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Section: Life before the Holocaust

Jewish culture

Eugen and Helene Fürze, a family with Jewish roots, relax with their family and friends. This photo was taken in the 1930s in Susice, Czech Republic.
Eugen and Helene Fürze, a family with Jewish roots, relax with their family and friends. This photo was taken in the 1930s in Susice, Czech Republic. Courtesy of The Wiener Library.

Jewish culture is about love, tradition, family, and helping others.

Vibrant and widespread, Jewish culture has lots of different customs in almost all areas of life.

Symbols of Jewish identity

Some Jews, such as the Reform and Liberal branches, blend their Jewish lives with the common practices of the society in which they live. Others, such as Orthodox Jews, believe that it is important to keep up specific Jewish practices and traditions, even if it does not fit with the customs of the time.

Clothing

Jews wear specific pieces of religious clothing for prayer or other occasions.

For example, Orthodox Jewish boys and men cover their heads with a small cap, called a kippah.

Another Jewish garment is a Tallit, a traditional fringed prayer shawl worn for morning prayer.

Kittels are also worn by some male Jews. These are a white cotton robe, which are worn on High Holiday services, weddings, and can also be burial gowns.

Orthodox Jewish women also have some religious clothing. They are expected to follow the Jewish law Tznius, which is the Hebrew word for modesty. More specifically, Orthodox married women also traditionally cover their hair, often with a scarf, called a Tichel, or a wig, called a Sheitel.

Kosher food

Kosher is the word given to Jewish food laws. The two most commonly used laws are the avoidance of certain kinds of meat and seafood, and the need to keep meat and milk products separate.

All kosher meat from permitted animals, like cows and sheep, must be slaughtered in a special way so that the animal suffers as little as possible. The method used also ensures that the maximum amount of blood is drained from the meat, since blood is not kosher either.

Jewish items in the home

Jewish homes have traditional items kept for religious purposes.

Some will have a fine goblet, from which the family will share the cup of wine at Shabbat and festive meals. There will also be a pair of Shabbat candlesticks, and possibly a Menorah, to be used at the festival of Chanukah.

A Mezuzah may be found on the right hand doorposts of a Jewish home. A Mezuzah is a small box, about as big as a finger, containing a handwritten text from the Torah. It proclaims that there is only one God and commands that “you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gate”.

There may also be prayer books and other religious books in Hebrew, which will open from right to left (in the opposite direction from English books).

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