Moral Reminders in Judaism

mezuzah


Some Behavioral Economists believe that moral reminders cause us to lie and cheat less. This is suggested through research that shows that when someone is reminded of the 10 Commandments (people across religions as well as non-religious individuals), they lie and cheat less. Also, when we sign a form promising to be honest, we typically sign at the end. When we sign at the beginning, on the other hand, we tend to be more honest (this is tested and checked in many ways through research in academic labs as well as in the field).

It has been suggested that perhaps other “moral reminders” would encourage positive, honest behaviors as well. Below is a list of moral reminders in Judaism.

  • Wearing a kippah or tzitzit – Physical clothing for men. The Kippah “reminds” men that there is someone above them. Tzitzit (fringes) are worn at the corners of clothes so we remember mitzvoth (good deeds), “kind of like the old technique of tying a string around your finger to remember something”
  • Putting up a mezuzah – This is a small tube placed on the doors of homes, with a scroll inside that contains prayers (one of which is the Shema, to remember G-d’s name). This is for protection and to remember G-d as we enter any room (other than a bathroom). People kiss it when entering and exiting.“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates”
  • Engaging in daily blessings and prayers – Jews have prayers and blessings for anything (for drinking water, before and after meals, after using the toilet, morning, evening, holidays, Shabbats, and more). These are ways to thank G-d for what we have, to bless someone mourning for a lost loved one, or to ask to heel the sick. One of the most common daily blessings, Tfilin,  is done only by men. Here, they wrap their heads and their arms, as a remembrance of the Mitzvot, and as a commitment to intellectually and physically do more Mitzvot.
  • Committing to regular Torah study – There are many opportunities to study Torah, and making this commitment is one way to remember G-d and the religious way of life.
  • Signing a ketubah – when two people get married, they both sign a Ketubah. It states the Jewish laws for the way men must treat their wives.
  • Taking a piece of text as a mantra could work, such as v’ahavata l’reicha kamocha – There are endless pieces of beautiful text that can be used as a type of mantra. Mine is Ein Yeush Ba’olam Clal: There is no despair in the world. (Meaning – persevere!)
  • Seeing a kippah or temple on way to work or throughout day
  • Morning prayer- mode ani – this particular morning prayer (different for men and for women) says I appreciate you and am grateful to be alive.
  • Jewish wedding – there are tons of traditions, and they vary based on where in the world the bride and groom come from. It is custom not to see each other before the wedding, for women to cleanse themselves in a Mikvah, the broom breaks a glass (even in a beautiful and happy moment such as a wedding, it is important to remember the destruction of the temple), the bride walks around the groom seven times (building the new home), standing under a Chupah (symbol of new home), and many more. There are variations and different ways of having Jewish weddings.
  • Washing cup – Jews wash their hands in mornings, before meals, after meals, and before certain blessings. The cup represents the Jewish way of washing (three pours per hand).
  • Candles – Candle lighting happens on Shabbats, holidays, and to remember someone who passed away (“Soul candles”)
  • Challah cover or kiddush cup – Challah is the bread consumed on Shabbats, and is covered with a cloth. It is customary to have a double portion (two loaves of Challah). The Kiddush cup is the special cup for wine that is blessed, and everyone drinks from it. Different nationalities have different ways of doing this.
  • Prayer after you eat – to thank G-d for the food.
  • Tissue box on Shabbat – on Shabbat you can’t rip toilet paper (this is really only very religious people) so they use a tissue box.
  • Jewish Star/ Magen David, Hamsa necklace or keychain – The Jewish Star (Magen David or Star of David) is often worn as a symbol so people recognize that the wearer is Jewish. It has 12 sides, representing the 12 tribes. Also, Jews in certain historical times were forced to wear a star so everyone would know they were Jewish. A Hamsa is a symbol of a hand, worn for protection. Some also have Neged Ayin Ara symbols (little eyes) also for protection. This is common in Arab cultures as well.
  • Tfillat Haderech – this is a particular prayer said before traveling. I keep one in my purse at all times. Some people say this prayer before driving or “traveling” at all.
  • Flag of Israel – with the Jewish Star in the middle, it is a reminder of the State of Israel.
  • L’chaim – this means “to life” and is said before drinking alcohol (or if you are me, it is said constantly). It is the Hebrew way of saying “Cheers!”
  • Chai necklace – Chai means “life”, also represented by the number 18 (In Judaism, numbers have a lot of importance, and they are connected to letters).
  • Kosher symbols on food packaging – to remind us that the food is acceptable according the rules of Kashrut (Jewish law has many requirements for what we can and cannot eat/drink)
  • Pomegranate – There are many references to pomegranates in Jewish texts. It is known as a symbol of righteousness.
  • Black hat – this is worn by men as a tradition and a way for everyone to recognize they are Jewish.
  • Modest clothing – Jewish law requires people to dress modestly.
  • Red string – this is worn on the left wrist as a bracelet, and is meant to stay until it naturally falls off. It is for protection and often blessed by a Rabbi. Many visitors to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem leave with these.
  • Torah scroll – The Torah is wrapped as a scroll, and often has very dramatic decorations. In synagogues, when the Torah scroll is “out” (meaning, not behind the cabinet it sits up in), everyone stands.
  • Peyot – the curly hair that men have on the sides of their heads. This is an interpretation of the commandment not to shave the corners of the head. It is also used to distinguish Jews from non-Jews.
  • Wearing white on holidays and Shabbats to signify purity
  • Candle lighting to remember people who passed away
  • Menorah – this is a type of lamp with seven arms for candles. Often seen as a symbol of Israel, a “light unto the nations”. It is also often confused with a Hannukia, the lamp with 9 arms used to celebrate the holiday of Hannuka. (There are tens of ways of spelling that word).

Esther

MBA, MA. Have more fun. Worry less. Laugh more. Be good to yourselves & others. Grow, learn, and develop.

The greatest risk in life is not taking one.

6 Comments

  1. josh

    10/14/2012 at 7:57 am

    Wow! This is comprehensive.

  2. Esther

    10/14/2012 at 9:54 pm

    thank you.

  3. DK

    10/15/2012 at 4:21 pm

    “Red string – this is worn on the left wrist as a bracelet, and is meant to stay until it naturally falls off. It is for protection and often blessed by a Rabbi. Many visitors to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem leave with these.”

    Which is the best kind of red string to get, and which rabbis are the best type to bless the red string?

    • josh

      10/15/2012 at 7:42 pm

      I’m sure there is a top ten list.

      Actually, it is unclear if the power of the protection is in the amulets/objects themselves, or the fact that they are moral reminders as Esther says. Does a mezuzah protect the home, or does the fact that we dedicate our homes with a sign from God form the spiritual protection?

      • Esther

        10/16/2012 at 1:02 pm

        josh – i believe it is a combination!

    • Esther

      10/16/2012 at 1:03 pm

      DK – I honestly don’t know. I suggest asking any Rabbi. If you don’t know of any, I am more than happy to ask one I know for you!

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