What Is a Pious Jew?

Pious Orthodox male Jews are expected to wear a yarmulke in public.
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"Piety" is traditionally defined as the state of adhering devoutly to religious laws or regulations. In Judaism, there are three major groups of Jews, each with their own interpretation of the Jewish religious laws, or mitzvot: Orthodox, Reform and Conservative. Orthodox Jews are considered to have the strictest interpretation of religious law. Being a pious Jew requires following the 613 mitzvot as closely as possible, although many Conservative and Reform Jews have reinterpreted the mitzvot for contemporary times.

1 The 613 Mitzvot

The 613 mitzvot are divided into 248 "positive" (thou shall) and 365 "negative" (thou shall not) laws. Male Orthodox Jews are expected to follow all of the mitzvot; female Orthodox Jews are only required to follow the negative mitzvot, and are exempted from any time-sensitive mitzvot. The mitzvot cover all aspects of life, including dietary practices, religious worship and appropriate conduct on holy days. Conservative and Reform Jews have reinterpreted some of the mitzvot to adapt to contemporary times, such as the prohibitions against moving an object and lighting a fire on the Sabbath -- mitzvot that prevent most Orthodox Jews from driving on the Sabbath. Conservative Jews may drive to synagogue on the Sabbath, for example, especially if they live in a distant suburb where walking to synagogue is not feasible.

2 Keeping Kosher

The Kosher dietary laws specify exactly what a pious Jew can and can't eat, depending on how the food is prepared, what it contains, and the method in which it is served. Pious Jews respect Kosher laws by buying specific foods that have only been prepared or grown by Jews, although there are exceptions to this practice. For Conservative Jews, diary produced in the United States is considered kosher because its production has been supervised by a government body. However, for Orthodox Jews, only "chalav yisrael" or diary produced under the supervision of an observant Jew is considered kosher. Observant Jews don't eat foods that contain blood and they avoid specific "unclean" animals, including pigs and camels. They must also refrain from eating any meat that contains the sciatic nerve. However, some pious American Reform Jews have undertaken the practice of "keeping kosher" at home while eating non-kosher foods outside the home.

3 Observing Holy Days

Pious Jews are expected to observe the Holy Days, including the weekly sabbath, as a way of getting in touch with their community and spirituality. On the sabbath, certain work-related activities are forbidden, including driving, using electricity and writing more than two letters. A pious Jew may break these prohibitions only if someone's life is threatened; otherwise the rules must be observed. While Orthodox women are expected only to follow the negative mitzvot, on the sabbath they may follow two positive mitzvot: they may light the sabbath candles and break the challah, or holy bread. Some pious Reform Jews do not observe the Sabbath regularly because it interferes with the 40-hour week work, or they choose to observe the Sabbath in a modified form.

4 Respecting God in Speech, Writing and Synagogue

A pious Orthodox Jew is expected to address God in a very specific way. This includes not speaking the name of God outside of prayer or Torah readings. Pious Jews must also never write God's name on a piece of paper, metal or other object without purposefully misspelling it or substituting a letter. Any item that has God's name on it is considered to be a holy item, and destroying a holy item is forbidden. In terms of dress, pious women are expected to keep themselves covered in public and in synagogue, while men should wear a yarmulke, or skullcap. While pious Conservative and Reform Jews respect God, they do not always dress in formal religious attire, nor do they hold the Ultra-Orthodox view that women should not be allowed to speak in public.

Julia Lai is a frequent contributor to Los Angeles-based arts and literature publications. She graduated from University of California, Los Angeles with a bachelor's degree in history and has been writing professionally since 2008.