Who This Essay Is For …

This essay is for the Jewish Scholar, the Rebbe/Rabbi, the traditional oriented Torah-interested Jew, and those who are OTD/Off-The-Torah-Path but rekindling their interest in Judaism – the civil-ritual family-nation law tradition of the Jewish people – and what this way of life is really all about. This essay is about Torah Judaism, the precursor to modern Religious Judaism. The information and perspective within is rarely to never taught. At least, not without an eschatological spin added on to it. So, if you are willing to commit yourself to reading this essay in its entirety, you will be blessed with a view of what it means to be Jewish from a Torah centered and ancient Jewish world view. A Torah view of “what it means to be Jewish” that is just as applicable in today’s Jewish communities as it was amongst the first tribal communities in the Middle East many new-moons ago. Being Jewish, according to Torah, is not about tenets or articles of faith that one must profess a belief in to be Jewish. Being Jewish, according to Torah, is thoroughly and singularly all about devoting your life to service unto G-d and the people-tribe of Israel, all for the radically clear continuance and survival of the Jewish family-nation. It is through the Torah mitsvot, the keeping of our civil-ritual laws, that this promise of survival is ensured. This, according to Torah’s eschatological spin, and the Treaty-Alliance contained within that was made with G-d. With this said, regardless whether Jewishness means being religious to you or being a humanistic experience, whether you believe in G-d or not, Torah’s response and expectation upon all Jews is always the same – whether born Jew or Jew by choice, follow the mitsvot! But, what actually is the mitsvot? What is Torah’s Judaism, and eschatology for the Jewish people’s future? Read this essay – now in book form – and, for the sake of Klal Yisrael, find out! You will be blessed and challenged, both at the same time. As I was, in the writing of it.

“I assure you that this essay is NOT the standard traditional Jewish expression, it is Eastern in its expression, it is to the Source. It clearly shows you how the evolution of human rights and treatment that exists today was laid out over five thousand years ago. If you are looking for a much needed fresh ALL-people friendly traditional expression of Judaism, this essay will both delight and enlighten you. It is truly fully traditional!”

traditional-judaism-book-coverFor a purchasable book formatted and e-book version of this essay, please look up this essay’s title on Amazon.

This final book form of this essay contains original translations of all the mitsvot, with a focus on accuracy to the Hebrew and with the intent on reading Torah on it’s own terms. You are highly encouraged to open up a Torah with the Hebrew in it and translate yourself, be
cause each
of us needs to honestly wrestle with the Hebrew words of the Torah scrolls on their own terms, anyhow! Ancient Ivreet (Hebrew) is a visual based language, and to appreciate both its reading and its view of the world through a translation, it helps to read it in a more abstract language in a
manner that reflects the visual nature of this source. This helps to prevent mis-understanding of what is meant when reading Torah, a very common problem that now exists with using more abstract modern words that contain meaning that is only relevant to a modern way of looking at the world. I greatly encourage you to honestly wrestle with the Hebrew words of the Torah scrolls on their own terms, and treat a second-hand source (translation of the source) with both due respect and due skepticism. It is an error to blindly assume that a translation of Torah accurately reflects the source! The only way to know the translation is indeed accurate is to compare it to the source, understanding the context, the language structure, and the societal time of writing!
This essay book is published by Ten Words Publishing and marketed through CreateSpace!

A Quick Foreword For This Essay

If you take the time to read this essay, my Jewish family, in its entirety (I know it is a lot!), you might come to understand something very important about our Jewish tradition. Judaism is not just a religion, but rather a civil-religious tradition. It is not about displayed dogmatic beliefs, creeds, or theology. It is not about if you don’t fulfill every single halakha of a movement (these days called, ugh, a “denomination”) then your soul is forever separated from heaven. Such is the teaching of religion. But, Judaism is specifically and all about the mitsvot, folks, and Torah’s teaching clearly shows that fulfilling the Torah mitsvot is all that Torah is concerned about. Through this, everything else that is revolutionary about Torah is revealed and fulfilled. It does not matter if you are Orthodox turned Atheist, if you are ultra-Orthodox or (I just learned this one) “post-denominational”ly Renewal. Torah requires the same of all Jews, regardless your beliefs or views, for the whole focus of Torah is upon the behavior (more than beliefs) of the family-nation of Israel. I hope through this essay book, all Jews are brought back to wrestling with and observing the mitsvot Torah requires of us as members of this family-nation (in the ways that we have been moved to observe it, both individually and as a community). It’s all about the mitsvot!

There comes a point in tradition when we have to re-evaluate the efficacy of the way we present sacred text, our hermeneutics. This is really all the time, for society and our understanding of life is always changing, ever spirally evolving. So, our approach must do the same. Sometimes, as I intend to clearly demonstrate here, we need go back and re-embrace Teaching on its own terms, stepping past the hermeneutics that have led to some of the greatest literature works of deep thought that has preserved and kept our tradition, especially the core of tradition. Doing so is not to disrespect this tradition, but rather to add more to it. In the question I have posed above, I will present the answer as I am seeing it, by letting Torah speak for itself. After reading it a bit, you might call me a Sadducee for it. Though I am all Rabbinic, it’s okay, if you want. You won’t be the first! All I know is that, when I read the text, certain things are self-evidently true, and this is what I’ve presented here. We have a crisis occurring in modern Rabbinic tradition, an existentialist crisis that is not being adequately addressed by the more traditional denominational oriented streams of Judaism. This writing is meant to help address that, and is written and offered with this deeply in mind. It is for the sake of Klal Yisrael. Far too many are going OTD, as it is said, off the derech/path, all because modern expression of ancient tradition is so inflexible it no longer includes adequately those who are of a questioning mind.

Some like and need to be led by a demanding parent figure approach to “religious” tradition, where we all must be alike and believe and say the same things to be part of the community. This doesn’t work for all of us, especially when being involved in a civil-religious tradition, and this is growing more and more so each year, as we culturally and scientifically evolve as Human Beings and as a set-apart culture. So, I am presenting a way of looking at Torah, G!D, mitsvot, and our place and relationship within this that is straight from the source in Torah. Sometimes we need to go back there and rebuild again, starting first from what is actually written. I hope this essay and my attempt to help-do-this helps, knowing to some communities this clearly makes me just as off the path as the many Frum that are leaving our stricter “denominational” communities. But, I promise you, if you are one of the OTD, this page and what is shared here will even surprise you. Indoctrination is a by product of denominationalism and, as a Rebbe taught me, we need to read the scrolls on their own terms – to know the difference of what I am about to share with you below. By stepping away and taking this approach of returning to the source, by clarifying what is Torah said and what is halakhic minhag, this doesn’t mean we are not Torah observant by any means. If we are, in fact, still fulfilling the Torah mitsvot expected of us as Jews, then we are observant and on the path, regardless what a movement says about us or our approach in doing it. It’s all about the Torah mitsvot! With this said, here is the web page that I hope will cause some returning. I hope it both enlightens and invigorates Jewish civil-religious experiencing, and enlightens a greater audience beyond us into what Torah has actually been saying all these thousand of years.

If at any time you want to reach me and share your thoughts-feelings about this essay or about your life experiences with being Jewish, please feel free to email me at dphyrituals@gmail(insert-dot)com. I will treat your email as a confidential communication between you and I, you have my assurance. I really do want to know what you have to say, whatever it may be (favorable, unfavorable, whatever!), and the impact and affect this essay is having upon individuals within our Jewish community and those who have left the more religious aspect of our communities. Remember, being Jewish is not religion alone or having emunah (innate-conviction, often perceived as blind-faith) according to the tenets of one community. Being Jewish and, especially, being a traditional Jew is about focusing on, supporting, and maintaining a civil-religious tradition of a several thousand year old family-nation, the Jewish family-nation in all her observant forms – Klal Yisrael! Share your thoughts with me. (New – Also, you can join our Civil-Religious Judaism Movement Facebook community page and provide your thoughtful discussions there, as well. The link for this is below in the bottom header section for this web page essay. Remember that Judaism is not a Religion, it is a Civil-Religious way-of-life of a Family-nation! We are encouraging all Jews to once again openly and actively express our Jewish heritage in this Torah-based view. Join us and add your presence!)

