JUDAISM 101

Though Jewish dietary laws can sometimes become extremely complicated, especially when detailed rabbinical interpretations are applied, there is one well-known and easily understood rule followed by observant Jews: Don’t eat meat and dairy products together. Thus, eating a hamburger is not a violation of kashrut (laws pertaining to what foods are acceptable, or kosher), nor is eating a slice of cheese, but to eat them together as a cheeseburger is to combine meat and dairy in the same meal which is non-kosher.

The best explanation for this prohibition is that it is based on a rather strained interpretation of Deuteronomy 14:21 and Exodus 23:19:

            Thou shalt not seethe (boil) a kid in his mother’s milk.

It is most likely that God included these words of instruction to Israel to keep them from engaging in a practice common to the ritual sacrificial system of the Canaanites, which included various abominable customs of “infant/offspring” slaughter, both animal and human, to appease the gods. By extension it has come to be viewed as a general exclusion of combining meat and dairy.

There is a third category of foods which can be used together with either meat or dairy products. These are known as pareve from the Yiddish word meaning “neutral.” Included in this category would be fish, fruits and vegetables, and products not made from animal ingredients, such as non-dairy creamers which are vegetable or synthetic chemical in composition.

There is a great deal of consideration given in the observant, religious Jewish community to what foods are acceptable to eat and what are not. One cannot help but think of Jesus’ words in response to criticism by the scribes and Pharisees, the self-proclaimed experts in man’s interpretation and interpolation of God’s law, directed at the eating habits of His disciples:

And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.  (Matthew 15:10–11)


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So special is the Sabbath to religious Jews that they not only have a ceremony in the home welcoming its arrival shortly before sundown on Friday, but they also have a ceremony signifying its conclusion shortly after sundown on Saturday.  It is the Havdalah (pronounced hahv-duh-l’ah), which means “separation” and is so called because it marks the separation between the holy and joyful Sabbath and the rest of the week.

The Havdalah consists of the reciting of four prayers:

  • The prayer over the wine as traditionally it is poured out until it overflows the cup.  Since wine is symbolic of gladness and joy, this action represents the hope and the prayer that the joy of the Sabbath just concluded will spill over into the new week.
     
  • The prayer over the spices kept in ornate and elaborate boxes which are passed around the table as each family member sniffs their fragrance, in hope that they will lift the spirits of those who are saddened by the passing of the Holy Day.
     
  • The prayer over the lighting of the Havdalah candles which are very distinctive in design and appearance.  They consist of at least two, and often more, wicks and wax strands braided together into one candle.  This feature derives from the blessing included in this prayer: 

“Blessed art Thou…who created the lights (more than one, ed.) of fire.”

  • Lighting the candle wicks signifies that the family will once again be able to kindle a flame in the household, an action forbidden on the Sabbath.
     
  • The Havdalah blessing itself which includes reference to a series of contrasts, “between the holy and the profane, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, between the seventh day and the six days of labor.”

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The Tanakh (Old Testament) tells us that Jacob (renamed “Israel” by God, as recorded in Genesis 32:28) had twelve sons born to his two wives and their two handmaids (Genesis 35:22–26), from which comes the term, “the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Born to Leah:  Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; Born to Rachel:  Joseph and Benjamin; Born to Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid:  Gad and Asher; Born to Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid:  Dan and Naphtali.

What We Do Know About the Twelve Tribes of Israel

  • Levi was “removed” from the list (when God designated the Levites as a special, priestly tribe, Numbers 3:5–13) and Joseph’s place was given to his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:5).
  • Every Jewish person is descended from one of the twelve tribes, though tribal identities are largely unknown today, with the exception of Levites and a sub-group of Levites—namely, the descendants of Aaron, the first High Priest—who are given special functions and privileges in Orthodox and Conservative synagogues.

FYI:  Jewish last names can be indicative of descent from Levi or Aaron—Descendants of Levi:  Levy, Levine, Levinson, Lewisohn; Descendants of Aaron:  Cohen, Kohn, Katz, Kahn, Kaplan.

On two occasions the twelve tribes were blessed in a prophetic context:  by Jacob in Genesis 49 and by Moses in Deuteronomy 33.

  • As depicted in the illustration, the names of the twelve tribes were inscribed upon the twelve stones in the breastplate of the high priest. (Exodus 28:15–21, 29)
  • After the death of Solomon (931 B.C.), the ten tribes occupying the northern part of Israel divided from the two tribes (Judah and Benjamin) occupying the southern part of Israel.  The Northern Kingdom is referred to as Israel, or sometimes Ephraim, and the Southern Kingdom is referred to as Judah.
  • The twelve tribes play a role in God’s future plans for the world:

Revelation 7:1–8:  Twelve thousand from each of the tribes “sealed” by God during the Tribulation.
Revelation 21:10–13:  The names of the twelve tribes written on each of the twelve gates in the wall surrounding the New Jerusalem.


Thoughts About Messiah

Among Jewish people there is a great diversity of opinions regarding Messiah (literally, “the anointed one”). However, the major viewpoints can be placed in one of several categories.

A Personal Messiah:  The belief that the Messiah will be an individual who will lead Israel from degradation to exaltation. Within this category there are two disparate views.

A personal messiah who is divine:  This is clearly the minority viewpoint of all the opinions held by Jewish people.

A personal messiah who is human:  This person is fully human, but will be endowed with supernatural powers by God to enable him to accomplish so monumental a task.  Throughout Jewish history various individuals have gained a following among some who accepted their messianic identity.  The most famous of these, perhaps, was the second century A.D. Bar Kokhba who had even the support of the renowned Rabbi Akiva.  Most Orthodox Jews would subscribe to this position, including the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitchers who believed that their leader, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, would reveal himself as Messiah.

A Messianic Period:  The view that the Scriptures pertaining to the Messiah will be fulfilled not in an individual, but in a movement resulting in a utopian age of righteousness, justice, prosperity, and tranquility.  It is normally held that the Jewish people as a whole will play a vital role in this movement.  The other two major branches of American Judaism, Reform and Conservative, generally hold to this position.

There are, of course, many non-practicing, assimilated, and completely secular Jews who give very little thought to the issue of Messiah and therefore hold no position.

However, throughout the history of the Jewish people the messianic hope has held a prominent place.  This was dramatically displayed as Jews of the Holocaust were taken to the gas chambers with the words of one of Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith on their lips:

I believe completely that the Messiah will come, and even though he delays, I continue to believe.

The Apostle Peter’s confession (Matthew 16:16) in response to Jesus’ question—“Who say ye that I am?”—clearly indicates which of these categories reflects his conviction.

And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ (Greek form of the Hebrew moshiach, ‘Messiah’; a clear indication that Peter believed in a personal Messiah), the Son of the living God (indicating that he believed in a personal Messiah who is divine).”