The Talmud (the commentary on the Bible and the Oral Law) tells the story of Rabbi Hillel, a great scholar of the first century BCE who was asked by a stranger to teach him about Judaism while he was standing on one foot.

Hillel replied: “Certainly! What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the Torah. The rest is commentary, now go and study.”

At its core Judaism is concerned with the well-being of humanity. It teaches that every person in the world was created in the image of God. This means that every person is equally important and has an infinite potential to do good in the world. People have the free will to make choices in their lives and each one is responsible for the consequences of those choices.  Judaism believes that God created the world for the purpose of having people upon whom to bestow kindness. He gave them commandments in order for people to perfect themselves and make the world a better place.

Judaism is a one of the oldest religions known to people dating back nearly four thousand years, rooted in the ancient near eastern region of Canaan (which is now Israel).Jews believe there is only One God who is beyond our ability to comprehend, but is nevertheless present in our everyday lives and He alone is to be worshipped as absolute ruler of the universe. It affirms the inherent goodness of the world and its people as creations of God, the creator of all that exists and who monitors the activities of humans, rewarding good deeds and punishing evil.

Jews believe that God has communicated to the Jewish people through prophets and revealed the first five books of the Bible (the Torah) to the prophet Moses. The Torah is Judaism’s most important text. It contains stories and commandments that teach about life and death. It contains the 10 Commandments as well as the 613mitzvoth – commandments. Jews are expected to follow in order to sanctify their lives and draw closer to God. These mitzvoth govern their lives and include commandments regulating what to eat, when to wash, when to say prayers, even marital relationships.

The Ten Commandments are :

  1. I am the Lord your God
  2. You shall not recognize the gods of others in My presence
  3. You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain
  4. Remember the day of Shabbat to keep it holy
  5. Honour your father and your mother
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. Do not give false testimony against your neighbour
  10. You shall not covet your fellow’s possessions

Dietary laws cover what food is regarded as kosher meaning “fit” (as in fit for consumption). To be kosher animals must chew the cud and have cloven hooves and fish must have fins and scales. As a result pig and shellfish are regarded as unclean.  As no blood may be consumed, all blood must be drained from meat and poultry before it is eaten and an egg with a blood spot must be thrown away. Animals must be slaughtered in a particular way by a suitably qualified person so that it does not suffer needlessly. Furthermore meat and milk may not be eaten together so Jews keep separate pots, dishes and cutlery for meat and for milk dishes. There are also certain restrictions on wine..

Israel According to the Torah the Land of Israel was part of the covenant made between God and the Jewish People at Mount Sinai. The Land of Israel is an integral part of their faith and intrinsically connected to it.



The Menorah – the seven-branched candelabrum set up by Moses in the wilderness and later in the Temple in Jerusalem – has been a symbol of Judaism since ancient times and also represents the responsibility to spread light to the world.


Star of David (Magen David) – the symbol of the six-pointed star  has historic and kabbalistic significance and its general use probably dates from 11th to 13th century Jewish protective amulets. By the 17th century, it began to represent the Jewish community generally and this relationship was  perpetuated by Hitler who forced Jews to wear a yellow Star of David as an identifying  “badge of shame.”


Chai  –  As Hebrew letters also represent numbers and the number 18  Het (ח) and Yud (י) spells Chai (חי) which means life, it is often worn as a charm.

Life cycle events 

Birth: On the first Sabbath after a Jewish child is born, the father is called forward at the synagogue to ask blessings for the health of mother and child. Girls are named at this time while boys are named on the eighth day after birth, as part of the rite of circumcision.

Coming of Age: On turning 13, a boy is considered an adult under the law and is expected to obey all the commandments from then on. He is called to the Torah in the synagogue and reads a portion and becomes a Bar Mitzvah, or “Son of the Commandments.” Similarly, a girl becomes a Bat Mitzvah, “daughter of the commandment,” upon turning 12.

Marriage: -Judaism’s high view of marriage is a direct result of its view of the home and family as the centre of religious life. A Jewish wedding involves a marriage contract which is signed by two witnesses, a wedding canopy supported by four pole holders,, a ring owned by the groom that is given to the bride under the canopy, and the breaking of a glass by the new husband as a  reminder that despite the joy, they still mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Death: While the preservation of life in Judaism is of paramount importance, death is seen as a part of life and a part of God’s plan. The deceased is not left unattended and a watchman  stays with the body until the funeral which must take place as quickly as possible. The coffin must be a simple pine box as all are equal in death. Cremation or embalming are forbidden. Mourning is observed for 30 days after burial, very intensely so in the first seven days with regular remembrances performed on the anniversary of the death. The death of parents is observed for a year, for thirty days for other relatives.

Holy Days

Sabbath begins at sundown Friday night and ends at nightfall on Saturday. This day of rest is one of the most important holy days in the Jewish calendar and is considered a holy day, on which Jews are not allowed to work. Work includes driving, writing, answering the phone, even using electricity. The same rules apply to the other Holy Days.

Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year which commemorates the creation of the world. People eat slices of apple dipped in honey to wish each other a sweet and happy New Year. Over the two days of Rosh Hashanah, there are special services at the synagogue. A musical instrument, called a shofar, is blown to remind Jews of God’s great power. It is followed by ten Days of Repentance and self-examination, during which time God sits in judgement on every person.

Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement is the most sacred and solemn day of the Jewish year, and brings the Days of Repentance to a close. As well as fasting for 25 hours, Jews spend the day in prayer, asking for forgiveness and resolving to behave better in the future.

The Pilgrim Festivals during which in Biblical times Jews would go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem are Passover, Shavuot and Sukkoth.

1. Passover: commemorate the liberation of the Children of Israel who were led out of Egypt by Moses and it lasts eight days. The first two evenings the story of their deliverance is recounted as narrated in the Haggadah (compiled in the Third Century CE) along with many customs and ritual foods. Matzah (unleavened bread) is eaten throughout the festival. The first two and last two days are holy days

2. Sukkot commemorates the years that the Jews spent in the desert on their way to the Promised Land. Jews build temporary huts called sukkahs and eat their meals in them for eight days the first two and the last two being Holy days.

3. Shavuot the Festival of Weeks commemorates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple and also celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai,

Some festivals which are not Holy days on which work can be performed.

Hanukkah, an eight day festival which celebrates the miraculous victory over religious persecution in the Holy Land by the Seleucid Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes at the time of the Maccabean Revolt in the 2nd century BCE and also commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem The festival is observed by the kindling the lights of a nine-branched candlestick.

Purim dates to the fourth century BCE and commemorates the deliverance of the Jews in the ancient Persian Empire from plans for their destruction  by  Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasueros (presumed to be Xerxes 1) Traditions include reading the  Book of Esther, giving charity to the poor and sending food gifts to friends. Children often dress in fancy dress

Tisha B’av: a fast day commemorating the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem during which the Book of Lamentations is read.

Yom Hashoah commemorating the murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime. during the Holocaust.


Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies

Founded in 1904, the Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies is the umbrella organisation and non-partisan political arm of the Jewish community of the Western Cape Province. We work for the betterment of human relations between Jews and all other peoples of South Africa, based on mutual respect, understanding and goodwill, and to protect the civil liberties of South African Jews. We are committed to a South Africa where everyone will enjoy freedom from the evils of prejudice, intolerance and discrimination.

Address: 87 Hatfield Street, Gardens, Cape Town
Phone: 021 464 6700