Hebrew and Yiddish
The Hebrew Calendar
Inspiration and Self-Improvement
Branches of Judaism
Places of Worship
|When our great- and great-great-grandparents, including the Bernsteins, Blumsteins, Cohens, Feldbergs, Grossmans, Jacobs, Kaminskys, Kasles, Tennebaums, Vishnicks and Weinzimmers, were married in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they were Jewish, like their ancestors, in both belief and in culture. And, of course, whether they married in Russia, Poland, England, or the United States, they wanted their descendants to marry Jews.|
So, we have put together this page as a resource for those family members who want to learn more about their or their spouse's, parents or ancestors' Jewish culture and faith. If you are a family member who has any favorite Jewish resources you wish to see added to this page, contact us.
A little knowledge of Hebrew and Jewish history can be quite helpful in doing Jewish genealogy, but this page is about understanding and connecting with your Jewish roots, rather than about finding them. While we also hope that the information and resources listed on this page will be useful to those studying Jewish genealogy, if you want help with finding your Jewish roots, with Jewish genealogy, start with the free basic genealogy sites listed on our Genealogy Resources page, and also read some of the Jewish Genealogy tips on our genealogical research tips page.
If you are wondering whether you have any Jewish Roots, or wanting to prove a hunch that you may have some Jewish ancestors, then while the information here may be interesting, it will not help you document any Jewish ancestral lines. We plan on writing a separate page including specific hints for how to do that. Check back here in a month or two for a link to the page, or if you are anxious for some more immediate tips, do feel free to email us for tips about doing that.
Hebrew is the mother language of Judaism, and considered to be a "holy tongue" by the most devout. Yiddish was the language of daily use for many European Jews, and is a melding of Hebrew with High German, and while it can be transliterated (i.e., rendered using characters other than Hebrew ones) into any language or character set, is generally written with Hebrew characters.
Jewish Genealogy has its own unique challenges because Jewish children would be given a Hebrew name, could be called by the Yiddish equivalent, often had an official name in the language of the country they were born or lived in, and might also have nicknames which were diminutives of any of the above. Furthermore, when searching for Jews in written records, one must remember that the sound of the name was more important than the precise spelling, so it is essential to consider any and all alternative spellings bearing any resemblance to the name being sought.
One extremely helpful tool in studying possible alternative given names used by our ancestors is the JewishGen Belarus SIG's given names data base at http://www.jewishgen.org/belarus/srchbela.htm
If you wish to learn Hebrew, even if it's just the alphabet so you can be more familiar with realistic alternative transliterations, or can decipher Jewish marriage certificates or the inscriptions on Jewish tombstones, the Hillel Foundation, some Jewish Community Centers, and Chabad provide Hebrew classes for adults. The free classes at Chabad are geared just towards teaching how to read the Hebrew prayers and are called a "Hebrew Crash Course". However, they are also a free, excellent, quick friendly introduction to the language and alphabet.
And, there also are a lot of websites for free online Hebrew reference and learning. Just remember that you might need to install Hebrew fonts if your computer does not already have them. Contact us if you need help finding out how to do this, find any errors here, or have suggested resources.
Jacob Richman's List of Hot Hebrew Learning Sites (A mega site with many, may links to Hebrew language learning resources
Overview / History of Hebrew
Jewish FAQ: The Hebrew Alphabet
Short Yiddish Glossary
Jewish Glossary (Jewish, Hebrew, Yiddish)
Judaism 101: Glossary of Jewish Terminology
Learn Hebrew Phrases
If you are doing Jewish genealogy, some understanding of the Jewish calendar is helpful, because it explains why Jewish ancestors often reported a different birth date from year to year. That is because they knew when they were born by the Hebrew calendar date, or by how many days before or after a certain Jewish Holiday, and did not consider it important to find out what the Gregorian date was in the year in which they were born.
Instead, they often simply reported what day, in current Gregorian terms, their Hebrew birthday was the year that they answered the question. These dates can vary by a number of weeks. If you want to view the equivalent dates in any year, you can use the Date Conversion Tool at http://www.jewishgen.org/jos/
The Hebrew calendar, unlike our twelve month Gregorian calendar which has 28 to 31 days per month, is based on the cycles of the moon. Just as with the Gregorian calendar, there are twelve months, and there is a leap year correction applied to the calculations to keep the months synchronized with solar years. In the Hebrew calendar, this correction appears in the form of a thirteenth month, Adar II, which is added 7 times in each 19-year cycle.
Judaism 101: Jewish Calendar
History Of The Jewish Calendar
The 29th Day From the Perspective of the Rebbe
The Jewish holidays are celebrations of important events in Jewish history. If you want to learn more about them, check out the explanations on the following websites.
Short Description: Jewish Holidays Explained http://www.pjcc.org/jewishlife/holidays/jl-holidays-explained.html
Jewish Holidays and Festivals
Chabad's Network of Jewish Holiday Websites
If you want to know when the Jewish Holidays are, make sure you obtain the information from a trusted religious source. There are computer plugins available that provide their users with erroneous dates for the Jewish Holidays. One such plugin that is not dependable is the one from Google. It had the starting date for Passover wrong in 2012, so be careful about where you get your information. Chabad and the Orthodox Union have accurate dates, as do many other Jewish organizations.
This next page is a simple one you can go to, to find reliable dates for the Festivals for any year at a glance. But be sure to pay attention to the note on the page that the holidays start at sundown on the evenings before the dates given in the list of festivals.
Jewish Holiday Calendar
The Sabbath is an important event in the lives of many Jews, and the focal point of the week of the ultra Orthodox Jew, for whom it is a celebration in honor of G-d's resting on the seventh day of the creation of the world. To learn more about the meaning, customs, traditions, and religious laws of the Sabbath, check out the following resources.