Ivdu et ha’Shem b’simcha! – Joseph T Farkasdi

Table Of Contents

I – It’s All About the Mitsvot of Our Civil-Religious Tradition

1 – Love for G!D, Not faith in G!D
The Divine Breath-Soul in All Life

2 – Defined by Torah, Not Tenets
Torah’s Meaning of Subdue – Have Dominion

3 – Ethnic Looks & Signs
Torah’s Say on Who is Born Jewish, and More

4 – Purpose of Blessings
Not Religion, Civil-Religious Life

5 – Doing What is Right Between Us
Torah’s Ethical/Moral Expectation – Family

6 – Addressing Poor/Less Fortunate
Torah’s Ethical/Moral Expectation – Others

7 – Showing Respect for Strangers
Jews Are A Multi-Racial Ethnic Family

8 – Focusing Life Around Family
Educating Children, Not Dominating Them

9 – Moral Work/Business Practices
Torah’s Progressive Rights of Women

10 – The Unique Jewish Cuisine
Nefesh is Always Physical/Corporeal

11- The Real Low-Down on Torah Sex
Some Have Been Lied To (with Best Intentions)

12 – Marking Seasons/Ritual Festivals
Shabat*, New-Moon/Year, Three Pilgrimages

13 – Promising with Wisdom
Promises Are Legally Binding At Utterance

14 – Sabbatical Finances & Land
Relationship Between the Seventh Day & Year

15 – Fair Jewish Judicial Practices
Jewish Laws Trump Other-Nation’s Laws

16 – Protecting/Defending Others
Legal Statutes Are to Protect Us From Harm

17 – Recognizing Property Rights
We Are to Respect Others/Our Blessings

18 – No False Prophecy/Idolatry
Torah’s Science of Self-Evidency

19 – Charity & Tax Offerings
Family-Nation Capitalistic Socialism

20 – Handling Sacred Objects/Places
Continuity of Tradition is Required by Torah

21 – Jewish War Ethics/Morals
Enduring Family-Nation Life, Not Eternal Life

C – Wrestling With the Covenant of Mitsvot Upon Us
* 12 Shabat – The True Meaning-Purpose of Shabat/Sabbath

Hebrew/English – B’reishit/Genesis, Sh’mot/Exodus, Vayikra/Leviticus, Bamidbar/Numbers, D’varim/Deuteronomy

It’s All About The Mitsvot In Our Civil-Religious Tradition

Introduction to the Twenty-One Torah Instructions

ten-wordsBeing Jewish is about more than following a community’s definition of piousness and doing ritual according to their approach. It’s more than being just religiously a Jew. If you are a Jew by religion, you are just practicing Judaism. Being Jewish in its fullest and, definitely, most consequential form is to understand that this people-hood of ours exists and is based upon a civil-religious tradition derived directly from the instructions of Torah. This is the heart of it, whether you are a religious focused Orthodox Jew or a secular Humanist Jew, Torah places the same expectations upon every Jew, and to be a Jew is to honor this relationship regardless the price that may befall us. It is about family and community and ethnic survival, through teaching through action the tradition passed unto us upon the generations to come. Understandably, to do this correctly is to wrestle with the need to be observant to what Torah instructs of us to do. If I were to have to summarize succinctly what this essay expression is about, it would be this: Torah is a living sacred-constitution of a specific people, the Jewish family-nation for which it was created. Torah’s expressions revolve around the mitsvot, the sacred-obligations that we are expected to fulfill – meaning, without the mitsvot there would be no Torah and no Jewish people to wrestle with it. Torah speaks from the world-view of its writing, but all of its mitsvot is still relevant today in some form and way. Torah’s only concern in covenanting us to the mitsvot is to ensure the survival of the Jewish family-nation. By showing you both the ancient world-view of Torah and the mitsvot that are applicable still yet in this modern time period, it is my hope that you’ll see the purpose of Torah, how much the modern world is influenced by Torah, and that you will feel compelled to engage with Torah’s mitsvot in the fullest way, now understanding. We’ll see how I do here, won’t we?

Whether you have ceased to participate in Jewish community life or are a Jew participating in a community considered unobservant by Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox standards, you may be more traditional Jewish that you may realize. This may be true, even if your approach is different from the tenets and minhag of the community around you. To know is to know if you are following Torah instructed mitsvot. To know is to know the difference between community halakhah, laws and customs, on appearance, actions, and behavior and that of what Torah specifically instructs us to fulfill through the legends and laws taught to us within it. If you are in fact conducting your lifestyle and behavioral actions in accordance with what is instructed in Torah, then you are an observant Jew and, thus, a traditional Jew. All the rest is the way of approach and the reasonings for by the community that subscribes to this minhag, and there are many approaches to fulfilling Torah mitsvot as there are Jewish communities upon this planet. No one community is more right in their approach over another, if both are indeed fulfilling the mitsvot instructed of us. For all the religiousness in Jewish civil-religious lifestyle, it is as much about growing through cultural way of life as it is about service unto a formless G!D. The two are inseparable from each other, and they are based in the actions we make, rather than the ideologies we may hold about these actions we fulfill or avoid. Ultimately, being Jewish reducts down to living life civilly through defining it religiously by Torah instructed mitsvot. The rest, as much as it is cherished or rejected, as much knowledge that can be gained from it, is ultimately minhag!

Twenty-One Torah Instructions On Mitsvot, Adhering To Mitsvot

Meaning, Twenty-One Categories That Will Show Torah’s Purpose For Mitsvot

To properly understand the word choices used in translating the Torah passages in this essay book and how they are accurate, it is necessary to understand how ancient Ivreet (Hebrew) references living things and references time in relation to these living things. Torah is written in an ancient Semitic sensory-oriented language, an Eastern language. It is primarily a visual language and, much of the time, modern translations forego capturing this visual-ness in favor of speaking in the vernacular of the time period the translation is for. Though this has the advantage of making a translation easy to read, it tends, as well, to cause a loss in seeing these written passages through the eyes of the ancient ones who were first reading them. The ones who would understand directly firsthand what is being referred to here through the use of certain words. For example, most often than not when Torah speaks of “nefesh,” Torah is referring to a “breathing creature,” a breathing alive-thing. Anything that has “breath” in some sense in it, meaning that it is alive, is a nefesh according to Torah. Torah specifically references insects, reptiles, fish, birds, mammals, and human mammals all as nefesh. In translations, you will often find an inconsistency in how this word is translated. Meaning, a different word used for each nefesh type in the translation, and a highly questionable very often translation of nefesh as an immaterial “soul” in these translations, especially when relating to humans. Doing this causes a modern reader not see what the ancients were seeing when reading the text, to not understand it from their reference of thinking. So, since Torah is replete with the word nefesh, this text will be consistent to this, with maintaining a consistent translation of nefesh in it’s most direct meaning, that of “breathing-creature” or, when speaking of humans, that of “breathing-person.” Another example is the word “basar,” which most directly means “flesh.” When Torah uses this word, more often than not, it is a reference to a “mammalian body,” whether it be an other-animal mammal or a human mammal. This one is a bit more consistently rendered in modern translations, but leaves it to the reader to figure it out as to what specifically is being referenced through the use of this visual word. Because I mentioned time, as well, the last example is the word “olam.” Being that Torah is written in a time period that is well before the rise of Greek and Roman abstract thinking, the thinking that has led to modern Western ways of expressing about the world, ancient Ivreet’s use of the word “olam,” a reference to time, has a more visually earth-based connotation to it. The ancients did not see time in our modern scientific abstract way, where something could go on endlessly into an infinite expanse or retraction. Time is expressed in the visual sense of walking a certain distance, passing on through the generations, or looking off into the distance that one would walk and expressing this distance as a relation of time, and so forth. When Torah uses the word “olam,” it is referring to a visual sense of “it being so long of a distance expanse of time, that we cannot see where it ends.” Beyond this, we just don’t know. It could end just after the point where we cannot see it any further, or it could still go further. Torah’s reference of olam, very-distant-time, is in this visual mode frame of reference. This is very different from the modern scientific-based abstract concept of forever or for an eternity. For example, like numbers going endlessly greater into the positive or endlessly smaller into the negative and truly having “no end.” Yet, most translations, for ease of reading, tend to substitute an abstract word, which carries automatically with it an abstract meaning, for the visual based word, which carries with it the limitation in meaning to what can be physically known by the senses. As this essay book will show, conscious attention to the differing natures of ancient Eastern language and modern Western language while making these translations, with an effort to stay as direct as possible to the visual nature of ancient Ivreet and the meaning of the word as it is built from its root, offers us a chance to see this ancient law code/legend text from a view that just might be kind of like how the ancients saw language in reference to their world. The importance of these words being rendered consistently and in contextual understanding will become clear as we explore the ritual-purity laws throughout this essay book. As of this point, I will leave this for you to decide, as you study further the mitsvot of the Jewish family-nation shared here that is contained within the Instruction.

To be a traditional Jew is to be Torah observant. Meaning, fulfilling the mitsvot that Torah instructs us to fulfill. The rest is tenets and minhag of the community wrestling with Torah observance. Being Torah observant has actually gotten easier over time, through all the historical growth and Human awareness changes that have occurred over time. Torah through our observant relationship with it is ever evolving in its expression. The words do not change, but our understanding of how to apply the words in our actions finds new voice with every generation to follow. Below is all the mitsvot Torah instructs us to fulfill through our actions in twenty-one categories of observance. All that is left is for you to now reflect on whether you are fulfilling the mitsvot that is expected of you as a Jew and, if you are not, it is not that difficult to add what is missing in your life. It only requires willingness to observe the obligations upon us as Jews within this world. Regardless the minhag of your approach, what’s important is that the mitsvot are fulfilled. This is what Torah expects of us!

1 – A traditional Jew shows love for G!D, a G!D that has no form, a G!D that created everything.

Torah instructs that you are to love G!D (D’varim 6.5 “you will love ha’Shem your G-d”), but … hear me here … Torah does not define how you are to perceive G!D, beyond not having a formed image of G!D for worship and understanding G!D’s behaviors. Torah teaches that G!D is known through actions, through divine attributes that we are to emulate (Sh’mot 34.6-7 “ha’Shem G-d, showing mercy and favor, slow to anger, abundant in loyalty and faithfulness, … bearing great injustice (wickedness), … addressing great injustice”). Hence, why Jews are instructed to be known by our individual and community actions (Bamidbar 15.37-41 “remember and observe all my civil-ritual-laws (mitzvot) and be sanctified to your G-d”). From Human perspective, life is defined by actions far more than by beliefs. For beliefs can be widely varied, but fundamental actions lead to fundamental experiences in life (consequences). Thus, the hallmark of Jewish tradition and the greatest mitsvah is a love for G!D, however one personally or a community together anthropomorphically defines and describes G!D as, and regardless whether one “believes” in G!D or not. Torah’s requirement upon us is that we “love” G!D, and that we demonstrate this through our actions in this world. From this love for that which cannot be directly imagined, experienced, or seen, comes the motivated embracing of all the civil-ritual mitsvot upon us and where we find meaning in doing so. To understand this reason for engaging in mitsvot, Jews must understand the relationship between G!D and Jews as defined by Torah.

