jewish dopers: Need some info

Recently on these boards, I learned that many jewish folks are athiests, or aren’t necessarily religious. Being jewish is not necessarily tied to belief in the almighty.

I’ve been wondering, then… what are the differences between

  1. hasidic jews,
  2. jewish men that wear the yamaka,
  3. jewish men that don’t wear it.

If a jewish man is wearing a yamaka, does that signify religious observance, while no yamaka could be the athiests or less religious?

And how do hasidic jews differ? Is it just a matter of interpretation of the OT, or is it more than that? (Aside from the clothing restrictions)

Finally, many folks on this board won’t write God. Instead, they write G-d. What is the significance of this, and again, is this tied to one’s observance of the religious aspects of judaism? I don’t understand how writing God can be disrespectful, as writing G-d is simply substituting the “o” with a “-”. It’s still read as God, so why the hyphen?


you know, I thought about putting all 12 different spellings of the jewish skull cap, but since no one seems to agree on the spelling, I chose the sound-it-out version.

I did pop it into Google, and it came up. As did 2 other spellings I tried.

My apologies to all the friendly jews who were offended. :smiley:

To answer just one portion:

This is to prevent the name of G-d from being defaced or destroyed. Because someone could print out a website page and then crumple it and throw it away or burn it or use it as a napkin, writing G-d on a forum such as this is a hedge against mistreatment of the name. The full name of G-d, in any language, is to be treated with reverence, and religious Jews tend to only write it out wholly in places/materials that are not likely to be thrown away or mistreated, e.g. specifically religious texts.

Nah, you’ve got it all wrong, it’s a “kipah:stuck_out_tongue:

Seriously, we knew what you meant, so no problem.

As to your questions.
This is from the POV of an atheistic but somewhat knowledgeable Jew, I’m sure, however, that I’m making some mistakes and over-generalizations which some more observant Jew will correct:

A Jewish man wearing a Kipah means he is (at least in his mind) an “observant” Jew. Not necessarily Orthodox. Hassidic Jews are a group of subsets of Ultra-Orthodox Jews - each group has a specific “dress code,” but don’t really have to (nor do they) follow it all the time. You will know however, that they are what we call “ultra-orthodox” or especially observant.

No Kipah, as you surmised, means non- or semi-observant (although some Orthodox Jews will eschew it e.g., when travelling abroad [if they’re Israeli], or at the workplace, etc… It’s not a strict religious requirement.)

The bit about writing G-d is by no means a religious requirement – it is however a carry-over from the fact that religious Jews will not write the “Name of God” (Jehovah - יהוה) in Hebrew letters; some feel it is necessary for them to extend this practice to foreign languages as well.

Thank you, tumbleddown. I never heard that, but it certainly makes sense from that POV.

Thank you for this explanation, which interested me. Is it okay to ask some follow-up questions? These questions arise out of my genuine interest in belief and belief formation, and I am not trying to undermine or attack anyone’s belief.

  1. Do you accept that a fair and reasonable person might consider that writing the name but replacing the middle letter with a dash or a line in and of itself constitutes ‘defacing’ of some kind? My first name is Ian, but if people started writing about me as ‘I-n’ I wouldn’t think of any kind of protective reverance… I’d think they were defacing my name for some reason. I fully understand and respect that this is not how you see it. I am wondering if you can see that some people might?

  2. Okay, so let’s say the name is written out in full and someone does print out the web page and crumple it or do something horrible with it. What happens? What are the consequences?

  3. You say the full name is to be treated with reverence. Is there a penalty or punishment of some kind stipulated for failure to do so?

Personally, as a moderately observant Jew I think using G-d is kind of silly. English is not a holy language.

Well no, mainly because they’re generally-accepted euphamisms; besides, if you aren’t allowed to write or say the words, what else can you use?

In Hebrew, the most common words used to refer to God are *Adonai *(“the Lord”) *Hashem *(“the Name”), *Elokim *(“God” with one letter - H - changed) and in writing, simply the letter ה (“H”).

Nothing happens - it’s just disresectful.

I’m sure there are certain procedures observed by the ultra-Orthodox for atoning for this sort of thing. Most observant Jews just try to remember not to do it again.

