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Sample Frequently Asked Questions

Return to Bar/Bat Mitzvah Ideas and Primer for Interfaith Families.

 

Understanding Jewish practices and rituals can be difficult and confusing. We have prepared this section to answer some common questions you may have. We hope you enjoy today’s service and learn a little something about our customs and traditions.

How do I use the prayer book?

The language of the Jewish prayer book, or siddur, is Hebrew, which is written from right to left. Therefore, our prayer books open from the left. The prayer book includes an English translation, so that everyone may follow the service. In addition to the prayer book, you will find copies of the Humash, the Five Books of Moses, in the compartment in front of your seat.

What should I do when the Torah is brought through the aisles of the congregation?

You may see many people move from their seats out to the aisles during the "Torah procession," one of two times during the service in which the Torah is brought out among the people. You will see some people kiss the corner of their tallit, or prayer book, and touch the Torah as it passes. This is a sign of respect and love for the Torah, and shows the happiness and joy that is felt in having received it. You may also participate in this custom if you wish, but it is not necessary. It is a matter of personal comfort.

Should I stand or can I stay seated when the congregation stands?

At many points in the service, the rabbi or leader of the service will announce page numbers and times when the congregation should stand and sit down. If you are uncomfortable standing, or if you are unable to stay standing for any reason, please feel free to stay seated.

Should I wear a head covering or kippah?

In Jewish tradition, covering the head is a sign of respect of God. Therefore, Jewish men wear a yarmulke, in Yiddish, or, a kippah in Hebrew, when in the synagogue, and/or when engaged in prayer or religious study. A head covering announces the wearer’s acknowledgement that there is a Holy Presence above him.

 

The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Ideas and Primer for Interfaith Families is also available as a PDF document.

Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Yiddish for "skullcap," also known in Hebrew as a "kippah," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time. A language, literally meaning "Jewish," once widely used by Ashkenazi communities. It is influenced by German, Hebrew and Slavic languages, and is written with the Hebrew alphabet. It is comparable to the language of many Sephardi communities, Ladino. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "skullcap," also known in Yiddish as a "yarmulke," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time. Hebrew for "prayer book," the plural is "siddurim." Hebrew for "prayer shawl," a ritual item that is worn and has knotted fringes (tzitzit) attached to the four corners. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them.

Pamela Saeks lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati.

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