Torah defines G!D as: G!D has no physical or energetic shape or “form” (D’varim 4.12 “and ha’Shem/the-Name spoke to you from-out of the midst of the fire, a voice of words you attentively-heard and a shaped-image of no-thing did you see, except-only a voice”, D’varim 4.15-20 “be very protectively-attentive … you did not see any formed-image on the day ha’Shem/the-Name spoke towards you”, Sh’mot 33.20 “he (G-d) said, you are not-able to see my face, for no human will see me and live”). All Human-like images of G!D in Torah are anthropomorphic representations meant to help us perceive the Imperceptible in a manner that is understandable to us, and Torah is filled with such human-like images of the formless G!D. But, we are sternly and repeatedly warned not to give reverence to such images in place of reverence to G!D directly (Sh’mot 20.3-5 “there-will-not be towards you other gods before my face (the G-d with no shape and form), you will not make for yourself a carved-image and any formed-image (an idol by any method) that-is in the sky from above and that-is on the earth from below and that-is in the water from below in the earth, you will not bow-face-to-ground towards them and you will not serve them”, D’varim 5.7-9 “you will not make for yourself an artistic-image-for-religious-purpose (an idol) of any formed-image that-is in the sky from above and that-is on the earth from below and that-is in the water from below in the earth”). This implies that G!D is always entirely only One entity, not two or three or more in different forms for different purposes, but always uniquely One and indivisible as Torah says (D’varim 6.4 “Listen Israel, ha’Shem our G-d, ha’Shem is One”). Torah instructs us to understand that it is acceptable for other-nations to reverence formed images in their religious traditions, but the covenanted family-nation is responsible for reverencing only the formless Creator G!D (D’varim 4.15-20 “be very protectively-attentive (on constant guard) … lest you corruptly-ruin yourselves (behave wrecklessly wrong) … make yourself an idolic-image of any formed-image, any patterned-figure likeness of male or female … lest you lift-up your eyes to the sky … and be thrusted-away (driven-away) and bow-face-to-ground towards them and serve them, (these gods of form) that ha’Shem your G-d has allotted for all the other people-tribes (other nations) below all the sky”). G!D has no shape nor form and is indivisible, is beyond perception and full understanding, created everything with no exceptions, has no equals or challengers, is the Source of all that exists, G!D’s presence is everywhere and in all life, and has no God-in-flesh children and no need for them, as Torah establishes from beginning to end. In other words, G!D is One and beyond Human perception and full understanding (Sh’mot 3.14 “Moshe said to G-d, I will come to the Children of Israel and I will say to them, the G-d of your ancestral fathers has sent me to you; they will say to me, what is his name?, what shall I say to them?; G-d said to Moshe, ehyeh asher ehyeh/I-will-be(-there) what I-will-be(-there); and he said; you shall say to the Children of Israel; ehyeh/I-will-be(-there) sends me to you”, a voice from a fire, with no definable form, saying literally “I-will-be what I-will-be,” not what you perceive me to be)!

Torah defines Humans as: We Humans are one of G!D’s animal creations, formed from the earth like the other creations (B’reishit 1.27 “G-d (who is formless) created the-human (ha’adam) (a formed creature) … male and female G-d created them”, B’reishit 2.7 “ha’Shem G-d (who has no form) squeezed-into-shape the human of dust from the soil (the adam from the adamah)”). We Humans were brought to life, each and every one of us, through G!D’s breath-of-life being directly breathed into us at the time of creation (when formed/birthed, now separated from the earth or womb) (B’reishit 2.7 “ha’Shem G-d blew into his (its) nostrils the breath-of-life (nishmat chayim) and the human became a living breathing-creature(-animal-person) (nefesh chayah)”). By breathing life into us in this special way (G!D’s very own breathed-in divine-breath, the first breath, different from the wind-like-breath that all life has been given, including humans), a different kind of animal from the other animals we became. Hence, why we have a form of sentience (the degree of our intelligence brought about through “awareness”) that is different from our fellow living creatures, even though we are physically-mentally created in the same manner, of the earth. It is through this, the awareness, we Humans are created in the image of G!D, according to Torah (B’reishit 1.26-27 “G-d created humankind in his (Its) image, in the resemblance of G-d did he (It) create it, male and female”). In all our naked goodness, we Humans possess the sentient rational-emotional awareness, what we often call our mind or spirit, to know that we are different from other creatures (B’reishit 2.19-20 “and ha’Shem G-d squeezed-into-shape from out of the soil every living-thing of the field and every flying-creature of the sky and came to the human (with them) to see what he would call-out to them (address them as)”) and to know “good” and “bad” through our behaviors (B’reishit 3.5 “G-d knows that on the day you eat from it then your eyes will be opened and you will become like gods, knowing good and bad,” note “will become like gods,” often mistranslated as “become like G-d,” which is a Torah established impossibility). We Humans are not eternal, for only the formless Creator G!D that is One is eternal, and all that we are in body and ever-growing mind is returned to the earth from whence we came, when the breath-of-life is removed from us (B’reishit 3.19 “until you return-to the soil, for from-out of it you were taken, for dust you are and to dust you will return”, B’reishit 6.3 “ha’Shem said, my wind-of-life (ruchi) will not stay in humankind for very-distant-time (olam), because also they are flesh, be their days a hundred and twenty years”). In the Torah’s ancient awareness of life, the initial breath-of-sentient-life and constant wind-like-breath-of-life (neshamah and ruach) is the movement of energy, of life-force in action, of “presence”; and the human is the sentient living breathing-person (nefesh chayah) as a result of being embodied and alivened by both of these breaths of life, initial and continuous. Nefesh takes on dual meaning from this, from the physical connection between the breath-of-life and the breathing-creature, with nefesh referring in meaning to both the breathing body-mind creature and the life-energy within the creature, the life-breath, that comes from the sacred G!D-breath within all life (Vayikra 17.11,14 “for the life-energy (nefesh) of the flesh (basar) is in the blood (dam) … for the life-energy (nefesh) of all flesh, blood is its life … the blood of all flesh you are not to eat-drink”). Where G!D is without perceivable form and without duality, we are a body-mind with life-breath in it, the created form that is in the resemblance of G!D. (See dietary laws below for more on the relationship between neshamah, ruach, and nefesh.)

Torah defines the relationship between G!D and Humans as: We are to love the formless Creator G!D, because the breath-of-sentient-life, the presence or “soul” of G!D, is within us and, in a general way, within all existence, too, as the wind-like-breath, and is keeping us alive for while we have breath. But, more importantly, as we move into the covenant between G!D and a family-nation now, we are to love the formless Creator G!D because Torah tells us to do so as a direct mitsvah of the covenant (D’varim 6.5 “you will love ha’Shem your G-d, with all your heart (l’vav’cha/thinking-emotions), with all your person (nafsh’cha/mind-body), with all your substance (me’odecha/means-behaviors)”). We are to venerate G!D’s unpronounceable name, and not profane it (Vayikra 22.32 “you will not make-unclean (or impure, desecrate) my set-apart name (my sanctified name), so-that I be set-apart (pronounced-sanctified) in the midst of the Children of Israel”). We are to hold G!D in deep reverence (D’varim 6.13 “ha’Shem your G-d you will reverence-in-awe and him (It) you will serve and in his (Its) name you will swear”). We are to fulfill the mitsvot and imitate G!D’s attributed ways (D’varim 28.9 “ha’Shem will rise-up to you (establish you) as a set-apart people-tribe (as a sanctified nation) … protectively-attend-to the civil-ritual-law (the mitsvot) of ha’Shem your G-d and walk in his path-of-life (do in life as the formless-One would do)”). We are not to curse G!D, whose soul is within us, meaning to show extreme disregard or disrespect towards, for G!D is the ultimate life-influencing authority (true, regardless how you perceive “G-d”), according to Torah (Sh’mot 22.27 “G-d you will not verbally-abuse (revile or curse or make-light-of) and a leader-with-authority among your people (an exalted-one) you will not invoke-for-harm (not curse or encourage physical-emotional harm or misfortune)”). We are not to test G!D, in the way that the people grumbled against their leaders prior because of thirst … meaning we are to be respectful and trust (assured reliance/dependance) in G!D whether we have faith (belief/allegiance) in G!D or not at a given time (D’varim 6.16 “you will not attempt-to-test ha’Shem your G-d as when you put-him-to-test in Massah/(place-of-)Testing”). Most importantly, we are to serve G!D through our attentive actions (D’varim 10.20, 11.1 “ha’Shem your G-d you will reverence-in-awe, him (It) you will serve (labor-in-work for), … (you will) protectively-attend-to his obligatory-duties (safeguard-duties) and his legislated-laws (statutes) and his laws-by-decree (judgment-rulings) and his civil-ritual-laws (covenanted-commandments)”).

