Home page Catechism for Jewish Children Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


Catechism For Jewish Children

By Isaac Leeser.

Appendix I

The Ceremonial Law

1. What is the Ceremonial Law?

The duties which the law of God as revealed through Moses demands of us, the Israelites, in particular, as the professors of its religion.

2. Upon what is this Law founded?

Upon the history of the Mosaic Religion, and of the people of Israel before and since the promulgation of the Ten Commandments from Sinai.

3. What is the object of the ceremonies?

The constant observance of the ceremonies is intended to remind us perpetually of the events upon which they are founded, and to cause their being handed over to our children after us, to the latest generations.

"Remember his miracles that He hath done, his wonders and the Judgments of his mouth. O ye seed of Israel, his servants; the children of Jacob, his chosen people. He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth. Remember ye his covenant for ever; the word which He commanded to a thousand generations. Which He covenanted with Abraham, and likewise his oath unto Isaac. And he confirmed the same to Jacob for a statute, to Israel for an everlasting covenant." Ps. cv. 5-10.

4. Which are the principal events of which the Ceremonial Law is to remind us?

The following three:

First, The Exodus, or removal, of our forefathers from Egypt.
Second, The Divine Revelation, and the promulgation of the Law on Sinai.
Third, The destruction of the temple at Jerusalem, and of the kingdom of Israel.

5. What observances are to remind us of the Exodus?

First, The Sabbath day, regarded as the sign of the covenant of the manifestation of God's power in Egypt.

"And remember that thou were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence, through a mighty hand, and by an outstretched arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day." Deut. v. 15.

Second, Several others of the festivals.

6. Which are these festivals?

First, The Passover, or the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Secondly, The Feast of Tabernacles.

7. What is the Passover?

Seven days every year we are commanded to eat unleavened bread, to the exclusion of all ordinary bread, or things made of or mixed with corn, in memory of the mighty wonders wrought in our favor, when we were redeemed from Egypt.

"Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even before the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses.--And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for on this self-same day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt; therefore shall ye observe this day, throughout your generations, as an ordinance for ever." Exod. xii. 15, 17.

8. Which of the seven days are, properly speaking, strict festivals, when no work can be done?

The first and the seventh; but also the second is kept as a day of abstinence from labor, likewise an additional, or eighth day; the same is the case with other festivals, at which the Israelites out of Palestine have, for many hundred years, kept an additional day, beyond the period absolutely commanded in the law.

"And on the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done on them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done by you." Exod. xii. 16.

9. At what time is the Passover to be kept?

In the first month, or Nissan,* from the fourteenth to the twenty-first day of the month.

"In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even." Ibid. 18.

*The names of the Hebrew months, as now in use, are, the 1st, Nissan; 2d, Iyar; 3rd, Sivan; 4th, Tamuz; 5th, Ab; 6th, Elul; 7th, (the first of the usual or civil year) Tishry; 8th, Marcheshvan, or Heshvan; 9th, Kislev; 10th, Tebeth; 11th, Shebat; 12th, Adar; in the leap year, the last-named is called Adar Reeshon, first Adar, and the 13th month Veadar, Adar Sheny, or Second Adar.

10. What is the Feast of Tabernacles?

We shall dwell seven days every year in booths, tents, or tabernacles, in memory of the going out of our forefathers from Egypt, when they sojourned for forty years in the wilderness of Arabia, and lived in temporary dwellings, and not in cities or regularly-build houses.

"Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths. In order that your generations may know, that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." Lev. xxiii. 42, 43.

11. At what time is this Feast kept?

From the fourteenth day of the seventh month, Tishry, until the twenty-second day. The fifteenth of the month is the commencement, and the twenty-second the conclusion, of the feast, and both are to be devoted to abstinence from labor, and dedicated to divine worship and rejoicing at the holy season of the Lord.

"And the Lord spoke unto Moses, as follows, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the Lord. On the first day shall be a holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work thereon. Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord; on the eighth day shall be a holy convocation unto you, and ye shall make an offering made by fire unto the Lord; it is a solemn assembly, and ye shall do no servile work thereon." Lev. 23:33-36.

