Understanding God’s Commandments in Jerusalem

While guiding tours in the Old City of Jerusalem, I am often asked by guests from around the world about special elements that they notice of the dress code amongst many religious Jews. Particularly I am asked about the strings hanging from the waistband of men and side locks of hair near the ears and the black boxes and straps worn on arms and heads.

In this article I will try to give a brief explanation to some of these traditions, particularly for people who are not familiar at all.

Judaism is a religion that places great emphasis on following God’s commandments, known in Hebrew as “Mitzvot”. The term mitzvah is derived from the Hebrew word ‘tzavta’, which means command. A mitzvah represents God’s directives to the Jewish people. Fulfilling the mitzvah is considered an act of obedience and love towards God. There are said to be 613 mitzvot in Judaism, all based on verses in the Torah, the five books of Moses, and they cover a wide range of activities, from ritual practices and dress code to moral and ethical behavior.

Some of the most fundamental concepts in Judaism are the observance of mitzvot. The mitzvot are divided into two categories: positive commandments and negative commandments. Positive commandments are those that require an action, such as giving charity or lighting the Sabbath candles. Negative commandments are those that require the avoidance of an action, such as refraining from eating certain foods or committing murder.

The three mitzvot discussed here are Tzitzit, Tefilin, and Petiot (sidelocks). These mitzvot are deeply ingrained in Jewish tradition, and they are seen as important ways to connect with God and to maintain a spiritual connection.

The mitzvah of Tzitzit is found in the Torah, in the book of Numbers. It requires Jews to wear a special four-cornered garment known as a tallit. The corners of the tallit are adorned with fringes known as tzitzit. The tzitzit consists of four strands, each of which is doubled over, resulting in eight strands. The strands are tied in a particular pattern according to different traditions, and the fringes are left to hang down from the corners of the tallit.

The purpose of the Tzitzit is to serve as a reminder of God’s commandments. The Torah instructs Jews to “look upon the tzitzit and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them” (Numbers 15:39). By wearing the tzitzit, Jews are constantly reminded of God’s presence and of their commitment to follow His commandments.

The mitzvah of Tefillin is another important mitzvah in Jewish religious observance. Tefillin are small black boxes made of animal hide containing verses from the Torah written on parchment by a scribe like the Torah scroll and the Mezuza, which are strapped to one’s head and arm during weekday morning prayers, while some men will wear the Tefillin throughout the day. The Tefillin consist of two parts: the “shel yad,” which is worn on the arm, and the “shel rosh,” which is worn on the head.

The Tefillin serve as a physical representation of the commitment to God. The box worn on the head symbolizes the desire to have God’s word and wisdom at the forefront of one’s thoughts. The box worn on the arm symbolizes the desire to have God’s word near his heart and as to guide one’s actions.

Petiot sidelocks is a mitzvah or tradition that is observed by some Orthodox Jewish men. The word “petiot” means “corners” in Hebrew, and refers to the corners of the head where the hairline meets the ear. Orthodox Jewish men may grow their sidelocks, known as peyot, long enough to cover the ears and sometimes even the cheeks. The peyot are considered a symbol of holiness and devotion to God.

The mitzvah of Petiot sidelocks has its roots in the Torah, which instructs Jews not to “round off the corners of your heads” (Leviticus 19:27). The rabbis explain that this means that Jews should not cut the hair at the corners of their heads, and should instead grow long sidelocks. The peyot are a reminder of the commitment to follow God’s commandments and to live a holy life.

Jerusalem is one of the oldest and most culturally rich cities in the world, with a history that dates back thousands of years. For visitors looking to learn about Jewish culture and traditions, there is no better place to explore than Jerusalem. The city is home to many significant Jewish sites, each offering a unique insight into the rich and complex history of the Jewish people.

Jerusalem is also home to many synagogues and yeshivas, which are centers of Jewish learning and worship. These institutions offer visitors the opportunity to witness Jewish prayer and study firsthand, and to gain a deeper understanding of Jewish beliefs and customs.

In addition to its religious sites, Jerusalem is a vibrant cultural center, with a thriving arts and music scene. The city hosts many festivals and events throughout the year, including the Jerusalem Film Festival and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. Visitors can also explore the vibrant markets of the Old City, where they can sample traditional Jewish foods like falafel, hummus, and shakshuka.

Overall, a visit to Jerusalem is an unforgettable experience for anyone interested in Jewish culture and traditions. The city is a living museum, filled with ancient sites and modern marvels that offer a unique window into the history and spirituality of the Jewish people. Whether you are a scholar, a spiritual seeker, or simply a curious traveler, a journey to Jerusalem is sure to be a rich and rewarding experience.

David Ha’ivri is a professional tour guide based in Jerusalem, Israel. He has been guiding visitors to Israel for over 20 years, providing unique and informative tours of the country’s beautiful nature trails, its historical and religious sites. David is known for his passionate and engaging tours, which provide visitors with a deeper understanding of Israel’s rich history and complex political landscape.

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