2 – A traditional Jew defines him/her-self by Torah teachings and instructions.

ha’Torah literally means the-Teaching, and Torah teaches through legends and laws. To be a traditional Jew is to engage with, wrestle with, and abide by the mitsvot of Torah. In other words, to be observant and approach one’s daily behavior through this observance. Beyond what Torah clearly instructs, the exact how and when is dependent solely upon the tenets and minhag of the community adhering to and wrestling with Torah observance. Torah defines being Jewish in the following way: We are to show respectful honor to those of many years, and we are to treat the visitor as one of us (Vayikra 19.32-34 “before-the-face of the gray-haired you will rise, and show-respect-to the face of elders, and you will reverence-in-awe because-of your G-D, I am ha’Shem; and if an other-nation visiting-resident is with you in your land you will not do-him-wrong (maltreat or oppress him), as a native-born (as one raise-from-the-soil) he will be to you”). We are to learn Torah and teach Torah to our children (D’varim 6.6-7 “these words … will be upon your heart (your deep and strong emotional thoughts), you will teach-repetitiously them in your children (daily inculcating your children in these words)”, to inculcate means to teach repetitiously by daily body-mind example – it is not enough just to say it, we must demonstrate it by actions of example). We are to write Torah, so that we may carefully instruct each other and our children in observing the Teaching (D’varim 31.19 “now write-down for you this song (the song of Moshe) and teach it to the Children of Israel, put it in their mouths”, D’varim 32.46 “that you will direct-with-authoritative-counsel your children (enjoin them) to protectively-attend-to doing all the words of this Teaching (the words of Torah)”). We are not to add to or take away from the mitsvot of Torah (D’varim 4.2 “you will not add-to upon the words which I authoritatively-order upon you (enjoin you to) and you will not lesson from it, to protectively-attend-to the civil-ritual-laws”, meaning to change or lessen the importance of the original wording of the scrolls, the original civil-religious constitution of the Jewish family-nation). As we will see further into this essay, Torah does allow us to write and enforce additional amendments that preserve the intent and applicability of the direct Torah based mitsvot under changing life circumstances, to maintain both the sanctity of life and to ensure the survival of the Jewish family-nation’s civil-religious way of life.

Beyond our responsibility to be defined by and adhere to the mitsvot teachings and instructions of Torah, our role as Jewish humans in G!D’s evolving creation is to care for, develop, maintain, and improve G!D’s world (B’reishit 1.28-29 “G-d blessed them (the humans) and said to them, bear fruit and be many (have offspring), fill the earth and control it (exert-your-will), have governing-authority over the fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, and all living things that crawl upon the earth; G-d said, here, I give you all plants that give seeds which are upon the face of all the earth, and all the trees in which tree fruit gives seeds, for you they are for eating, and for all life (living-creatures) on the earth and for all flying-creatures of the sky and for all crawling-swarming-creatures in the earth which are living breathing-creatures (nefesh chayah) all green plants for eating”). This requires us as the animal creature that is blessed with G!D’s direct initial breath-of-life in us, the neshamah breath, G!D’s immaterial presence (which we call a soul), to remember our animal place in this world and work towards improving G!D’s world with awareness of the effect-affect of our daily and long-term actions. Our responsibility as Jews in this world is to express the divine image in all aspects of human living, culture, and relationship with the greater world around us. We must care for social justice and improving human welfare in balance and along with ensuring and sustaining the world ecosystems. By working to expand the range of our responsibilities under the family-nation covenant of mitsvot, we can then fulfill the mandate of living in the path of G!D’s divine attributes. We are blessed with an energy, individually and collectively, that we do not fully yet understand. It is our Jewish responsibility to embrace, further understand, and apply this mandate upon us to tikun olam/healing the world. We do this by understanding that the formless G!D is always present and by understanding the mystical/magical relationship between Humans and G!D. More specifically, between Jews and the formless Creator G!D, by understanding that we are “constitutionally-agreed” (covenanted through enjoined service) to revere G-d by supporting and fulfilling the civil-ritual-laws of the family-nation to fulfill this mandate upon us (Sh’mot 34.6-7 “ha’Shem G-d, showing mercy and favor, slow to anger, abundant in loyalty and faithfulness, … bearing great injustice (wickedness), … addressing great injustice”, D’varim 4.10-15 “the day that you stood before the face (presence) of ha’Shem your G-d at Horev, when ha’Shem said to me (Moshe); assemble to me the people and have them hear my words, that they learn to reverence me in awe all the days that they are alive above the soil, and that they teach their children (to do the same); and you came near and stood beneath the mountain, and the mountain was burning in fire, up to the heart of the sky (heavens), darkness, clouds, and low-dense clouds; and ha’Shem spoke to you from the midst of the fire, a voice of words you heard and a shape (embodiment) you did not see, only a voice (you heard), and he (G-d) announced his constitutional-agreement to you (his covenant, his pledge of a promise for enjoined responsibility) which he authoritatively-ordered you to observe (which he enjoined, commanded you), the Ten Words, and engraved them upon two tablets of stone; and ha’Shem authoritatively-ordered me at that time to teach you civil-enacted-laws (governmental statutes-ordinances) and just-law-verdicts (court-decreed established laws) for you to observe in the land that you are crossing into to possess; now you will very protectively-guard your life-energy (nefesh), for you did not see any shape (embodiment) on the day that ha’Shem spoke to you at Horev from the midst of the fire”). We are made, according to Torah, as an animal species, the Human species, in the image of G!D and thus have a seriously important role and responsibility within this world (B’reishit 1.26-27 “G-d said, let us make humankind in our image, in our resemblance, and let them exert-will (dominion) towards the fish of the sea and towards birds of the sky and towards four-legged-creatures and towards all the earth and towards all crawling-swarming-creatures that crawl upon the earth; and G-d created the human-species (humankind) in his (Its) image, in his resemblance G-d created, male and female (It) created them”, sentiently aware of ourselves and our world, knowing good from bad, and knowing we have a direct affect and responsibility to all that G-d placed us with dominion over).

3a – A traditional Jew wears specific ethnic/ritual garments to self-identify and be reminded by, and …

Torah observant Jews put on Talit with Tsitsit and Tefilin at least once during the day for a reflective moment of time, preferably soon after rising from sleep, as is required by Torah (Bamidbar 15.38 “(they will) make for themselves tassels (tsitsit) upon the edges of their coverings (a tallit) … and put upon the tassel edge a thread of blue-violet”, D’varim 6.8 “(you will) tie them for a sign upon your hand, and they will be for forehead-bands between your eyes (tefillin)”, D’varim 22.12 “make for yourself twisted-threads upon the four edges of your covering which you cover with (tsitsit)”). We either wear the Talit with Tsitsit during the morning shacharit (dawn reflections and blessings) ritual or, for many, we wear the Talit with Tsitsit all day long, usually under our garments with or without the Tsitsit exposed. Whether we choose to adorn ourselves with the ritual garments of our cultural heritage once momentarily during the day or sport it like ethnic wear, so that we are always reminded of the mitsvot upon us as Torah says (Bamidbar 15.39 “that you may see (the tsitsit) and remember all the mitsvot of ha’Shem and fulfill them, that you do not follow after your heart and after your eyes, what you are whoring yourselves after”), either way of approach fulfills these mitsvot. For Torah is only concerned that you fulfill the mitsvot and be reminded through your act of doing it and, except where clearly and detail specified, leaves the further details of how and when to the communities of our family-nation. It is the wrestling with this that has led to kalakhic minhag of varying strictness. For example, though it is not at all required by Torah, all traditional Jews, whether secular or religious or somewhere in between, wear a kipa when in a synagogue, during Torah study, and during ritual blessings. It is a sign of respect to tradition to do so. More religious oriented Jewish males wear kippot or a hat of some sort at all times, except during bathing and sleeping. Though it is not at all required by Torah, many religious oriented Jewish women wear a hat or a wig often on a daily basis. The reasons for the head coverings are as varied as the communities that make up the Jewish family-nation. It is not necessary to do so from a Torah mitsvah standpoint but, especially with male kippot, it is highly regarded as a pious oriented act to wear these tradition-based head coverings. We wear them as a symbol of Jewishness and as a very visible physical reminder, that only emphasizes the reminder that wearing tsitsit provides when worn, to be observant of Torah’s mitsvot. Along with special ritual garment wearing, Torah additionally requires that we affix the mezuzah to our doorposts and the gates of our residence, as an additional reminder of who and what we are as a civil-religious family-nation (D’varim 6.9 “(you will) inscribe them (the daily chanted shema passages) upon the door-posts of your house and on your gates”), in a sense, dressing the house, as well.

These ritual signs that specifically identify us as Jews in this world, hence the mitsvot to do, all focus around the specific words we remind ourselves with throughout the day, to verbally outwardly speak the Torah at home, during travel, to our children, and in the morning after waking up and in the evening before going to bed (D’varim 6.6-7 “and these words (Torah) … you will teach-repetitiously (inculcate) in your children and speak of them in your sitting in your house and in your walking in the path and in your lying-down and in your rising-up”). It has been said that if only every Jew were to faithfully wear tsitsit and tefilin every day and chant the passages of the shema, then this in itself would usher in the days of the mashiach era, the time of peace upon the land throughout the ages that is assured to one day come. Understanding the importance of these passages for both the secular and religious Jew, I am presenting the shema passages here in hopes that you will read the transliteration and the translation provided afterwards, to understand why this simple ritual act is so important a daily behavior to have and actually fulfill, whether secular or religious oriented as a Jew or, as Torah instructs us to be, civil-religious.
Note, transliterated vowel phonetics are as follows – a (as in ah), i (as in eeh), e (as in eh), o (as in oh), ay (as in eih), and u (as in ooh).