WHY THE SABBATH - SABBATH Day of Eternity
by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
A Brief Biblical History of Shabbat http://www.chabad.org/261818
Shabbat Mega Site http://www.chabad.org/253215
Judaism 101: Shabbat (down to earth discussion)
Another way to learn about Jewish culture and faith is to study articles on inspiration and self-improvement that have been written from a Jewish perspective. The two writers of such articles that I know best are Chofetz Chaim and Rabbi Tzvi Freeman. Both write from an Orthodox perspective, and may use some concepts you are not familiar with, but you still should be able to understand the basic ideas and lessons they are teaching.
The Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation sponsors many programs devoted to bringing the inspiration and lessons from the teachings of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, who is also known as the Chofetz Chaim, which is the title of one of his works.
Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation
They also offer the choice of four separate daily emails on the topics of loving kindness (chesed), proper speech, truth, and Daf Yomi (talmud). You can obtain subsciption information about these emails by writing email@example.com or subscribe to a specific topic by emailing any of the following addresses and putting the word "Subscribe" in the subject line.
Another excellent resource is Rabbi Freeman's Daily Dose, which is published by Chabad.org in the form of a short daily email called the "Daily Dose," and also apparently as "Today's Thought" on Chabad's home page. These short little comments about life by Rabbi Freeman are great food for thought, no matter what your beliefs, often containing very helpful insights into how to deal with life and the world for everyone, not just Jews.
Unfortunately, though, there is no one place I can send you to view all of Rabbi Freeman's past Daily Dose articles. They are drawn from a variety of sources, with many of them appearing on the chabad.org website in various categories, some selections are extremely religious, some quite general in content.
You may want to just try out the Daily Dose by subscribing, or view some of Rabbi Freeman's writings or a few selected articles before subscribing:
Stories (about 6 of them) written by Rabbi Freeman (not necessarily Daily Dose): http://www.chabad.org/search/keyword_cdo/kid/193/t/13034
Articles (about 470 of them) written by Rabbi Freeman (not just Daily Dose):
To subscribe to the Daily Dose emails, go to:
Judaism is one religion, and many of us were brought up being taught that we are all Jews, and that we do not have major branches like other faiths do. But, the fact is, while our core beliefs are essentially the same, there are variations in the prayers and extent to which Torah Law is followed, as well as in how literally the Bible is taken. These variations are functions of which Rabbinic scholars people follow the teachings of, as well as whether one's ancestors and relatives are from eastern or western Europe, and where someone currently lives.
In the United States, as well as in England, in the mid twentieth century, there were three primary types of Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed. Hasidim, and it's various sects, could still be considered as part of the Orthodox movement.
Since that time, many smaller movements have developed, and it is beyond the scope of this discussion to outline a full history of all the current newer movements that have developed. If you wish to do further reading about the history of organized Judaism and it's movements, we recommend the following excellent articles.
Judaism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jewish denominations - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Judaism 101: Movements of Judaism
For all intensive purposes, we can think of these movements or divisions as being along a scale, with Orthodox being the most observant of the Law, and Reformed being the least observant. There are, of course, individual variations, but the links below can get you started if you want to learn more about these specific divisions.
Orthodox Judaism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jewish Philosophy, Belief, and Practice - OU.ORG
Chabad Lubavitch - Torah, Judaism and Jewish Info
What is Conservative Judaism?
Conservative Judaism - Wikipedia
Masorti - Wikipedia
What is Masorti?
What is Reform Judaism?
Reform/Progressive Judaism: General: What is Reform Judaism? http://www.shamash.org/lists/scj-faq/HTML/faq/18-01-01.html
Reform Judaism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
If you attend a service or services at a particular synagogue and do not feel comfortable or at home, don't give up! It may be an unusual week, with the regular rabbi on vacation. Try at another time, or ask around about services at other synagogues in your area, to find out what feels the most comfortable for you. And don't forget Hillel on college campuses. Their services are often open to all community members and not just students.
And, if you do not know Hebrew, do not feel embarrassed. Many of us never learned it, or forgot the little bit we may have learned as children. If you are feeling lost, tell the person sitting next to you, and they are bound to try to help you along, unless they, too, are feeling similarly, and will still try to make you feel at home!
If you want to be able to follow services better, whether at home at the holiday table, or at a place of worship, there are excellent prayer books and pamphlets that have transliterations along with translations of the prayers. These renditions using our familiar letters A-Z make it easier to follow and join in to a prayer service even when one does not know Hebrew. Unfortunately, however, synagogues rarely provide prayer books that transliterate more prayers than just the Shema and Kaddish.
There are a number of transliterated prayer books from various publishers. If you are seriously interested in purchasing your own prayer book, or in knowing the best one(s) to borrow from your public library, the following review of prayer books is a must:
Below are links to webpages that have samples of prayer book pages. You might take a look at the sample pages to see if you like any of their formats and transliteration styles.
Here are links to the website for Siddur Eit Ratzon, one of the transliterated prayer books reviewed by Rabbi Peretz Rodman in the article mentioned above.
There has always been a lot of variation in transliteration styles, and some transliterations are easier to read and use than are others. I personally find the transliterations in my prayer book to be awkward and cumbersome to use, and prefer making my own transliterations for psalms and prayers I wish to learn, or using transliterations I find on the web which are more user friendly.
So, take a look at the following websites that contain transliterated prayers and prayer books, to get a sense of some possibilities:
The following page has prayer books available for free download from the early 1900s. You can find Passover Haggadahs and High Holy Day Prayer Books (Machzorim) for free download or reading online
Page Revised September 30, 2012
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