A brief clarification: a Jewish man who doesn’t wear anything on his head isn’t necessarily “less religious.” It just means that he’s not as observant of traditional rituals. His faith can be just as strong as someone who is more traditional.

Another point that I don’t think was specifically spelled out in the OP that (I think) might help is that “Jewish” is not just a religious distinction, but an ethnic one, too. Someone might identify as Jewish ethnically (e.g. “my mom’s Jewish and her parents were Jewish,” or “I can trace my genealogy to the House of David,” etc.)

Those people may identify themselves as being “Jewish” without being a practicing Jew… and quite possibly while being an atheist. They’re identifying their ethnic group, not their religion of choice.

::Raises hand:: present and accounted for :slight_smile:

You can more-or-less know how religious a Jew is by the type of Yarmulke he’s wearing:

Big white yarmulke - secular (non-observant) Jew. He probably got it at some bar-mitzva he was invited to.

Knitted yarmulke with a crease - traditional (mildly observant) Jew. The crease is from carrying it folded in his pocket.

Knitted yarmulke without a crease - religious (observant) Jew. Generally, the larger the yarmulke, the more religious he is, but it may also have something to do with the size of his bald spot. Occasionally worn under a ball cap.

Black felt yarmulke - Haredi (very observant) Jew. Often worn under a black fedora.

Really stupid hat - a Hassid on special occasions.

It also seems silly to many people to use locutions like f*ck or sh-t because everybody knows what words they represent. Yet over the course of decades those have become understood for what they are, a means of respecting certain sensibilities, even at the cost of scorn from others. Using G-d rather than God or god is a variation of the same evolution of language. It’s an understood convention of usage. Perhaps someone coming in from the outside may not understand fully the cultural history behind it, but that’s true for an astounding percentage of cultural observances, of every conceivable kind.

Plus non-Jewish persons (men only, am I right?) wear yarmulkes when attending synagogues for weddings, funerals, etc., don’t they? I have never to such an event, but if I am thinking right, are yarmulkes not usually provided for non-Jewish guests? And would it be very boorish and disrespectful of a male guest to decline to wear one? Or is it optional?

Ordinarily, I’d consult my copy of How to Be a Perfect Stranger, but I don’t have it here at work, and we seem to be on the subject. Let’s just say my husband and I were invited to a Jewish wedding. Would it be a good idea for us to go buy him a yarmulke to wear to the synagogue, or should we just go and trust one will be offered to him?

I think you can probably trust that one will be offered to him, and if the congregation is Reform or (certain flavors of?) Conservative, they may offer you one, as well! :slight_smile:

So what is the motivation of observance?

I mean if you’re Catholic and you miss Sunday mass or break a commandment, you’ve committed a sin - mortal or other (venial??)- and you go to hell unless you confess and do penance etc.

Des the Jewish religion have some formal means of enumerating and atoning for sins, and threats of punishment? Or is it sufficient that your Jewish mother will know and never let you forget how mortified she is?

The hats I notice most often on Jews in L.A. basically look like black fedoras. The second most common has a flat crown and wide flat brim. Neither of those are at all stupid-looking, IMO. (In fact, I quite like fedoras but I’m afraid I can’t wear one without looking like an aging wannabe hipster hiding a bald spot.) Very occasionally I’ll see a man wearing a fur hat, which I’ve just learned is a kolpik or a spoldik.

On the one hand, because it is the proper wa to live and/or to participate in Tikkun Olam - “healing the world.” On the other, because our ancestors made a contract with G-d which binds us as successors-in-interest.

The is no firmly stated or universal Jewish opinion on the afterlife, and very few Jews believe in a punishing afterlife.

One a year on the High Holy Day of Yom Kippur you fast, pray and repent of your sins. Read about it here:

Noting that sins against G-d you can pray away, but sins against people must be rectified before the date of Yom Kippur.

Hasidic Jews are followers of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov – a 17th century mystic. Before Hasidism, it was not traditional for Jews to study the more mystical aspects of Judaism. Most of the study involved Jewish law and the Talmud which is where much of Jewish law and logic is laid out.

The Hasidic Jews concentrated on these more mystical aspects of Jewish teachings. They also learned to follow Judaism through Joy instead of what was common back then: Musser which is learning aspects of Judaism via strictness.