D’varim 6.4-9 “sh’ma yisrael ha’shem elohaynu ha’shem echad; v’ahavta et ha’shem elohecha b’chol l’vav’cha uv’chol nafsh’cha uv’chol m’odecha, v’hayu had’varim ha’ayleh asher anochi m’tzav’cha ha’yom ahl l’vavecha v’shinantam l’vanecha v’dibarta bom b’shivt’cha b’vaytecha uv’lecht’cha vaderech uv’shachb’cha uv’kumecha, uk’shartam l’ot ahl yadecha v’hayu l’totafot bayn aynecha, uch’tavtam ahl mizuzot baytecha uvisharecha”,
“listen-carefully Israel, the-(unpronounceable)-Name our formless-G-d, the-Name is One, love the-Name your formless-One with all your feelings-emotions and with all your body-mind and with all your efforts-actions, and these words which I (the-formless-G-d) enjoin you to this day will be upon your heartfelt-emotions, and (you will) repetitiously-teach them to your children and speak of them in your sitting in your house and in your walking in the path and in your lying-down and in your rising-up, and tie them for a sign upon your hand and they will be for forehead-bands between your eyes, and write them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates”,

D’varim 11.13-21 “v’hayah im shamoa tishm’u el mitzvoti asher anochi m’tzaveh etchem hayom, l’ahavah et ha’shem elohaychem ul’avdo b’chol l’vavchem uv’chol nafsh’chem, v’natati m’tar artzchem b’ito yoreh umalkosh v’asafta d’ganecha v’tiroshecha v’yitzharecha, v’natati aysev b’sadecha livhemtecha, v’achalta v’savata, hishamru lachem pen yifteh l’vavechem v’sartem va-ahvadtem elohim achayrim v’hishtachavitem lahem, v’charah af ha’shem bachem v’atzar et hashamayim v’lo y’hiyeh matar v’ha’adamah lo titayn et y’vulah va-avadtem m’harah mayal ha’aretz hatovah asher ha’shem notayn lachem, v’samtem et d’varay ayleh ahl l’vavchem v’ahl nafshechem uk’shartem otom l’ot ahl yedchem v’hayu l’totafot bayn aynaychem v’limodtem otom et b’naychem, l’dabayr bom b’shivt’cha be’vaytecha uvelechtecha vaderech uv’shachb’cha uv’kumecha, uchtavtam ahl mezuzot baytecha uvisharecha, l’ma-an yirbu y’maychem vimay v’naychem ahl ha’adamah asher nishba ha’shem la’avotaychem la’tayt lahem kimay ha’shamayim ahl ha’aretz”,
“and it will be if you listen carefully to my mitzvot that I (by my authority) enjoin you today, to love the-(unpronouceable)-Name your formless-One and to serve It (G-d) with all your heartfelt-emotions and with all your body-mind, I will give rain to your land in its due-time, hard-sprinkling and later rain (spring and autumn), (so) that you gather in your new-grain and your new-wine and your new-oil, and (will also) give grass-plants to your fields for your domestic-animals, and you will eat and be satiated; protectively-attend to yourselves, lest your heartfelt-emotions be deceived and turn you, and you serve other gods and prostrate to them, then the nose-breath of the-Name will flare towards you (G-d’s wrath) and hold-back the sky and there will be no rain and the soil will not give its food-plants, and you perish quickly from above the good land which the-Name gives to you; therefore put these my words upon your heartfelt-emotions and upon your body-mind and tie them for a sign upon your hand and they will be for forehead-bands between your eyes, and repetitiously-teach them your children to speak them in your sitting in your house and in your walking on the path and with your lying-down and with your rising-up, and write them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days are-more and your children’s days above the soil, which the-Name swore to your fathers for-the-time-of the sky above the earth”,

Bamidbar 15.37-41 “va’yomayr ha’shem el moshe laymor, dabayr el benay yisrael v’amarta alayhem v’ahsu lahem tzitzit ahl kanfay vigdayhem l’dorotom v’notnu ahl tzitzit hakanof pteel tchaylet, vhayah lachem l’tzitzit uritem oto uzchartem et kol mitzvot ha’shem, va’ahsitem otom v’lo taturu acharay l’vavchem v’acharay aynaychem asher atem zonim acharayhem; l’ma’an tizk’ru va’asitem et kol mitzvoti vihyitem kdoshim laylohaychem ani ha’shem elohechem asher hotzayti etchem mayeretz mitzrayim lih’yot lachem laylohim; ani ha’shem elohechem”,
“the-(unpronounceable)-Name spoke towards Moshe to say, speak towards the Children of Israel and say towards them to make themselves tsitsit (bound-threads) upon the corners of their coverings for their ages (generations) and put upon the tsitsit edge a thread of blue-violet; (it) will be for you for tsitsit and seeing it and remember all the mitsvot (enjoined-laws) of the-Name and fulfill them, and not wander after your heartfelt-emotions and after your eyes, which you whore after them; I-am the-Name your formless-G-d, which brought you from-out of the land of Mitsrayim (Egypt) to be for you a G-d, I am the-Name your formless-G-d”.

It’s not enough to say what we should do as Jews, it is necessary to actually do it for the mitsvot to be fulfilled. This pattern that is developed from ritualized habits leads instinctively to further acts of civil-ritual compliantly good deeds, and results in showing love to the Creator through our fulfilling of the mitsvot. In its truest definition, mitsvah (and its plural, mitsvot) means “enjoined-civil/ritual-law,” laws directed upon us that we are obligated to fulfill because it serves the Creator of Life who blessed and created the Jewish Family-Nation of Israel to be a kingdom in service to G-d for olam, for as long as there is sky above the earth to support life upon our planet. The basic civil-ritual constitution of mitsvot revealed in Torah leads to an awareness of the need to adjust to changes in time, place, and situations in order for everyone to stay in devoted service to our covenanted family-nation, regardless their present social place in life. For example, even though Torah does not directly tell us to do so by way of a mitsvah, we have an accepted halakhah of clothing the naked so that they no longer feel shame. Meaning, helping the poor and downtrodden in our midst who are insufficiently dressed or covered for the social/environmental conditions and are in need of our help, thus addressing the sanctity of human life. Beyond this, all other dress-wear that we as a community and as individuals within the community daily wear or not wear serves to address social identity and feelings of shame issues. Since Torah leaves for the most part all these details to us, save not mixing wool and flax together for clothing (D’varim 22.11 “do not put-on shaatnez (mixed-thread), wool and flax together”) and not cross-dressing (D’varim 22.5 “(you) will not (put) man-items upon a woman, and not put-on a man a woman’s coverings”), additional clothing requirements – meaning what kind and how to wear them – are the realm and tenets of each community to agree upon in an effort to maintain tsiniyut, a sense of modesty, as a means to address the need of not drawing unwanted attention upon oneself. Sometimes, in the effort to achieve this, those most strictest about covering yourself end up drawing the most unwanted attention through the very styles that are meant to avoid this. Never the less, the bottom line is this: According to Torah, what we choose to apply as standards for ourselves is ultimately for focussing on our connection and service to the family-nation, and throughout Torah this includes not failing to provide for the vital needs-of-life of the poor among us, by recognizing the sanctity of every life, so that we not draw wrongful attention upon them when we are supposed to be helping to restore them within our society.

So, the delicate balance between modesty and identity versus freedom of expression within socially productive standards will most likely always be a source of debate. To sadly include, statements on who is more observant based on outward looks of appearance alone, rather than directly on the behavioral actions themselves that we are to fulfill. Torah itself requires only specific garments for specific times and reasons, and that certain materials be separated in some manner. With this said, it is a mitsvah to respect the clothing customs of the community we are in, especially when around the synagogue. But note, beyond the specific requirements of Torah here, nowhere does Torah say we must be dressed in the clothing of a particular community style to be considered observant of Torah or that we even need to wear clothes at all at any time beyond the specific times and places that Torah instructs for a certain dress-wear to be adorned (such as tsitsit and tefilin once daily throughout the generations and, for priests of the ancient temple back in the day, a loincloth and specific ritual items). The only reason G!D made loin cloths for Adam and Chavah in the Gan Eyden legend was out of compassion for their experiencing of shame in their nakedness (B’reishit 3.21 “and ha’Shem G-d made for the human and his helpmate skin coverings and covered them”, B’reishit 3.7 “and they knew they were (sexually) naked, and they stitched fig leaves and made for them loincloths”), even though G!D had created them naked and set them about in the Garden of Pleasure to live and love and had called Humankind “good” as nakedly they were in all ways (B’reishit 2.25 “and the two of them will be naked, the human and his helpmate, and not ashamed”). When it comes right down to it, beyond the wearing of certain types of clothing during uncomfortable social situations, by wearing the ritual items we as Jews are required to wear, humbly and faithfully, even if it is for just a moment in the day, serves to establish a pattern of being in service unto G!D (D’varim 6.13 “ha’Shem your G-d revere-in-awe and serve him,” the formless One). Hence, the purpose of all of our various ritual halakhah on what is deemed to be considered properly dressed as a Jew.

3b – A traditional Jew performs personal life-event and time marking separation rituals.

