What Makes a Home Jewish?

How many Jewish objects can you identify on my shelves?
How many Jewish objects can you identify on my shelves?

In parashat Shelach-Lecha, we read about Moses sending 12 spies into the Promised Land to see what it was like: what grew there? Who lived there? What would the children of Israel face when they entered the Land?

If spies looked in your place, how could they tell that it is a Jewish home?

Would they see

Would they hear

  • Jewish music?
  • Hebrew prayers?
  • Hebrew spoken?
  • Radio from Israel on the computer?
  • a debate about ethics?

Would they smell

  • Jewish foods cooking?
  • Candles?
  • Havdalah spices?

Could they taste

Or could they touch

  • a challah cover?
  • a tallit [prayer shawl]?
  • Passover dishes?
  • Jewish art made by a child?
  • Shabbat candlesticks?

Can you suggest experiences they’d find in your home that would “give it away” as a Jewish home?



Published by


Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

10 thoughts on “What Makes a Home Jewish?”

  1. Dear Ruth,

    The first translation of -Prayer : 9 tips for beginners- is over. I have edited it and adapted it (slightly) for a French audience. Anyway, allow me to send you a copy for proofing, before I submit it to our rabbi who is bilingual…

    I hope I did not betray too much your own words! By the way, there are really 9 tips listed…

    Thank you again, there’s more to come…

    Jacques Hennebert

    1. Thank you very much, Jacques! And thank you for telling me about the numbering issue. I will correct that as soon as possible.

      You can communicate with me at ruthadar (at) gmail (dot) com

      Again, thank you.

  2. Rabbi, do you think that it’s acceptable to use repurposed items for home ritual such as Shabbat? Right now, living on a shoestring budget, I don’t really have the money for $200 candlesticks or a Kiddush set for Shabbat, so I’m using items I already had in the house (for now, at least). Sometimes I worry that this isn’t really as acceptable as I want it to be. Any thoughts?

    1. A quick answer, and I’ll do a post addressing it in more detail: items you already have are just fine. Plain candlesticks are fine. I have made kiddush with a Solo cup of grape juice, and it was fine. Really and truly.

      More soon.

  3. Here’s a twist: While I’m not Jewish, lots of people have THOUGHT my home was a Jewish home.

    A menorah… yup, I’ve kept one.
    A TaNaKh
    Various Hebraic texts including a Siddur
    A box-o’ matzo
    A songbook with Jewish songs open to K’shoshanah Bin Hachochim
    Sermon notes from the local Adventist Church taken down in cursive Hebrew
    A letter from my spouse threatening to divorce to me if yet another book on Kabbalah ends up on the living room table (we divorced a decade ago)

      1. Since I am not Jewish, the only holiday open to me is Sukkot. While I can enjoy a Chanukkah event and give gifts at that time, it is not mine to observe any more than it is mine to observe certain dances of America’s First Nations.

        Since I resigned from the Seventh Day Adventist Church in 1995, I have not taken up with any religious body, nor will I ever. But I do enjoy Shabbat and I do enjoy Jewish culture.

        My annual observances fall under Celtic tradition which also recognizes days from sunset to sunset instead of midnight to midnight. Additionally mine includes the 3 days of Mnizourin in the nadir of the year just prior to Yule, and is observed in terms of Light itself and not in terms of any anthropomorphic deity. Mnizourin carries with it a similar theme as with Yom Kippur. Specifics as to rites pertaining to Mnizourin are closed.

        My only annual observance in common with other religions is Thanksgiving, but mine is not done with feasting but with a simply made meal with the day spent in contemplation and prayers.

        1. Lynnea, thank you for sharing not only your preference but your very thoughtful process. Since Thanksgiving is next week, I wish you a prayerful and peaceful day!

Leave a Reply