Customs and Rituals

How do Jews conduct their regular communal liturgical worship?

A feature of ritual practice common to all Jewish congregations is the reading of scripture. Ancient Palestinian custom used a cycle in which Sabbath readings completed the whole Torah in a three-year cycle. Some Reform and Conservative communities have reinstituted that practice in recent times. Orthodox and Reconstructionist congregations continue to use the ancient Babylonian custom of a one-year cycle of fifty-four sedarim. On Mondays, Thursdays, and Sabbath mornings and afternoons, as well as on new moons and religious festivals, Jews read the Torah in the synagogue. Regular Sabbath readings follow the Torah in order, continuously, from Genesis through Deuteronomy. Readings for the various feasts and fasts are chosen specially for the occasion and do not follow a continuous cycle.

In addition, texts from the Former and Latter Prophets (but not from the Writings) are selected as a kind of parallel or commentary on the day’s Torah texts. These supplementary readings, used on Sabbaths, fasts, and feasts, are called the Haftarah. Some theorize that the practice of parallel readings originated during Seleucid times when persecution included a ban on Torah reading. Communal prayer adds to the regular prayers of the privately performed Amidah, the Kedushah (“Holy, Holy, Holy”) at the end of the third benediction in the morning and afternoon, as well as the Kaddish (“Holy” in Aramaic) to mark the end of the various segments of the communal prayer and to bring it to a close. The standard prayerbook for synagogue worship is called the Siddur (“order”), which is based on the Psalter. The first formal edition dates back to about the ninth century C.E.

A young woman lights two candles for the Sabbath. One candle represents resting from work, while the other represents tranquility and joy.


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