Traditional Jews, as a community, are to ensure that all male Jews have been circumcised, either by removal of the penile foreskin, brit milah for born Jewish or milah l’shem giur for adopted Jewish, or by the drawing of one drop of blood from an already circumcised foreskin, hatafat dam brit. Torah requires that all male Jews to be marked during infancy through ritual circumcision of the foreskin on the penis (B’reishit 17.12 “a son belonging to you eight days (of age) will be (foreskin-)cut, every man in your generations, house born and money-bought from any foreign-son (stranger) which he (the child) is not from your seed”, Vayikra 12.3 “and on the eighth day his foreskin flesh will be cut”). If they have not been circumcised for some reason or are of another people but now being accepted by a Jewish community as one of the people or if adopting a male child at birth into a Jewish family, then to be Jewish and observant they must be ritually circumcised (B’reishit 17.11,13 “you will cut-away your foreskin flesh, and it will be a covenant sign (physical marking) between me (G-d) and between you … foreskin cut will be your house born and your money bought, then my covenant will be in your flesh, covenant for beyond-perceivable-time (olam)”, a time so distant that it is, in a sense, beyond the horizon). Note, for those in doubt of their Jewishness because they were not circumcised before a Rabbinic leader, Torah only requires that you be circumcised, preferably on the eighth day of life and, if not, at any age just so long as it is done (Sh’mot 4.25 “Tsippora took a cutting-stone and cut-off her son’s foreskin”, B’reishit 17.24-25 “Avraham (was) ninety and nine years (of age) when he cut his foreskin flesh, and Yishmael (was) thirteen years (of age) when he cut his foreskin flesh”). Torah does not say that an already circumcised male must be for some reason ritually circumcised again through the drawing of blood. This is a Rabbinic requirement of those not of Jewish people-hood but who are circumcised and choosing Judaism, meaning choosing to live as and marry into the family-nation and be Jewish, or those of Jewish non-Orthodox communities who are already circumcised but wishing to immerse fully into the Orthodox Jewish way-of-life (meaning not considered Jewish by Orthodox standards). Seeing how Judaism, the civil-religious tradition of Jews, is inherently non-proselytizing in nature, this requirement of hatafat dam brit for males choosing Jewishness, along with all the extensive study requirements of language-history-mitsvot that goes along with it, serves beneficially for the family-nation as a means of discouragement to choosing so and as a show of commitment if not discouraged. To choose to be of the Jewish people is to obligate yourself to the civil-religious tradition that defines us as a people, Torah mitsvot and community halakhah-minhag, and it is to accept fully the responsibilities and fates that befall us as a people. In “denominational” movements, this drawing of one drop of blood even applies to Jews born Jewish and have undergone the coming of age ceremony, but are secular or humanistic and non-theistic now in view, as a reaction to the anthropomorphic way that tradition and Torah can express the relationship between the formless Creator G!D and humankind, but are now seeking to re-embrace tradition within observant Jewish communities.

For Jewish males, another physical based personal life event that defines a traditional Jew is the Torah mitsvah that states adult males will not cut away (meaning, shave off) their beards, if they are able to grow one (Vayikra 19.27 “do not strike-off the edge(-growth) of your head and do not mar the edge(-growth) of your face-hair”). Modern tradition posits that so long as we are not using a razor to cut away the beard, as was done in ancient times, grooming the beard and keeping it neatly styled does not violate this Torah mitsvah. In fact, one can actually trim with clippers all the way to the skin, if needing to be beardless for social reasons of necessity, because of the context of this prohibition. Though, it is generally considered a positive cultural-affirming mitsvah to keep the beard somewhat grown out among more conservative communities. It’s a sign of cultural connectedness, besides being a mitsvah right in today’s clean-shaven encouraged world, and keeping the beard grown prevents us from accidentally violating, out of habit of doing or by forgetfulness or whatever, the Torah prohibitive mitsvah of not shaving your beard during the funeral rites for a loved one.

Traditional Jews, whether male or female, do not get permanent artistic tattoos and brandings or artistic scarrings for their flesh, and traditional Jews who have them from prior years of not being Torah observant do not get any more for their skin (Vayikra 19.28 “an incision for a (deceased) breathing-creature (a person) do not make on your flesh, and a marking incision (artistic design or lettering) do not put on you”). This physical based personal life event that defines all traditional Jews, that of not placing within one’s skin ritual scarring and ink tattooing, has a deep historical civil-religious ritual connection for us that still defines us as Jews in this day and time of human history. In ancient times, the funeral practices of neighboring peoples was to shave the beard and head and to mark and scar themselves as part of their religious practices (idol and ancestral worship). Though, technically, the only way to violate these two Torah mitsvot is to do it for funeral rite and idolatrous religious reasons, that of shaving away the hair of the body and that of marking oneself with images of deities or deceased family members, it is still greatly frowned upon by much of the Jewish family-nation. There are three valid reasons for avoiding these body modification behaviors: The first one and most important one is that, if I’m not mistaken, Torah does not give approval under other circumstances to shave away the hair or to get a tattoo that somehow demonstrates or focuses our attention upon our Jewish emunah/innate-convictions, whereas Torah does provide acceptable doing with that of eating food or that of having sex or that of intermarriage between other nations. (Meaning that just because we can by way of it not being said we can’t, doesn’t always mean that we should. The mitsvot of Torah must be understood in proper greater context with the rest of Torah.) The second one is that the encouragement of getting a tattoo or artistic scarring of the flesh for artistic secular or expressive religious reasons (like, for examples, a tree of life, Hebrew lettering or Torah passages, sacred numbers, etc.) could very well lead to “in ignorance” (whether by complete ignorance or momentary ignorance by drink) getting a tattoo that does actually violate the no-idolatry mitsvah above. Even removal of the tattoo later, leaves scarring that reminds of the image. The third one is that certain specific types of tattooing (such as numbering one’s skin) creates discomfort, a justifiable pain, in the lives of many in this modern time who or whose family members underwent forced tattooing at the hands of a WWII nation that was determined to commit genocide of Jews, branding them like cattle then shipping them in cattle train-cars to be put to death by gas in the gas chambers or worked to starvation and death in the work camps. All male Jews should not take lightly the idea of keeping their beards grown somewhat, and all Jews should seriously take a moment to think twice before deciding to mark their flesh with anything other than a henna tattoo (which lasts a long time, but is not permanent, and so long as the temporary body art does not violate the Torah mitsvah).

For traditional Jewish women (and men, when in relations with a woman), the Torah requires by mitsvah for ritual separation sake that we are not to engage in sexual intercourse during a woman’s monthly period (Vayikra 15.19, 24 “(when) a woman comes-to-have a blood issue (and) comes-to-have her flow in her flesh, she will be seven days in her niddah (ritual-separation), and anyone that touches on her is tamei (ritually-impure) until the sunset (evening) … and if a man lies-down with her (sexually) and comes-to-have her niddah (ritual-impurity) upon him, he will be tamei (ritually-impure) for seven days”). Any other time is totally fine, for it is obligated upon the male by tradition to fulfill her desire when she wants it, but this time of menstruation is a time of renewal and rest from sex for both her and him. (See the Low-Down on Torah Sex section for more about the real deal Torah approved/disapproved sexual practices.)

Traditional Jews, both the men and the women, regularly immerse ourselves in a mikvah, preferably of living water, in modern continuity with the ancient ritual purity laws instructed in Torah (Vayikra 15.16 “when a man releases-out from him lying-down seed (an emission of semen), then (he will) wash with water all his flesh and be tamei (ritually-impure) until the sunset (evening)”, Vayikra 15.28 “when she is purified (meaning, cleansed) from her (blood-flow-)issue and tally-marks (counts) to herself seven days, she then will be (ritually-)pure”, Vayikra 16.24 “and (he will) wash himself with water in a sanctified spot (place) and (then) put-on his coverings (his clothes)”) This act of tevilah, of making ourselves ritually pure thorough immersion in a body of water, allows us to mark the separation moments with reverence after sexual intercourse, after monthly niddah, before engaging in specific rituals of significance, Shabat, the three pilgrimage festivals, being accepted into the community for the first time, etc. It is required by tradition that we be completely naked for this ritual immersion, not a lint of clothing remaining, and that the entire body including the head of hair be immersed. In most observant communities water immersion is witnessed to ensure that the ritual immersion is done and done correctly. Not only do we ritually cleansed our our body-mind by water immersion, but various communities will ritually immerse certain objects or clothing under certain conditions and occasions for ritual-purity purposes, as well. Yes, there is a rudimentary aspect to the mikvah ritual. Back in the day in the desert where water is definitely scarce, ritualizing the bathing activity ensured that everyone within the family-nation kept hygienically clean. But, the ritual of water immersion itself serves a great civil-religious purpose, that of addressing ritual-purity to be in body-mind sanctified. Emissions from the body symbolic mimic the dying process and ritual bathing symbolically mimics the birthing process. In today’s world, in most countries, bathing is still a random as-truly-needed process, and the mikvah ritual has more of its ancient meaningful impact in these places. Yet, in most modern countries, where baths regularly take place near or always daily, this water immersion ritual has to be elevated into a religious-focused act, lest we forget about it, separated from the normal bathing process that regularly happens. This is where intent through ritualized action and a man-made or, preferably, nature-made mikvah comes together.