12. What other laws are founded upon the going out of Egypt?

The prohibitions concerning the use of many animals used as food by other men. For by the redemption from Egypt God intended to raise up our nation as a people holy to his service, and that we should receive the laws which He wished to declare as his will; and the prohibitions of certain meats should prevent the Israelites from mixing too intimately with other nations, and becoming gradually like them, forgetful of the law of Heaven.

"For I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and be holy, for I am holy; neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy." Lev. xi. 44, 45.

"Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean;--and have separated you from other nations, that you should be mine." Ibid. xx. 25, 26.

13. What ordinances are founded upon the Revelation and Announcement of the Law on Sinai?

a. The Pentecost, or Feast of Weeks.
b. The blowing of the Shofar, and the New Year Festival.
c. The Day of Atonement.
d. The reading of the Shemang
e. The Tephillin
f. The Mezuzah; and
g. The Tzitzith.

14. What is the Pentecost?

Seven weeks after the first day of Passover we shall celebrate a feast in memory of the descent of the divine glory, and the public announcement of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

"Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee; from the time thou begin to put the sickle to the corn, begin to number the seven weeks. Then shalt thou keep the feast of weeks unto the Lord thy God." Deut. xvi. 9, 10.

15. When should we celebrate this Feast of Weeks?

On the sixth day of the third month, or Sivan, which day is to be kept holy unto the Lord, by abstinence from labor, and consecration to divine worship.

"In the third month after the children of Israel had gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day they came unto the wilderness of Sinai." Exod. xix. 1.

16. What is the blowing of the Shofar?

On the first day of the seventh month, which is the first day of the common or civil year, we shall assemble in the houses sacred to the service of the Lord, and blow the Shofar (which is a sounding instrument made of a ram's horn), to commemorate the intended sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah, by his father Abraham, and resolve on this first day of the year to offer up every earthly possession in the service of the Lord, if it be required of us, as Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son, because he thought it would be pleasing to God.

"And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, there was a ram afterward caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went, and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering, in the stead of his son." Gen. xxii. 13.

"And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have a holy convocation, ye shall do no servile work: it is a day of sounding of the cornet unto you." Numb. 29:1.

17. What other reasons are given for blowing the Shofar, on the day you mentioned?

This day being the first of the year, we are to acknowledge anew the Lord our Creator as our King and God. We therefore blow the cornet at the appointed time, as a testimony of our renewed allegiance; for thus in the land whence our forefathers came was it customary to do, when appointing a chief.--they blew the cornet, and shouted "Long live the King." (I Kings i. 39)

"Blow the cornet on the day of the new-moon, at the appointed time, on the day of our solemn feast. For this is a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob." Ps. lxxxi. 4, 5.

Besides all this, it is the season of atonement. On the tenth of this month, as was said already, is the great fast, when we are to appear before the Lord to be forgiven if we repent. It was customary among the ancient Israelites to station men upon high places and towers to watch the approach of an enemy. If these guards saw any danger, they blew the cornet to give warning to the townsmen to arm themselves and to be ready for defense. In the same manner are we called on to prepare for the day of trial of iniquity, to purify our hearts by repentance and a solemn resolution to sin no more, in order that we may be forgiven.

"Shall the cornet be blown in a city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" Amos iii. 6.

18. How is the Day of Atonement to be observed?

On the tenth day of the seventh month is the great day of humiliation and prayer before the Lord. During the whole of its continuance, from sunset of the ninth till after the stars have appeared on the tenth, we shall abstain from food and drink, and all earthly enjoyments; and perform no manner of labor, just as on the weekly Sabbath. We shall seriously think over our past conduct, and offer up to God a contrite spirit for our manifold transgressions; if we have offended our neighbor we should satisfy him, before we ask forgiveness of the Lord; and it is for such repentance that we are promised a remission of sin, and an atonement for our iniquities.

"And this shall be a statute for ever unto you, that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall fast, and do no work at all.--And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year." Lev. xvi. 29-34.

19. What is the reading of the Shemang?

We are commanded to read daily in our morning and evening prayers the chief commandment of the Mosaic religion, which commences with the words Shemang Yisrahel (Hear, O Israel); in order that we may be reminded of our duty to God, and of the religion which He revealed to us.

"Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is ONE. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might, And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thy heart. And thou shalt teach diligently unto thy children, and shalt speak of them, when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way; when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." Deut. vi. 4-7.

