The differences between rituals, laws and customs
By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,
seymourforweb2School is in full swing and we have settled into our routines. I have been talking with the children about routines and rituals. As we approach so many holidays, there are many routines and rituals that we must follow.
What is a ritual? What is a custom? What is Jewish law? We wonder about what we have to do and if we have to do it in a certain way?
A simple (maybe simplistic) way of looking at it is that there are three “levels”: Torah law, rabbinic law and custom. Now Torah law may be the “highest/most important” level but even Torah law is interpreted. Then we have the laws that our sages have created and finally there is custom.
For example, take Passover: the Torah says no leaven, the rabbis have rules upon rules and then the custom is that Sephardic Jews eat rice and Ashkenazi Jews don’t. So what is right? Can we stop following certain laws or customs?
Don’t get excited — no answers from me! Ask your rabbi (or your mother-in-law)! Note: however you decide, make it a thinking decision!
This leads to a special children’s book that now comes with a toy (which makes it better for some). The book is “When the Chickens Went on Strike” by Erica Silverman. It is a Rosh Hashanah tale adapted from a story by Sholom Aleichem.
The chickens go on strike because they don’t want to be used for kapparot. The custom is to take a live chicken and twirl it over your head as you say certain prayers. The idea is to transfer your sins to the chicken before the new year.
Crazy? Maybe. Still done today? Definitely! Google it and you will see explanations and a few YouTube videos.
The book is the story of a little boy who is worried that without doing kapparot, all the things he did wrong will not go away. He finally learns from the chickens that to do better in the future, you do not need a chicken. A custom is changed for this little town!
It is a great story with some thoughts for the holidays — what routines, rituals and customs do we want to continue or end and why? We learned about kavanah — intention; whatever you do, always do it with thinking, caring and kavanah!
Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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