In Jewish tradition we mark the personal life cycles of time, in as much as we mark the communal daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, and yearly cycles of time. Because our Jewish lifestyle is based in family-community civil-ritual tradition, we identify the Jewish birth of every child within the family-nation, the coming of age ceremony for children, especially males, and the death of every Jewish adult within the community. We do this because being Jewish is as much about our ethnic communal way-of-life as it is about our civil-religious ritual practices. So much so, that to this day we carry the ancient practice of identifying Jews who are Jews by birth, as was done in ancient times. This act serves two purposes, one of determining inheritance rights of family line wealth, whatever this may be and, more importantly, to ensure that the in-service-to-G!D through observance of the obligatory family-nation mitsvot continues through the next generation in the family line. During the Roman occupation of Israel, the traditional Jewish approach to determining rights to inheritance and, by greater extension, who is legally a Jew of the family-nation of Israel fell into crisis because of the imposed Roman laws governing the distribution of family wealth. As a result, for survival of Jewish family continuity, the Rabbinic ruling governing who is considered Jewish by birth changed out of necessity from being determined based on the father’s lineage to being based on a mother’s state of Jewishness. The Jewish communities that did not align with Rabbinic Judaism to this day still base being born Jewish on the father’s parentage. Since around the mid 1970’s C.E., crisis over who is Jew by birth has arisen again, leading to the more liberal communities to make halakhic ruling acknowledging a child’s born Jewish status with at least one of either parent being Jewish. But, this issue is a contentious sore spot of discussion that is occurring within Jewish tradition, basically because it is causing children and adults born and raised in Jewish civil-ritual tradition within a community whose parents do not meet the community’s halakhah on parentage to be deemed not Jewish and needing to be put through the acceptance into the community rituals that a person not of Jewish tradition but wanting to be must go through, just to be legally Jewish per the halakhah of the community. This modern crisis is occurring from the increase of born and adopted Jews marrying non-Jews, as was in the days of Torah, but in a way that is significantly different than in ancient times. In ancient times, the Jews marrying non-Jews into the community of Israel were Jewish men marrying non-Jewish women, and did so with the non-Jewish woman understanding that she must now adopt and accept the traditional civil-religious Jewish way-of-life in place of the civil-religious tradition she grew up in. In today’s times, with either Jewish man or woman marrying outside of the Jewish community at large, the issue of Jewish born children is more complicated and divisive an issue.

The Torah passage used since the destruction of the second temple to determine the halakhah on who is born Jewish states that Israelites will not intermarry specifically with Canaanites, though we are given allowance on intermarriage with other nations (D’varim 7.3-4 “do not give-away to them (marry with them, the Canaanites), your daughter do not give to their son and their daughter do not take for your son, (they) will turn-away your son from after me (service to G-d and, by default, Israel) and (he will) serve other gods”). By Talmudic interpretation of this negative mitsvah, this equates to if the mother in the marriage isn’t Jewish then the children are not either, regardless how Jewishly they have been raised all their life. Hence, the modern struggle occurring over the acceptance of that ruling and its validity in this quickly changing modern age. There is a different way to look at this, which better aligns with Torah and its mitsvah intent. The interpretation is an obvious one, that of the Torah never being concerned of the non-Jewish woman turning away the child born between her and the Jewish father, because this child IS Jewish. The “they” in the passage above refers specifically to the Canaanite families and their ways. At the moment, no community has written a psak din on this yet that is acceptable to all the communities. But, just because you find yourself legally not accepted as Jewish by a community due to the community’s halakhah on what is a Jew by birth or by acceptance, if you are fulfilling the Torah mitsvot and living the Jewish civil-religious way-of-life faithfully, then you fit the category of a traditionally observant Jew. Only catch is, until tradition at large resolves this, you’ll have to follow the halakhah of the community you are in or wish to be a part of, even if it means they legally can’t declare you a Jew, until there is resolution on this status issue, or find a community whose halakhah already recognizes your Jewishness or, if you are unable to find a proper blend of both preferred-by-you community and halakhah acceptance of your Jewishness, you’ll have to wait patiently on the independent outskirts for awhile until a greater consensus is made on this halakhic issue while following the halakhah and minhag in the manner of the community that most suits you.

As far as Torah is concerned, born into Jewishness with its Torah mandatory family-nation mitsvot or adoption (literally, bought) into Jewishness with its Torah mandatory family-nation mitsvot (includes marriage of non-Jews) is what defines who is a Jew by family ties under the covenant (B’reishit 17.20-23 “and, for Yishmael, I (G-d) have heard you, here, I will bless him and he will bear-fruit (have children) and I will increase him very-much (in family numbers), twelve exalted-ones (tribal leaders) he will bear-forth, and I will make him into a great nation, and my covenant I will rise-near (establish) with Yitschak, whom Sarah will bear-forth for you in set-time in this next year … Avraham took Yishmael his son and all (sons) born in his house and all (sons) he money-bought, every male among men of Avraham’s house(hold) (extended family), and cut-off the flesh of their foreskins in this-same day”). By default, because women do not have penile foreskin, they are automatically Jewish by marriage (by dowry) and by birth or adoption into the family of a Jewish male, as far as Torah is concerned on this matter. Unless, the Canaanite tribe happens to still exist and one can prove marriage to and offspring from a Canaanite, then those born of patriarchal or matriarchal parental descent are Jewish. Now, with this said about Torah patriarchal decent and with the additional halakhic ruling of matriarchal decent that Torah allows an assembly of Rabbis to make (D’varim 16.18 “judges and officials make for yourselves in all your gates (communities) … they will govern the people (with) equitable justice”), any children born of a family where there is at least one parent who is Jewish, whether male or female, these children are Jewish by birth, even if not recognized by certain community movements within Klal Yisrael, and it is the responsibility of the Jewish communities to raise them Jewishly, not treat them as non-Jewish until certified by a community beit din of Rabbis. This is not a mamzer situation, births from Torah forbidden sex, and should not take on the characteristics of such. The goal of Torah is a family-nation of Jews that are behaving Jewishly by fulfilling Torah mitsvot.

4 – A traditional Jew serves a greater purpose beyond self and makes blessings to mark these occasions.

Besides the daily blessing-related rituals that Torah requires Jews to perform, there is a very important weekly ritual that a Jew must observe faithfully to be a traditional Jew. It is an absolute must for all Jews, and this ritual is the most important ritual, without question, out of all the rituals that the Jewish family-nation engages in. This ritual is the weekly ritual of observing Shabat, the Sabbath day, in the manner instructed by Torah (Sh’mot 20.8 “remember the Shabbat day (the seventh day of each week), to sanctify it”). There is no Jewish ritual that is more important for both the individual Jew and for the Jewish community as a whole than that of Shabat, for it is the defining civil-religious ritual of the Jewish family-nation and our covenant with the formless Creator G!D. So important of a ritual that, out of all the rituals expected of Jews, it is the only ritual present in the Ten Words/Commandments given at the Mountain of Sinai (Sh’mot 20.10 “the seventh day (is) Shabbat for ha’Shem (the-Name) your G-d, do not make any creative-influence (do no kind of work)”). It is said, in as much as the Jews have kept Shabat, Shabat has kept the Jews. This is more true than most of us will ever realize. But, if we are to fully understand this, we must ask what is proper observance of Shabat? Whether religiously pious to the rules of Shabat or liberally secular in the creativity on these rules, very few Jews actually understand what Torah is asking of us on Shabat – both in understanding and in behavior. Are you sure that you know? (For more Torah details on what constitutes proper Torah instructed keeping of Shabat, see the Seasonal Festival section number twelve below.)

In regards to daily rituals, traditional Jews recite a specific set of words in the morning, in the noontime, and in the evening (D’varim 6.4-9 “Listen Yisrael, the-Name our G-d, the-Name (is) One!, and you will love ha’Shem (the-Name) your G-d with all your heart (your thoughts-feelings) and with all your breathing-creature (your body-mind) and with all your substance (active-intensity, actions-efforts)!, and these words will be upon your heart (your heartfelt-emotions) that I (the formless Creator G-d) enjoin you today, and you will teach-repetitiously them to your children, and speak of them in your sitting-down in your house, and in your walking on the path, and in your lying-down and in your rising up, and you will tie them for a sign upon your hand, and they will be for forehead-bands between your eyes, and you will inscribe them upon the door-posts of your house and on your gates”, Vayikra 26.1 “do not make for you empty-images nor carved-images (gods of form or shape, idols, thus limited and incomplete, not the Creator G-d), and a reverence-pillar do not raise-up for you, and figure-decorated stone do not make in your land to bow-your-face-downwards upon it, I-am the-Name your G-d”). This teaching-repetitiously (inculcate-ing) is the reason for chanting these words, the reason for daily tefilah. For by our example, wearing the tsitsit and tefilin and chanting these words in their presence, we teach them what this mitsvah requires (and some of you were thinking tefilah is just for you and, when together, a communal rite!), just as we continue to do when we perform ritual blessings in our children’s presence for all festive moments (Shabat, new moon, major and minor holidays, after meals, etc.) (D’varim 8.10-11 “when you eat and you are filled-to-satisfaction then you will bless ha’Shem your G-d over the good land given to you; attentively-guard yourselves, lest you be-absent-minded-of (forget) ha’Shem your G-d in failing to attentively-protect (fulfill) his (my) (covenantal-)civil-ritual-law and his (my) (decreed-)ordinances (verdict-laws) and his (my) (legislative-)statutes which I (the formless Creator G-d) authoritatively-order (enjoin) you today”). Even if you don’t have children yet, it’s for you and for what you may be blessed with, in other words, in preparation for family, and for those who experience by your example and are themselves required around you. Whether you are to chant the words, as is traditionally done, or speak them, Torah does not specify. But, the words must be spoken in Ivreet (Hebrew) to be sure that you have fulfilled this mitsvah to repetitiously teach by saying the words. Even if translation to another language captures the essence, it is still a translation and, as such, does not capture the full meaning in Torah words that is often illusively hard to translate without loss. If it is the custom of your community, it is fully traditional to chant twice, once in Ivreet and once again in the language of your upbringing. On this note, by default, it is a mitsvah to ensure your children are fluent in Ivreet and, if you are not so yourself, to become fluent yourself. You are keeping the language of a people-hood, a family-nation, alive for future generations by doing so!

