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  Jewish Customs & Holidays

Rosh HaShanah
is a Jewish holiday commonly referred to as the "Jewish New Year." It is observed on the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar.[1] It is ordained in the Torah as "Zicaron Terua" ("a memorial with the blowing of horns"), in Leviticus 23:24. Rosh Hashanah is the first of the High Holidays or Yamim Noraim ("Days of Awe"), or Asseret Yemei Teshuva (Ten Days of Repentance) which are days specifically set aside to focus on repentance that conclude with the holiday of Yom Kippur.

Rosh Hashanah is the start of the civil year in the Hebrew calendar (one of four "new year" observances that define various legal "years" for different purposes as explained in the Mishnah and Talmud). It is the new year for people, animals, and legal contracts. The Mishnah also sets this day aside as the new year for calculating calendar years and sabbatical (shmita) and jubilee (yovel) years. Jews believe Rosh Hashanah represents either analogically or literally the creation of the World, or Universe. However, according to one view in the Talmud, that of R. Eleazar, Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of man, which entails that five days earlier, the 25 of Elul, was the first day of creation of the Universe.[2]

The Mishnah, the core text of Judaism's oral Torah, contains the first known reference to Rosh Hashanah as the "day of judgment." In the Talmud tractate on Rosh Hashanah it states that three books of account are opened on Rosh Hashanah, wherein the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of an intermediate class are recorded. The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life, and they are sealed "to live." The middle class are allowed a respite of ten days, until Yom Kippur, to repent and become righteous; the wicked are "blotted out of the book of the living."[3]

Yom Kippur - Break the Fast
also known as the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year for religious Jews. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jews traditionally observe this holy day with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services. Yom Kippur completes the annual period known in Judaism as the High Holy Days.

Yom Kippur is the tenth day of the month of Tishrei. According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person's fate for the coming year into a book, the Book of Life, on Rosh Hashanah, and waits until Yom Kippur to "seal" the verdict. During the Days of Awe, a Jew tries to amend his or her behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God (bein adam leMakom) and against other human beings (bein adam lechavero). The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt (Vidui). At the end of Yom Kippur, one considers one's self absolved by God.

The Yom Kippur prayer service includes several unique aspects. One is the actual number of prayer services. Unlike a regular day, which has three prayer services (Ma'ariv, the evening prayer; Shacharit, the morning prayer; and Mincha, the afternoon prayer), or a Shabbat or Yom Tov, which have four prayer services (Ma'ariv; Shacharit; Musaf, the additional prayer; and Mincha), Yom Kippur has five prayer services (Ma'ariv; Shacharit; Musaf; Mincha; and Ne'ilah, the closing prayer). The prayer services also include a public confession of sins (Vidui) and a unique prayer dedicated to the special Yom Kippur avodah (service) of the Kohen Gadol in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Yom Kippur is considered one of the holiest of Jewish holidays and it is observed by many secular Jews who may not observe other holidays. Many secular Jews fast and attend synagogue on Yom Kippur — in fact, for many secular Jews the High Holidays are the only recurring times of the year in which they attend synagogue[1] , causing synagogue attendance to soar. Others choose not to fast [2]

Sukkot
is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei (late September to late October). It is one of the three biblically-mandated Shalosh regalim on which Jews made pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem.

The holiday lasts seven days, including Chol Hamoed and is immediately followed by another festive day known as Shemini Atzeret. The Hebrew word sukkōt is the plural of sukkah, "booth, tabernacle". The sukkah is intended as a reminiscence of the type of fragile dwellings in which the ancient Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt.

Throughout the holiday the sukkah becomes the living area of the house, and all meals are eaten in it. On each day of the holiday, members of the household recite a blessing over the lulav and etrog, or Four species.[1]

According to Zechariah, in the messianic era Sukkot will become a universal festival and all nations will make pilgrimages annually to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast there.[2]

Hanukkah
also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE, Hanukkah is observed for eight nights, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.

The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a very special candelabrum, the nine-branched Menorah or Hanukiah, one additional light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. An extra light called a shamash (Hebrew: "guard" or "servant")[citation needed] is also lit each night for the purpose of lighting the others, and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest. The "shamash" symbolically supplies light that may be used for some secular purpose.

Passover
is a predominantly Jewish holy day and festival. It commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, which is spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and is celebrated for seven or eight days. It is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays, and is commemorated by affiliated and nonaffiliated Jews alike as a time to contemplate the endurance of the Jewish people throughout history.[citation needed]

In the narrative of the Exodus, the Bible tells that God inflicted ten plagues upon the Egyptians before Pharaoh would release his Hebrew slaves, with the tenth plague being the killing of every firstborn male, from the Pharaoh's son to the firstborn of the dungeon captive, to the firstborn of cattle. The Hebrews were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord passed over these homes, hence the term "passover".[1] When Pharaoh freed the Hebrews, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread to rise. In commemoration, for the duration of Passover no leavened bread is eaten, for which reason it is called "The Festival of the Unleavened Bread".[2] Matzo (flat unleavened bread) is the primary symbol of the holiday.

