Judaism, the oldest of the three Abrahamic religions, has always emphasized the importance of actions -- the good deed, called mitzvah, and following God's commands. Many sacred practices within Judaism are also considered commandments, or mitzvah, as they honor and express love for God. (Mitzvah in Hebrew means both good deed and commandment). Within Judaism's many sects -- Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Renwal, Lubavtich, Reconstructionist and others -- universally sacred practices include observing the Sabbath, circumcision, reading the Torah, prayer and celebrating Yom Kippur, the holiest time of the year for Jews.
Sabbath, or Shabbat, is the sacred time of the week for Jews and takes place between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday. For some observant Jews, sacred Sabbath practices include lighting special Sabbath candles before sundown, not doing any work, not using electrical appliances, including lamps, and holding a special Sabbath dinner. Jews also attend the synagogue, also referred to as temple, during the Sabbath, for Friday night or Saturday morning services.
Another sacred practice within Judaism includes circumcision, referred to as Brit Milah. This sacred, initiating birth rite for male babies usually occurs when the newborn is eight days old and symbolizes the special covenant made between God and Abraham. The ceremony frequently takes place at the home of the parents or at the local synagogue and involves the mohel, or circumciser, and the sandek, the person designated to hold the child during circumcision.
Reading from Torah Scrolls
The Torah, or the first five chapters -- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy -- of the Hebrew Bible, is the most important and holy text within Judaism. Each synagogue holds its Torah scrolls in a special cabinet called the Ark, as portions from this sacred text is reading during weekly services. The scrolls are so holy that they are never directly touched; rather, while reading from them, a pointer will be used by the reader. For Jews, to be asked to read from the Torah during a synagogue service is considered a great honor.
Celebrating Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur, referred to as the 'day of atonement' and the 'Sabbath of all Sabbaths,' is the holiest day of the year for Jews and is the last day of the Days of Awe or Days of Repentance, which begins with Rosh Hashanah. It falls during the month of Tishri in the Jewish calendar, which is either in September or October. This sacred and solemn day is one of individual repentance and collective purification, and according to Judaic doctrine, the day that God chooses each person's fate for the year. On this day, the Book of Life is also closed until the following year. For Yom Kippur, many Jews follow special rites and restrictions, which includes not eating or drinking for 25 hours; not wearing cosmetics, perfumes and deodorant; not washing; abstaining from having sex; and avoiding wearing leather shoes.
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