Torah teaches that Jews are to serve the formless Creator G!D whose soul (breath-wind-of-life) is within us (within every human and every breathing-creature while alive) with both the words spoken from our Jewish mouths and the actions taken by our deliberate attempts to fulfill the mitsvot we are obligated to fulfill. Torah teaches that this civil-religious obligation is binding upon all Jews and Jewish families and the communities that form the nation of Israel as it presently is. Torah teaches that we are to fulfill the mitsvot of Torah willingly and in joy, for the blessing for this is as much physical (prosperity of family-nation and the land that supports this) as it is mental (an observant, aware, disciplined, and wiser mind). Torah addresses the whole aspect of living. The challenges of the way Torah expresses this, is what leaves so many Jews on the outskirts of Jewish way-of-life tradition in these days. Human awareness of reality as it is has changed and, as a child rebelling against the stern commands of a parent, they buck the traditional expression and leave the family. Not realizing that, if they were to see the heart of intent in those words, and wrestle with doing the mitsvot, rather than reacting to the way the commands are given, they would, as they mature into adults, reap an internal and outer relationship blessing that is hard to put into words. That of a united-together family and, by extension, community that is behaving in this world in the manner of the formless G!D’s perceivable attributes. This relationship between G!D and Israel is also expressed as a King and servant relationship and a high priest and temple servant relationship, as well. Hence why, when we fulfill the ritual of tefilah (also known as davvening), we bow our bodies when blessing the name of G!D, in most communities from the waist, in some communities still to the ground at certain points as Torah instructs, this verbal and physical action reminding us in both our words and movements of our purpose to serve. It is common to sway forward and backward and side to side while performing this meditative (self) reflection, ingraining the reminder that service is whole mind-body. To do, to act beyond this ritual behavior, by doing the same with both our words and our actions in every aspect of daily living – living life doing and blessing/expressing habitually in the act of doing. This blessing can be predetermined communal traditionally expressed words, or it can be the words of the heart in the moment. Just so long as the ritual helps to define behavior, which is the purpose of the Torah mitsvot.

To be a traditional Jew is to choose to be faithfully observant of what Torah is telling us to do through the mitsvot, regardless of how we perceive the Formless One these days and how we perceive the factual scientifically demonstrable reality that is us and around us and our relationship in it. Outside of what Torah specifically tells us to do, the ways and hows and whens are the domains of the communities to decide through halakhah and minhag. Just so long as the continuity of Jewish tradition is maintained in the manner specified by Torah, which are in prevalent order to serve G!D through observance of the mitsvot (D’varim 6.13 “ha’Shem your G-d reverence-in-awe! and serve him, and in his authority-of-name you will swear”) and establish judges and seek ruling on how to do this through the priests and judges of these times (D’varim 17.9 “come you towards the Levitical priests and towards the judge that will be in those days”), who are obligated by Torah to listen to the positions of the community and render fair judgment in the manner that keeps this continuity between community expression and observance of Torah mitsvot (D’varim 16.18 “they will judge the people (with) equitable-justice”), both the ritual aspects and the civil aspects of living. It’s all about the mitsvot, folks, and the sacred living experiencing that develops from this! Judaism is not denominational religion-ism as the Western mind thinks upon religion. Meaning, if we are a Jew living in the Western mind-frame, we must think in the Eastern mind-frame to understand our ancient tradition. Else wise, it appears to be religious dogmatic-ism which, if understood properly, it is not. According to Torah, Judaism is not a religion but, rather, a civil-ritual way-of-life for a family-nation, to ensure the fulfillment of the promise of surviving the historical ages of time that was given during G-d’s establishing of the Jewish family-nation with the Covenant of civil-ritual law. Unfortunately, the singularly “religious” way Judaism is still expressed these days (since the second temple period) is causing some, possibly many, modern Jews to abandon the traditional ways of the family-nation, and we need to be expressing it in a more to the heart of it way that keeps Jews observing mitsvot, regardless the many modern ways of looking at reality and our place in it. Judaism, as well, is not about feel good spiritualism, it has never been about this. Judaism is about family-nation continuance, and the feel good spiritualism in Judaism develops from the wrestling with and observance of the Torah mitsvot binding upon all. This is what defines who is a Jew and who is practicing a Jewish type religion, according to Torah itself.

Note, this is why Christian Judaism, the Jews for Jesus (a human prophet turned deity by some men) messianic movements, will never be accepted as Jews within the Jewish community. They are Christians trying to imitate the early Church and are not Jews, because they give reverence to a god-in-flesh messiah in direct violation of Torah mitsvot of no formed images, and are not even a part of the covenanted Jewish family-nation to begin with. They are false prophets, of which Torah instructs that we are not to entertain or follow in their ways. They are not bound to following Torah mitsvot, nor have they ever been as Christians, nor will they ever be in the future – and, as such, are not Jews, regardless how much they call themselves so and how Jewish looking and acting they make themselves out to be. They are a goyim (other-nation) religion, and it is Torah that says this is so. As well, there are many in modern times who wish to be Jewish because of an attraction to the modern “religious” rituals of Judaism that they have been exposed to and are drawn to, so they join a Jewish community and declare themselves Jews solely based on these modern minhag practices. While this is a step towards becoming a genuine member of the Jewish family-nation and, as such, needs to be encouraged, this in itself is not enough to be Jewish according to Torah. Torah is very specific about who is Jewish and who is not, and it is not about “religious association” (at all!). Who is a Jew, whether by-choice or by-birth, and who is just practicing modern “religious” Judaism’s rituals and calling themselves a Jew because of this but is not a Jew, is elucidated clearly in Torah. Torah’s stance is very simple, there are two types of Jews: the Jew who is born within a Jewish family and the Jew who gives up his birth nation’s way-of-life and religions in mental-behavioral choice for enjoining him-/her- self to the civil-ritual law based way-of-life of the Jewish family-nation. If you fulfill the Torah civil-ritual laws of the family-nation of Israel and walk in the path-of-life of the formless-G-d’s attributes for the sake of the survival of the constitutionally-enjoined family-nation of Israel, so that it survives throughout the progression of historical time (so long as “sky is above the earth,” as promised for being authoritatively-ordered into the covenant-between), there-by showing “love” and “service” to G-d, then you are an authentic Jew by Torah covenanted civil-ritual law. This is so, whether you are a Jew-by-birth or a Jew-by-choice.

Torah automatically assumes that any Jew-by-choice will choose to, at some point, or their children walking in the path will choose to marry fully into the people-tribe, the family-nation, of Israel and give birth to born-Jews of the Jewish family-nation for the sake of its continuance upon the earth (Bamidbar 15.14-16 “if an other-nation residing-visitor (living) among you (a foreigner on a temporary stay) or that-is among the midst of you for a generation-dwelling-of-time (here to reside for good) and makes offerings-by-fire pleasant-in-scent to ha’Shem as how you do, rightly-so he will do; the gathered-people (the community), one decreed/enacted-law for you (the native-born) and for the dwelling-to-stay resident-visitor, a decreed/enacted-law for-time-beyond-horizon in your generations (for throughout all the generations of Israel), like you like resident-visitor it will be before the face of ha’Shem; one law-teaching (Torah) and one law-justice (Mishpat) there will be for you and for the dwelling-to-stay resident-visitor among you (for the Jew-by-birth and Jew-by-choice)”). This is the continuity of Torah that is applicable upon all streams(-branches-movements-communities-families) of the Jewish family-nation of Israel, regardless whether they are secular (Humanistic, Non-theistic, Atheistic, Zionistic) or religious (denominationally Orthodox-Conservative-Reform-Reconstructionist-Renewal, Ashkenazi-Sephardi-Karaite, Heredi, Post-denominational, and everyone else not mentioned), or somewhere in between. Judaism is not about religious tenets of faith or eschatology beliefs in an individual afterlife or individual attempts to feel or be closer to That which cannot be directly experienced, according to Torah. Judaism is about the continuance of the family-nation through supporting and upholding the civil-religious constitutional-agreement to be a set-apart nation (in service unto G-d) that G-d enjoined upon the first family of this exceedingly grown family-nation of Israel. To do this, is to be knowledgeable and observant in behavior of the Torah civil-ritual laws, legislative laws, and court rulings of law as required by Torah for the Jewish family-nation as is properly applicable in our day and age. To be Jew-by-choice is to understand this, and abide accordingly with Torah within the Jewish community we are a part of, just as we are responsible as Jews-by-birth within the family-nation to attentively-protect the Torah Jewish way-of-life through doing for the sake of Klal Yisrael. Everything else is community minhag! The traditional way of the community(-sect-family-“division-of-extended-family-based-on-where-in-the-world”) of the Jewish people within this very culturally diverse world we live in.