability of the world and their place in it. At its best, sharing family life in Jewish ways is a technique for making peace.

Jewish tradition has always been quite explicit about the duties and obligations of family life. These are not meant to impose an external order on individuals and families, but rather are a guide to creating shalom bayit. The Jewish laws on family matters go into great detail and extend into the most intimate aspects of life. In matters of sexuality, for example, the rabbis codified the rights of women, making it clear that wives could expect their sexual needs to be met, and that husbands could not force physical attentions on unwilling wives. Family violence of any kind is condemned in the traditional sources. Indeed, many of the rabbis even frowned on disciplinary spanking.

The biblical call to honor parents, kibbud av v'em, was elaborated into a web of intergenerational obligations. Whereas it is a child's duty to behave respectfully to elders, parents are responsible for educating their children, and not only in religious matters. For example, the Talmud tells parents that they should teach their children how to swim as well as how to read.

The Sabbath or Shabbat has always been and continues to be the basic building block of family peace. Creating a restful island of timeturning off the television and turning to one another-is not just a nice family custom. It can actually prevent injury from the wear and tear of the week. It can heal wounds that were not even apparent.

Living a Jewish Life, Updated and Revised Edition
Jewish Traditions, Customs, and Values for Today's Families
. Copyright © by Anita Diamant. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Living a Jewish Life: Jewish Traditions, Customs, and Values for Today's Families by Anita Diamant
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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