In the narrow sense of the word, Judaism is the religion of the Jews. In a broad sense, Judaism is the entire Jewish tradition and culture. Judaism is not monolithic, but multifaceted: various forms exist in parallel with one another and are often in conflict. In the modern period, there are many directions within Judaism – religious, political and cultural. Basically the religious aspect is what most people who belong to other religions associate with Jews and many people often want to know more about it. That’s why we’re bringing some of the key symbols of the Judaic beliefs and what they symbolize for the Jewish people.
Apart from being generally important in some other religions, such as Christianity, number 7 is more than a significant number in Judaism. This affection comes from nothing more than from the representation of this number in the Holy Bible – it’s thought that it has been mentioned 77 times in different parts of it since the very beginning of the book – the creation of the world.
There are numerous examples. For example, seven fat and seven lean cows dreamed of by Pharaoh whose dreams were interpreted by Joseph, the son of Jacob. According to the Bible, Jacob had to work seven years for both his wives, Rebekah and Leah and had seven children. Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem for seven years, Jonah spent seven days in the whale’s womb, and Dalila cut seven strands of hair to Samson, thus depriving him of all his strength. It is also believed that the flood originated in seven days, and Noah waited seven days for the dove to return with an olive branch in its beak. Because Moses is considered to be the father of Judaism, he is a very important figure to all Jews and is widely known to be the seventh knee of Abraham.
Jewish holidays also do not deviate from affection for this number. Purim, just like Pesach, lasts seven days, and Shavuot comes seven weeks after Pesach. The Jews think that after seven years the debts are forgiven, and when death occurs, they stay in the house for exactly seven days, which is another of their traditions.
The word Torah comes from a Hebrew word meaning instruction or learning. In the Jewish tradition, the Torah is the central text in which the foundations of Jewish ethics and codes of conduct are laid. The Torah is therefore both a religious and legal text open to interpretation and application to everyday living conditions and opportunities.
The text of the Torah is divided into five books (also known as the Books of Moses), and the text itself is written on long, specially prepared parchment that is immersed, wound on wooden tributaries and enclosed with a ceremonial cloth when not read. In the synagogue, the Torah stands in a separate section – in a locker called Aaron HaKodesh. In a broad sense, as the central text of the Jewish tradition, the Torah is also a symbol of Judaism.
The star of David
The Star of David is one of the most essential symbols of Judaism and it was named after the shields of David’s warriors that had a form of a six-pointed star, which has been a magic symbol against evil for a long time. According to some traditions, it was in the sabers of soldiers in World War I for this very reason. In ancient times, it hadn’t been a symbol of exclusively Jewish culture – it started playing that role in 1656 when it first appeared as a Jewish sign.
Nazis greatly contributed to the popularization of this symbol as Jews had to wear a yellow star of David (also known as “a yellow badge”) on their clothing. The Jews in special units of the British Army in World War II were also wearing this sign on their sleeves. Today it represents an integral part of the Israeli flag, often found as a symbol in synagogues, on various subjects related to Jewish life, and is also worn in the form of jewelry or ornaments.
Menorah is a seven-pointed candlestick. In ancient times, it was placed in the Tabernacle of Meeting and later at the Temple in Jerusalem – the site of religious ceremonies in the old State of Israel. In the Torah it says that God himself gave the exact instructions on how to make it and this first menorah was made of gold. Today, the menorah is a symbol of the Jewish tradition and is often made in the form of decorative objects made of various materials, the most common being metal alloys. It’s a central symbol of the coat of arms of the State of Israel.
Chanukiah is an eight-branched candlestick whose candles are lit during the eight-day Chanukah holiday. Chanukah is a feast of light and remembers the miracle that the candlelight in the Temple of Jerusalem burned eight times longer than it was possible when it was most needed. During Chanukah, which is usually celebrated during December, one more candle is lit every night – one on the first day and eight on the last. The middle candle (ninth, center candle holder) is only used as an auxiliary candle to light the remaining eight. Hanukkah, therefore, symbolizes the light and wonder what happened to Jews at a given time in history and can be made of different materials – metal, glass or wood.
Shofar is a trumpet made of rams’ horns. It produces three sounds: one long, three short and sad and nine short intermittent sounds. It has been used for ritual purposes since ancient times, and its sound can be heard in synagogues around the world during the celebration of Rosh Ashan and after the end of Yom Kippur. It’s a sound that should remind Jews of the need to think deeply about personal actions and deeds. It’s supposed to lead them to repentance and the intention of establishing a better relationship with others and their material and spiritual environment. Many people today buy shofars as souvenirs and gifts – if you want to see what it looks like, you can learn more here!
This is a decorative box inside which there’s a small piece of parchment with the words of the Torah written on it, and also with instructions for setting the mezuzah. The mezuzah is placed on the door jambs and can be seen on the exterior and interior doors of the houses where Jews live. The parchment itself is made from specially prepared leather, but the box can be made of a variety of very valuable materials. The mezuzah is decorated with various symbols from Jewish tradition and culture. It’s an object that reminds Jews of the commandments of God every time they go out and enter the house, while at the same time it’s a symbol of Jewish life and the tradition behind it.
This is only a fraction of the symbols of the rich and colorful Jewish religious tradition – it contains innumerable special customs, rituals and symbols that could be widely written about. All of them justify and explain why Judaism stands for one of the most thought-provoking traditions – the first monoteistic religion in the whole world and one of the greatest gifts of civilization coming from the east.