20. What are the Tephillin?

We are commanded to bind the chief commandment of the Mosaic religion as a testimonial of the covenant at Horeb on our arm and forehead; in order that bearing on our bodies the words of the Lord we may remember and do them.

"And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thy eyes." Deut. vi. 8.

21. What is the Mezuzah?

We shall write down this same chief commandment of our religion, and fix it on the door-posts of our houses and gates; in order that we may be reminded upon our going out and our coming in of the presence of the Almighty and of his universal protection.

"And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates." Deut. vi. 9.

22. What is meant by Tzitzith?

We shall affix fringes on the borders of one of our garments; in order that we may be always reminded, by looking at the same, of the holy faith which has been revealed to us, and be prevented from falling into the power of sin.--In short, this and the other ceremonial observances were given that being always surrounded by evidences of God's law, and our subjection thereto, we should daily, hourly, and even every moment, be reminded of our duties, and of the Holy One who demands them of us.

"And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye seek not after the inclinations of your heart, and the delight of your eyes, in pursuit of which ye have been led astray. In order that ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God." Numb. xv. 39, 30.

23. What ceremonies are founded upon the destruction of the temple?

The fast days, or days of penance.

24. What constitutes the observance of fast days?

We shall, on certain days every year, remind ourselves by abstinence from food and other enjoyments of the evils which came over us because of the sons of our ancestors; and endeavor to reflect upon our own conduct, and consecrate our lives to the service of God.

"And even now, also, saith the Lord, return unto me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments, and return unto the Lord your God; for He is gracious and merciful, withholding long his anger, of great kindness, and repenteth of the evil." Joel ii. 12, 13.

25. What is the object of fasting?

It shall be the outward mark of repentance, but it can avail nothing without true inward regret, and sincere amendment of our course of life.

26. Which are the fast days?

a. The seventeenth of the fourth month, Tamuz,
b. The ninth of the fifth month, Ab,
c. The third of the seventh month, Tishry, and,
d. The tenth of the tenth month, Tebeth.

"Thus saith the Lord of hosts, The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy, and gladness, and happy seasons; therefore love ye truth and peace." Zech. viii. 19.

27. What is the meaning of these fasts?

They are days of mourning, which our forefathers, with consent of the prophets, set apart in memory of the loss of their temple and the independence of their state.

28. Are there any other ceremonies which are to remind us of important events in our national history?

Yes; the following two:
a. The lighting of the lamps on the festival of Hanukkah; and,
b. The reading of the book of Esther on Purim.

29. What is the lighting of the Hanukkah lamps?

In the time of the second temple there was a period, when a heathen kind, by the name of Antiochus of Syria, had nearly abolished the observance of our religion, by the great cruelties he committed in Palestine, over which he had dominion. At length the Jews, led on by the valiant Judas Maccabaeus, drove the Syrian army out of the land; and when the people again consecrated the temple they instituted a festival, called Hanukkah, or the Consecration, and ordered that for all future periods lamps should be lighted in our synagogues and dwellings, commencing from the evening of the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, or Kislev, as an everlasting memorial of the mercy of the Lord, displayed in delivering his people and his religion from the power of the oppressor.

30. What is the festival of Purim?

We shall celebrate a festival on the fourteenth and fifteenth of the twelfth month, Adar, in memory of the great deliverance which God gave us from the evil designs of Haman, who, with concurrence of the kind of Persia, has resolved to destroy all the Jews residing in that kingdom, which in fact included nearly, if not all, the descendants of Israel. We therefore keep a fast on the thirteenth, and a festival on the next two days; and to commemorate the event, we read the Book of Esther which contains the history thereof; in order that we may be always reminded how good our heavenly Father has ever been to us; and that thereby we may be animated with a sincere desire to deserve in future his love and mercy, by a devotion to his will and a strict adherence to his law.

"The Jews ordained, and took upon themselves, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them, so that it should not fail, that they would keep these two days according to their writing, and according to their appointed time every year. And that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed." Esther ix. 27, 28.

31. By what is this festival distinguished?

We should give liberal presents to the poor and needy, so that they also might rejoice "on the days when the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning into a good day; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor." Ibid. 22.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter