PurimThe Festival of Purim celebrates the heroism in the biblical Book of Esther, in which Esther, through insight and wit, saved the Jews of Persia from genocide at the hands of Haman, the King’s adviser. Purim is celebrated with a raucous and playful religious service, eating of triangle-shaped pastries called Hamantashen, and raising of money for charities.... Read more about Purim

Brit Milah

Brit MilahBrit milah is a rite of passage taking place eight days after the birth of Jewish males that symbolizes their entrance into a covenant with God through circumcision, or the removal of the foreskin of the penis. This is generally an occasion for a small family celebration. Some Jews hold similar rituals, involving only naming ceremonies, for newborn Jewish females.... Read more about Brit Milah

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

Rosh Hashana and Yom KippurRosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, together referred to as “The High Holy Days,” are the two most important holidays of the Jewish year, the former celebrating the coming of the New Year and the creation of the world, the latter (ten days later) beginning the new year with a Day of Atonement for one’s wrongdoings. Synagogue services on these days are the most well attended of the year; they involve the blowing of the shofar (a ram’s horn), and, on Yom Kippur, a day of fasting.... Read more about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur


HanukkahHanukkah, the “Festival of Lights,” is a minor Jewish holiday that is particularly popular in the United States due to its proximity to Christmas. It is an eight day holiday that celebrates the military victory of the Jewish Maccabeans over the Hellenistic empire and the miracle which took place after regaining the temple in Jerusalem, when a day’s worth of ritual oil burned for eight straight days and nights. On Hanukkah, Jews light an eight-branched candelabra, give gifts, play a gambling game called dreidel, and eat latkes (potato pancakes) and other foods cooked in oil.... Read more about Hanukkah


PassoverPassover, or Pesach, is an eight day festival celebrating the exodus of the people of Israel out of Egyptian slavery. During this period, Jews abstain from leavened bread and eat only matzah (unleavened bread) to remember the hastiness preparing to depart from their homes. Jews also have a seder (literally “order”), a special meal featuring elaborate symbolism and a distinctive liturgy following the reading of a special prayer book that recounts the Passover story.... Read more about Passover

Keeping Shabbat

Keeping ShabbatIn the Jewish calendar, Shabbat (also called the Sabbath) begins at sunset on Fridays and ends at sunset on Saturdays. Jews traditionally “keep” the Sabbath by resting and refraining from labor. They instead share meals and rituals with family, study, and attend synagogue services. ... Read more about Keeping Shabbat

Orthodoxy in Transition

Orthodoxy in TransitionBoth the Modern Orthodox and Conservative Jewish movements, now quite distinct, were created in the early 20th century not through the efforts of any one leader, but through the creation of organizations and schools built upon shared values. Since then, the Conservative movement has become the more liberal and Orthodox the more conservative movement in religious practice and doctrine.... Read more about Orthodoxy in Transition

Postwar Judaism

Postwar Jewish RevivalAfter World War II, many American Jews moved to the suburbs and further assimilated into American culture. While Jewish institutions rose in prominence during this period, Jewish religious practice diminished. Additionally, the recognition of the horrors of the Holocaust elicited a specifically modern and American reexamination of Jewish theology.... Read more about Postwar Judaism

Jewish Pluralism

Jewish PluralismWhile many Jewish institutions define themselves as specifically Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist, contemporary American Judaism contains a strain of intra-Jewish pluralism, in which Jewish identity is not solely defined by denominational commitments. This strain of internal Jewish pluralism has led to a flourishing of educational and organizational opportunities for American Jews whose Jewish identity does not revolve around specific Jewish practices. ... Read more about Jewish Pluralism

Ethnic Jewishness

Ethnic JewishnessEastern European Jewish immigrants brought to America a strong sense of Yiddishkeit, or social, political, and cultural “Jewishness,” which manifested most prominently in the political movement of Zionism throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries.... Read more about Ethnic Jewishness

Countercultural Judaism

Counter Cultural JudaismIn the second half of the 20th century, American Jews expressed a growing sense of Jewish peoplehood through support for Israel and for Soviet Jews. Simultaneously, some American Jews found new opportunities for spiritual expression in Jewish mysticism and the formation of a havurah, an informal Jewish worship community.... Read more about Countercultural Judaism

Antebellum Judaism

Antebellum JudaismMore Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern European) than Sephardic (Iberian) Jews immigrated to the U.S. in the 19th century, leading to the fracturing of singular synagogue-communities into multiple congregations with varying levels of Americanization. The Jewish American landscape shifted from synagogue-communities to a community of synagogues.... Read more about Antebellum Judaism

Immigrant Orthodoxy

Immigrant OrthodoxyIn the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Jews emigrated from the Pale of Settlement, a large Polish and Russian territory in which Jews were allowed to live in impoverished shtetls (small Jewish villages). Most immigrant Jews from these areas had not cultivated the same religious reforms as the Jews of Germany and Western Europe. As a result, these new Jewish immigrants to America developed a more traditional movement called Orthodox Judaism.... Read more about Immigrant Orthodoxy

Early Americanization

Early AmericanizationIn the 18th century, many Jewish synagogues adopted American Christian forms of worship and organization. Jews democratized synagogue leadership and began employing hazzans, spiritual leaders who had less traditional authority than rabbis and whose roles were similar to those of Christian pastors. American Jews also began to participate in American culture and civic life.... Read more about Early Americanization