Things in Judaism we don't mess with

It’s fascinating to look at Jewish practice and see which practices a large majority of Jews generally don’t mess with. I know it’s far from written in stone (unlike the tablets?) but it’s a feeling of, if you’re going to do it, do it right. Or maybe it’s the idea of, I’m Jewish, I’m going to keep doing this. Here are some examples. What other examples can you think of?


The other day I was talking to a woman whose mother passed away over a year ago. We were saying how our experience always has been that for yizkor (the remembrance prayer said during some of the holidays) everything else is dropped. No one wants to miss going to synagogue on those holidays at that specific time in order to say yizkor for their parent who passed away. I’d go so far as to say that most/all things connected to death are observed quite religiously by many/most Jews.


Mezuza might be another. In the book “The year of living Bibilically,” the author, A.J. Jacobs, writes that he comes from an extremely secular background. But then when he writes about the mitzva of having the parchment with the shema written on it, stuck to the doorpost, he writes as if it’s obvious that Jews have this. Totally “secular” yet doesn’t think twice about a mezuza?

The Sefer Torah

I have heard that all Torah scrolls in every synagogue or temple are identical to each other. Including the way they are written?


It’s a little iffy. So many Jews don’t eat pork but so many do!

Yom Kippur

Now this is an amazing one. Almost everyone, all Jews worldwide, keep Yom Kippur in one way or another.

What other mitzvot/commandments/traditions can you not imagine giving up even if you’re not very religious in the conventional sense?


10 thoughts on “Things in Judaism we don't mess with

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  1. My family was the picture in the dictionary under “secular.” I didn’t even know what a mezuza was until I was an adult. I started lighting a menorah on my own at Chanukah when I was 14, the Jewish country club my grandparents belonged to served lobster and bacon. We had a xmas tree, as did my grandparents, we coloured easter eggs and had a big fat ham. Saturday was the day we watched cartoons and later, went shopping.

    No one in my family ever said Kaddish, ever went to shul for yizkor, or even was a member of a shul until I decided I wanted a bat mitzvah (where did THAT come from?).

    BUT – we went to my grandparents for a “seder” every year, where we read selected pages from the Haggadah, but at least we read something, and had matzah. The brisket was battered in beer, but at least we had matzah. And dinner with the grandparents on erev Rosh Hashana and “break fast” (like any of us fasted) for Yom Kippur were – pardon the pun – sacrosanct. You did not miss those.

    Weird, eh?

    I find the Israeli “secular” much more fascinating, though. I know so many Israelis who describe themselves as secular, yet own t’fillin – and wear it – know the Torah well, can quote famous Rabbis, and know halacha. They may choose to go to a club on Friday night, but they can lead a Shabbat morning service if asked. And the ones I’ve met so far will typically drop whatever they are doing if asked to help make a minyan. That’s cool.

  2. Alissa, that is seriously fascinating! Really. It’s so interesting to hear about how you were raised. Thanks so much for sharing it here.

  3. I am kind of wrestling with the mezuza thing. I love them, I think they are important. However, living with a NJFH (Non Jewish Fake Husband) presents problems. Please do not misconstrue my words, I love my NJFH, very much. Especially after dating and having a genuine RJRH (Really Jewish Real Husband.) Back to the issue. He comes from an UBER catholic family. I come from a family of religious Banshees and Vagabonds. We decided to keep our home religious paraphernalia free. Let’s face it, I don’t want a sad hanging Jesus looking me in the face when I am brushing my teeth. However, I feel like a bit of a sell out. Perhaps I will just put one up and a) hope he doesn’t notice b) play dumb c) pass it off as a novelty sideways doorbell.

    1. Elizabeth, I feel bad if you “can’t” have a mezuza even if you want to. I’ve lately started kissing mine when I walk into my house. Can’t you just change the rules but still not have violent religious paraphernalia? :)

  4. I too have started kissing my mezuza as I leave, but am having difficulties remembering when I enter…it is an odd thing. I never forget when I enter, or leave a shul.

    I would say, it is a “Don’t Mess With” by wearing kippas for men, in shul, and during Passover in the home, for instance. I do not recall every seeing a male Jew without one.

    This is sort of getting of the main subject, but I would also say that I am tempted to wear my kippah, outside of shul, though I am having difficulties bridging the gap between my daily life, at work with my religious one.

    Most people I know, including myself, live their religious life separately, from their work life, for instance.

    Let’s not forget about weddings. I know a couple that never go to shul, even on high holy days, but most certainly got married under the chupah and broke a glass.

    1. Good one, the kippas in shul. And the chupa. Though it’s interesting (sad?) that none of these are 100%.

      I do like kissing the mezuza now that I’ve started. And I think it’s cool you’re considering wearing a kippa on a day to day basis. It is a brave thing to start doing when you aren’t used to it. I have a friend who just started – he’s converting – and I so respect the committment that includes. I started wearing a magen david necklace a few months ago and it’s been hard getting used to it. Actually I’ve never gotten totally used to it. I’m almost always conscious of it and sometimes I hide it (or wish I could).

      Oh, brit mila is a “don’t mess with it,” right?

  5. A Brit Milah, or more commonly known as a bris, when a boy becomes circumcised, is a great example. I would have to say…without doing the research, probably one of the biggest “don’t mess with its.” I have just not had the gumption to ask every Jew if they are…I would be more inclined to ask about their visits to shul.

    Just an interesting tid bit, that some may not know, as I know many think the circumcision is for health reasons only, but it comes from when G_d came before Abraham and positioned this circumcision to be the everlasting covenant between them. G_d spoke to him, and requested that all males, as of eight days old, shall bestow this mark, to symbolize this covenant that G_d shal have with his people.

    Far too many traditions have lost their meanings.

    Ahh…but does the Mezusah like kissing you, as really…that is how the custom is. The idea is that you touch the mezuzah first, them touch them to your lips, remains a question for me. I know it is not a law, but a custom. I have looked on the web, but only find that the traditional approach is to first touch the mazuzah.

    I am sure the mazuzah enjoys kissing you, as much as you kissing it.

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