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A Novice's Guide Through the Jewish Holidays

A Novice's Guide Through the Jewish Holidays

by Rabbi Helene Weintraub Ainbinder

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A Novice's Guide Through the Jewish Holidays explores the traditions, historical events along with Hebrew blessings in transliteration of the holidays for all people of diverse faiths and learning skills. The book engages and encourages the reader to become comfortable practicing the observances of the holidays. This guide will inspire and enlighten


A Novice's Guide Through the Jewish Holidays explores the traditions, historical events along with Hebrew blessings in transliteration of the holidays for all people of diverse faiths and learning skills. The book engages and encourages the reader to become comfortable practicing the observances of the holidays. This guide will inspire and enlighten multi-generational and interfaith families to learn together. There are recipes and decorations to enhance the richness and beauty of each holiday. The special gift of this book is to bring a better understanding of the Jewish people's rich heritage. May your thirst for knowledge never be quenched!

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A Novice's Guide Through The Jewish Holidays

By Rabbi Helene, Weintraub Ainbinder

AuthorHouse LLC

Copyright © 2014 Rabbi Helene Weintraub Ainbinder
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4969-0375-4



Shabbat (the Sabbath) is one of the most important holidays in a Jewish person's life. The Torah says, "And the heaven and earth were finished, and the host of them. And on the seventh day G-d finished His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And G-d blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it; because that in it He rested from all His work which G-d in creating made" (Genesis 2:1–3). HaShem created everything, even this special day of rest. The Ten Commandments tell us to remember and keep the Sabbath holy. It arrives every week at sundown on Friday night and ends when three stars appear in the night sky on Saturday evening.

One who keeps the Shabbat keeps Judaism alive. Each Jew observes Shabbat differently. Those who do not celebrate the beauty of this sacred time are missing an essential part of themselves. G-d created the world and everything in it, and on the seventh day He created a day of rest for people and animals. The difference between a regular work day and a day of total rest needs to be emphasized. The start of the Sabbath means the ceasing of all manner of work. When the Sabbath ends, an emphasis is placed on the separation from the sacred time of space. Special ceremonies and prayers show the Jewish people's gratitude and happiness to HaShem. Even the service of Havdalah (which literally means "separation") continues to emphasize the idea of this holy separation. G-d made the Sabbath day a holy day for the Jewish people.

During the weekdays, individuals produce and create. However, on the seventh day, HaShem did not create, which is a moral lesson. If G-d rested—and He is infinite and does not need to rest—then it was His first lesson for mankind. Shabbat is His gift to the world. The one day of no constructive work is intended for spiritual renewal. This day was meant for the heart and spirit of the world. HaShem created a concept of limits. Even the land rests in the seventh year. Trees need to grow, and then people may eat their fruits.

With today's hectic way of life, people need to find a special, sacred space to refresh their inner nashmah (soul). Going to synagogue helps reduce stress, creates the opportunity to make new friends, and increases productivity for the new week ahead.

What was created after it was already Shabbat? Tranquility, serenity, peace, and quiet. (Genesis Rabbah 17:7)

Remember the Shabbat and keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8)

To observe the Sabbath, you may want the following ritual objects:


At least two Shabbat candles (white is traditional; however, colorful Shabbat candles can be purchased from Tzfat, Israel, and other sources that carry Israeli products). Some families have a minhag (custom) to kindle more candles for each person in their family.

1 kiddush cup
Kosher wine
1 challah cover (handmade, store bought, or from Israel)
2 challah loaves
Salt to dip the challah in (Rosh Hashanah challah is round,
and honey is used for dipping it)
1 tzedakah box (money to be used for donating to worthy

My suggestion is to have all ritual items on your dining table for each holiday. Make sure that the candles are on a fire-safe tray, the kiddush cup is filled with sweet kosher wine, and the challah are covered before any prayers are recited. Anyone can lead the services; however, traditionally the woman of the house does the kindling of the candles, and the man of the house does the blessings for the wine and bread. Almost all Jewish holidays start this way.

The order of the proceedings should be as follows:

Place money into the tzedakah box. The woman covers her head with a lace head covering or kippah. She kindles the candles and waves her hands over them to bring in light and warmth. Then she covers her eyes with her hands. Only then may the blessing may be recited. The reason for this order of motions is that one should not create anything once the Sabbath commences.

Everyone may join in the b'rakhah, or blessings. The man of the house says the wine blessing and follows with the motzi (prayer over the bread).

The goal is for the children eventually to be able to lead the service in their own homes.

Some traditional options for the ritual:

A white tablecloth
Money to put into the tzedakah box (also called a pushka)
before the candles are kindled
Kippots, or yarmulkas, for the men
Flowers to beautify the tablecloth
Head coverings for the women
Family and friends invited to join the celebration

Before the Sabbath begins, a white tablecloth is usually placed over the table around which the family gathers. Flowers may add a little special feeling and scent to the Sabbath.

Beyond these basics, Traditional and Orthodox Jews observe several more Shabbat traditions. Before Shabbat begins, families have done all the shopping, baking, and cleaning needed for the duration of Shabbat. They bathe and dress beforehand as well. No electricity is used once Shabbat begins, since Jewish people cannot create or work on Shabbat. The use of modern inventions requires the review and approval of rabbinic authorities. Depending on the Jewish community, these devices may or may not be used. Jews who are very observant will install timers to turn the lights on and off. The stove may have a Sabbath device, or a hotplate may be left on.

The candles are lit at home no later than eighteen minutes before sunset. The Friday night meal is traditionally held at home; however, many communities have a festive Shabbat meal in their synagogues. Some congregations have a regular hour fixed year round for the start of their services in the synagogue. Other synagogues follow daylight savings time hours, while some congregations in the Reform movement have a Friday night service as their major service for the week. Most Friday night services serve refreshments, known as an oneg.

Shabbat morning is the traditional time for prayer services. These consist of Shaharit (morning prayers), Torah (when the Torah is taken out of the aron hakodesh, or holy ark), Haftorah (the prophets), and then the Musaf service. Some synagogues have a junior congregation, which is adapted for families with children.

After services is the kiddush. Some synagogues have challah, wine, juice, cake, and cookies, while others serve light food. Some synagogues have the second meal of Shabbat if there is a special simcha (a festive occasion such as a bar/ bat mitzvah or baby naming). The Birkat Hamazon is recited as the concluding prayer over the food that was eaten.

Shabbat afternoon is usually a time of leisure at home. In the late afternoon, a light third meal is served (se'udah shlishit). Traditional congregations may have an evening service or a minyan.

Once it is approximately forty-two minutes past sunset (with sunset time usually based on the time the candles were lit on Friday night), or when three stars can be seen in the night sky, a home service of havdalah is held. Havdalah means "separate" in Hebrew. This service uses a braided candle of more than two wicks, wine, and spices. It concludes with the song "Eliyahu Hanavi" (Elijah the prophet). Then everyone wishes each other a shavuah tov (good week)!

Shabbat at Home

"Let tzedakah flow like a mighty river" (adapted from Amos 5:24).

The husband speaks a blessing over his wife. Appropriate blessings may be found in the family siddur (prayer book). Then both parents outstretch their arms and hand the children blessings. First the son's blessing is recited over the son's head, followed by blessings over the daughter's head.

The candle-lighting before sunset is followed by full kiddush over the wine. Last is the challah blessing. The challah is covered. There are many reasons why the bread is covered. One is that a person may cut or break a piece of the challah and drop it, which would be a waste of a blessing. The person would have to recite the prayer again. Judaism is very aware of human emotions and ethical behavior, and another important message of Judaism is that the challah is covered out of respect, since no one likes to be last.

The Candle-Lighting Blessing

Baruch atah Adonai, Elohaynu melech ha-olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Shabbat.

*If Shabbat falls on a holiday, one ends the blessing with "Shabbat v'shel yom tov."

We praise You, Adonai our G-d, Ruler of the universe, Who makes us holy by Your mitzvot and commands us to light the Sabbath lights. (V'shel yom tov means "and the festival lights.")

The Kiddush

Baruch atah Adonai, Elohaynu melech ha-olam, boray p'ri ha-gafen.

Baruch atah Adonai, Elohaynu melech haolam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'ratza vanu, v'shabbat kodsho b'ahavah uv'ratzon hincheelanu, zikaron l'ma'aseh v'raysheet. Kee hu yom t'chilah l'mikrah-ay kodesh, zecher litzi-at Mitzrayim. Kee vanu vacharta v'otanu kidashta mikol ha-ameem, v'shabbat kodsha'cha b'ahavah uv'ratzon hinchalt. anu. Baruch atah Adonai, m'kadesh hashabbat.


Praised are You, Adonai our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

Praised are You, Adonai our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who made us holy with mitzvot and favored us, willingly giving us G-d's holy Shabbat with love, a reminder of creation. It is the first of our holy days, a reminder of the exodus from Egypt. For You chose us from among all peoples, making us holy, willingly giving us Your holy Shabbat with love. Praised are You, Adonai, who makes the Shabbat holy.


The Blessing over the Challah

*Remember the two challah loaves should be covered for the whole prayer.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha'olam, hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz.

We praise You, Adonai our G-d, Ruler of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.

Everyone may eat the meal after the motzi is recited.

Havdalah Service

The Havdalah service shown below is in a shortened format. Please feel free to call upon your rabbi or follow your siddur.

On a table or tray, assemble a full cup of sweet kosher wine, a lighted havdalah candle, and a spice box. Anyone may lead the service, and all are invited to participate.

When the blessing for the spices is finished, the leader passes the spice box so all may smell the scents. Next the fire blessing is recited. Everyone moves their hands to bring the light to them, looking at their fingernails. Last is the wine b'rakhah. The flame is extinguished in a cup filled with sweet wine. It is everyone's hope that the week ahead will be overflowing with sweetness like the wine overflowed.


Lift cup
Say b'rakhah (blessing)
Do not drink the wine at this point in the service

Brakhot (Blessings)

Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam borei p'ri ha-gafen.

Praised are You, Adonai, our G-d, Ruler of the universe, the One Who creates the fruit of the vine.

Besamim (Spices)

1. Lift spice box (this container should have at least two types of spices, i.e., cloves and cinnamon)

2. Say b'rakhah

3. Have everyone smell the spices.


Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam borei mi'nei besamim.

Praised are You, Adonai, Our G-d, Ruler of the universe, the One Who creates all kinds of spices.

Esh (Fire)

Say the following b'rakhah as you catch the reflection of the flames of the havdalah candle by bending your fingers toward the palm of your hand and looking at your fingernails in the light.


Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam borei m'orei ha-esh.

Praised are You, Adonai, Our G-d, Ruler of the universe, the One Who creates the lights of fire.

Ha-Mavdil (Separation)

1. Lift up the wine again

2. Say the b'rakhah

3. Drink some of the wine.

4. Extinguish the candle in the remainder of the wine. (The overflow of the wine is symbolic for you, your family, and your friends to have a sweet week ahead.)

5. Hug, kiss, and wish each other shavuah tov (a good week).


Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam Ha-Mavdil bein kodesh l'chol bein or l'choshekh bein Yisrael la'amim bein Yom ha-Sh'vi-e l'shei-shet y'mei ha-ma-aseh

Barukh atah Adonai, Ha-Mavdil bein kodesh l'chol.

Praised are You, Adonai, Our G-d, Ruler of the universe, the One Who distinguishes between the holy and the ordinary: between light and dark, between Israel and other peoples, between the seventh day and the six days of the week.

Praised are You, Adonai, the One Who separates the holy and the ordinary.

What is a holiday without special food and beautiful ritual items? On the Sabbath, traditional food recipes are chicken soup, cholent, and of course challah. Some people just buy the soup out of the box. Try making the soup for your family and friends. The more carrots, the sweeter the soup!


Chicken Soup
(a.k.a. Jewish penicillin)

1 large chicken, cleaned and washed and quartered
2 large onions, quartered
3 to 4 carrots, peeled and cut into 3 or 4 pieces
1 turnip
1 parsnip, cut into pieces
celery stalks with the top leaves, cut into sections
1 bunch dill—cut off the stems and rinse well in cold water before
adding to the pot
1 bunch parsley—cut off the stems and rinse well with cold water before
adding to the pot
2 leeks, washed well
salt and pepper to taste

Place chicken into a large pot of 8 or 10 quarts. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the chicken. Add all the vegetables and add more water. Add salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer for at least an hour and a half, covered. Please be aware that the water may run over.

This soup may be frozen. The soup can also be used in other recipes that call for chicken broth.

Some people add noodles. Others add matzah balls, even though it is not Passover. Some families add potato nick. Below, I have shown the matzah ball recipe. If you are making the soup for Passover, be sure all pots, ingredients, and utensils are kosher l'Pesach.

Matzah Balls

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 large eggs, slightly beaten with a fork
½ c matzah meal

Mix with a fork the oil, eggs, and matzah meal. Then oil your hands slightly and make walnut-size balls. Drop into the boiling soup. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Challah (Braided Bread)

Small bowl
2 pkg. dry yeast (2 oz.)
½ c warm water
1 tsp sugar

Large bowl
12 c flour
1 c oil
1 c sugar
2 tsp vanilla
8 eggs (4 whole eggs plus 4 yolks)
½ tsp salt
2 eggs
2 c water

If you want to glaze the challah:
2 eggs
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp vanilla
Mix and brush on the loaves before baking

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast. Add the water and sugar. Let sit for 10 minutes.

Mix all ingredients (including the yeast mixture) together in a large bowl. Knead for approximately 15 to 25 minutes. Put in warm and moist place and let rise until double. (In an oven with a pan of hot water works well, but do not put the oven on!)

Punch down the dough. Divide into four equal portions. Divide each portion into three parts and braid. Allow to rise for one hour. Bake approximately one hour at 325 degrees. Yields 4 loaves.

This recipe can be cut in half. The loaves can be frozen after cooling and defrosted for another Shabbat.


2 c dried lima beans
1 tsp pepper
3 lb brisket
1 c pearl barley
3 onions, diced
2 tsp paprika
2 potatoes, cut into sections
2 Tbsp. flour
3 Tbsp fat or oil
2 tsp salt

Soak beans overnight in enough water to completely cover them. Drain. In heavy saucepan, brown the meat and onions in fat or oil. Add salt and pepper. Add beans and barley. Sprinkle with flour and paprika. Add enough boiling water to cover one inch above the mixture. Cover tightly. The cholent may be baked in a 250 degree oven for 24 hours. Another not so traditional, quicker way is to cook for 4–5 hours at 350 degrees. Slice the meat and serve. Serves 8 people.

Cholent is a traditional meat dish served as the se'duah shlishit or in some congregations for a Shabbat luncheon. Chicken and vegetarian styles are becoming popular and are delicious as well. This dish can also be cooked in a slow cooker on a low heat.

Art and Crafts

Most craft stores have wooden candleholders that the children can color with markers. Just remember to purchase a metal dish piece to hold the candles and prevent burning of the wood.

Kiddush Cups

Visit a local thrift shop and purchase a wineglass, or buy a set from a store.

Clean and dry the glass.

Using permanent markers or glass paint and brush, draw a design of flowers, grapes, or Jewish stars. You could also write Shabbat Shalom, or Borei Pri Hagfen. Use your imagination to create a beautiful kiddush cup. Faux jewels or beads may be added with glass glue when the paint is dry.

Challah Cover

Once again, a local thrift store is a great source for recycled fabric napkins. Choose a nice linen one with finished edges.

Have those permanent markers or fabric markers ready to draw flowers or write Shabbat Shalom.

Ribbons or tiny bows with a pearl can be glued on to add extra depth and beauty to the cover.


Excerpted from A Novice's Guide Through The Jewish Holidays by Rabbi Helene, Weintraub Ainbinder. Copyright © 2014 Rabbi Helene Weintraub Ainbinder. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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