Answers to Jewish Questions

Have a question about Judaism? We have the answers!

What is a dreidel?

The word dreidel derives from a German word meaning “spinning top,” and is the toy used in a Hanukkah game adapted from an old German gambling game. Hanukkah was one of the few times of the year when rabbis permitted games of chance. The four sides of the top bear four Hebrew letters: nun, gimmel, hey, and shin. Players begin by putting into a central pot or “kitty” a certain number of coins, chocolate money known as gelt, nuts, buttons or other small objects.

What is a menorah, or a hanukkiyah?

A menorah is a candelabra, and can be used for Hanukkah if it has nine stems. Another word for a Hanukkah menorah is hanukkiyah. A hanukkiyah has one stem for each of the eight days of Hanukkah, and one for the shamash, or “the helper candle” that is used to light the other candles. Candles are added each night from right to left and they are lit from left to right.

What happens on each night of Hanukkah?

Two blessings are chanted or recited every night of Hanukkah. The first is a blessing over the candles themselves. The second blessing expresses thanks for the miracle of deliverance. A third blessing—the Shehecheyanu prayer, marking all joyous occasions in Jewish life—is chanted or recited only on the first night.

How do Reform congregations commemorate Kristallnacht?

Answered by
Cantor Rebecca Garfein
Kristallnacht, which literally means, “the night of broken glass,” occurred on the night of November 9, 1938, and marks the beginning of the Holocaust. On Kristallnacht, Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses were destroyed by the Nazis and the streets in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe were covered with glass from the shattered windows of synagogues, Jewish homes, and businesses.

How do Reform Jews understand Tishah B’Av?

Answered by
Rabbi Mark Washofsky
The observance of Tishah B’Av (literally the 9th day of the month of Av) poses some interesting questions for Reform Jews. The day is one of fasting and mourning, for the destruction of both the First and the Second Temple in Jerusalem is said to have taken place on that

What does the Jews’ covenant with God mean?

Answered by
Rabbi Amy Scheinerman
We live our lives as a tapestry of relationships: with parents, siblings, partners and other relatives; with friends, neighbors, and colleagues; with the larger world and the environment; and with God. Our relationships are a lens through which we see ourselves because we gain self-understanding when we consider how others

What might I expect when making a shiva call? What should I bring?

Answered by
Rabbi Daniel B. Syme
Shiva is a time when we reminisce, remember, recapture memories of a loved one. As such, what we usually do during a condolence call is to listen to those memories that the mourner wishes to share or to talk about other subjects initiated by the mourner that may have nothing to do with his or her loss.