It is traditional for Jewish men to were a head covering to signify their acceptance of God. Originally, a head covering was worn only during study and prayers, but by the middle ages, men were constantly wearing a head covering.

There were certain German Jewish communities that didn’t have this tradition, but most Jewish communities did adapt this tradition.

If Jewish man isn’t wearing a head covering, it is likely they’re not that religious, or they live in an environment where they are prohibited (like the military) or where it might interfere with their business. I know many Orthodox Jews in the finance industry who don’t wear a head covering during work because it interferes with the people they interact with.

There are non-religious Jews who wear a head covering for other reasons. Some might be nationalistic or to signify they’re a member of a particular group (especially in Israel). However, most people who wear a head covering do so for religious reasons.

And how do hasidic jews differ? Is it just a matter of interpretation of the OT, or is it more than that? (Aside from the clothing restrictions)

There is no major theological differences between Hasid and other Jews. It is merely a matter of tradition. My sons go to both Hasidic and non-Hasidic Jewish services. The prayers are the same. The Torah reading is the same. And, even the laws are the same.

There is a Jewish tradition to handle the name of God very carefully. If you write the name of God on a piece of paper, you shouldn’t toss it in the garbage with rotting banana peels and who knows what else.

This tradition has been carried over to the electronic media by many purely out of habit. In Jewish law, there is a difference between permanent and non-permenent writing and non-permenent writing is not treated with the same respect. Since God’s name on electronic media is a bunch of electrons, there isn’t a problem with writing “God” instead of “G-d”.

There is a possibility of someone printing out a post to read it. That was quite common about a decade ago when people were not use to reading things on a screen. Then, you might write “G-d” instead of “God” because you were worried that someone would print out what you wrote and dispose of it. However, I don’t believe – especially on a bulletin board – that this is any longer an issue. On this board, I’ll write out “God”, but if I am writing a Word document, I’ll use “G-d” because it is likely to be printed out.

Couples having a Jewish wedding usually buy yarmulkes in bulk for it. I think we ordered ours from, or at least from some similar site. These can be in the wedding colors and often have the names of the bride and groom and the date of the wedding printed inside. They are provided for Jewish and non-Jewish male guests. Some Jewish people take them home as wedding souvenirs/favors (we have some yarmulkes we acquired this way, as well as a whole lot of them left over from our wedding). People also buy yarmulkes for the guests at a bar or bat mitzvah. I’m not sure about funerals. At our wedding, the ushers handed them out to the male guests along with the wedding programs.

Yarmulke etiquette is going to vary from synagogue to synagogue, just like so much else in Judaism. In the Conservative synagogues I’ve belonged to, men are supposed to wear them in the sanctuary (though many of our men don’t wear them all the time, they wear them at services). Women can wear yarmulkes at services if they want to (I do). My in-laws’ Conservative synagogue has a sign outside the sanctuary saying “Men please wear head covering”.

There may also be a basket of yarmulkes outside the sanctuary just as a part of the way things normally are at a synagogue. Every Conservative synagogue I’ve been to has had one.

I’ve heard that yarmulkes are optional at some Reform temples. But maybe some of them require them during services these days- the Reform have been trending towards more Jewish observance lately, or so I’ve heard.

Unless it’s an Orthodox synagogue (and maybe even then- I’m not terribly familiar with Orthodox practice), you can probably assume that if there isn’t somewhere for you to pick up a yarmulke on your way in, you’re not expected to wear one. You certainly don’t need to buy one.

Throwing a fit over being asked to wear a yarmulke would, of course, be in extremely bad taste (throwing a fit in public over anything when you’re a guest at a wedding is generally unacceptable behavior for anyone over age six or so). But the rabbi probably isn’t going to stop the wedding ceremony if he sees a man among the guests without a yarmulke. I doubt an usher at a wedding is going to make a scene, either- ushers are usually adults, and hopefully they know how to act like one.

If someone did make a loud public scene over someone else refusing to wear a yarmulke in a synagogue, either at a wedding or a regular service, that would be a much more serious sin than not wearing a yarmulke in a synagogue. Jewish law says that you’re not supposed to shame others in public, and that doing so is as bad a sin as murder.