Together with Shavuot ("Pentecost") and Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), Passover is one of the three pilgrimage festivals (Shalosh Regalim) during which the entire Jewish populace historically made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. Samaritans still make this pilgrimage to Mount Gerizim, but only men participate in public worship.[3][4]

Shabbat
is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from sundown Friday until the appearance of three stars in the sky[1] on Saturday night. The exact time, therefore, differs from week to week and from place to place, depending on the time of sunset at each location. In polar areas where there is no sunrise or sunset at certain points of the year, a different set of rules applies.

Shabbat recalls the Biblical Creation account in the Genesis, describing God creating the Heavens and the Earth in six days, and resting on and sanctifying the seventh (Genesis 1:1-2:3).

Shabbat is considered a festive day, when a person is freed from the regular labors of everyday life, can contemplate the spiritual aspects of life, and can spend time with family. Traditionally, three festive meals are eaten: on Friday night, Saturday morning, and late Saturday afternoon. The day is also noted for those activities prohibited on Shabbat according to halakha (Jewish law).

Kiddush
is a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Shabbat, Jewish holiday or a Bat or Bar Mitzvah ceremony. The Torah refers to two requirements concerning Shabbat - to "keep it" and to "remember it" (shamor and zakhor). Jewish law therefore requires that Shabbat be observed in two respects. One must "keep it" by refraining from thirty-nine forbidden activities, and one must "remember it" by making special arrangements for the day, and specifically through the kiddush ceremony.

Reciting kiddush before the meal on the eve of Shabbat and Jewish holidays is thus regarded as a commandment from the Torah (as it is explained by the Oral Torah). Reciting kiddush before the morning meal on Shabbat and holidays, however, is a requirement of rabbinic origin. Kiddush is not usually recited at the third meal on Shabbat, although Maimonides was of the opinion that wine should be drunk at this meal as well.

The term kiddush is also used to refer to a ceremonial meal served at a synagogue following the recitation of kiddush at the conclusion of services, in which refreshments are served. Traditionally, this often includes cake, crackers, and fish.

Bris (Brit milah)
is a Jewish religious circumcision ceremony performed on 8-day old male infants by a mohel. The brit milah is followed by a celebratory meal (seudat mitzvah)

Shiva
The Meals of Consolation and why....

Biblically Ordained
The traditional meal of consolation (Seudat Havra-ah) is served immediately after returning from the internment. It is usually provided by neighbors, friends and relatives of the bereaved. This basic courtesy is considered so important that many religious authorities maintain that it is biblically ordained. In biblical times, Rabbi’s were said to have chastised neighbors of bereaved persons when they had to prepare their own meals.

Psychologically Uplifting
When friends and neighbors provide the meal of consolation, it shows the bereaved family that others care about them and their well-being during their time of sorrow. It also sends a message to those who mourn that the provider of the meal is not simply an onlooker, but one who feels close to the bereaved and truly shares in their sorrow. For the provider(s) of the meal, there is also a psychological implication. For them, it is the good feeling of knowing they have performed of a good deed which is referred to as a “mitzvah”. It is said that a person who performs a mitzvah receives a blessing from God.

When Served
Immediately upon returning from the funeral and before entering the home where shiva (period of mourning) will be observed, two rituals are performed.

  1. A container of water and paper towels are placed at the entrance to the home. All of those returning from the funeral will symbolically wash their hands before entering.
  2. A large candle (provided by the funeral home) is immediately lit. This will burn for the entire seven days of mourning.

The foods for the Meal of Consolation should be set on the table before the mourners return from the funeral. It is served immediately after performing the ritual washing of the hands and candle lighting. It is almost always set up buffet style but the immediate family of the deceased should not be required to serve themselves. The mourner’s food is prepared on a plate and brought to them by others. Serving the mourners (by providing the entire meal) is symbolic of offering “the sustenance of life” after a death has occurred. All others who partake of the Meal of Consolation may serve themselves except as a courtesy, younger persons may serve the elderly and those unable to serve themselves. (The mourners do not act as hosts or serve others.)

The Table
A bottle of Kosher wine and other spirits are made available for those who wish to partake. Several foods are required. Hard boiled eggs are always served. The egg symbolizes life itself and reminds us of the fact that the cycle of life continues after the death of a loved one. Bread in some form (rolls and bagels) is also required. It represents “the staff of life”. In addition, herring in some form is served, also as a symbol of life.

The Meal of Condolence itself usually consists of dairy (milchig) foods rather than meat (fleishig). Meats and delicatessen can be served but these items are usually reserved for other meals which will be served during the seven days of mourning (shiva). In addition to the eggs, herring, bread, rolls and bagels, a variety of cheeses are included. Regular cream cheese and its variations such as scallion, pimento and relish cream cheese are usually included. Swiss, cheddar and meunster cheeses are also served. A variety of smoked fish such as whitefish, salmon(lox). Nova Scotia salmon, kippered salmon and smoked sable have become traditional. Fish salads such as whitefish salad and herring salad are also served. Other salads such as cole slaw, potato and pasta salad and fresh vegetables (health) salads as well as relishes and olives are included. Another item which has become traditional is Kichel (bow ties). Other baked items include sponge and honey cake, miniature pastries and cookies. Beverages include coffee, tea and soda.

Other meals
During the seven day period of mourning, other meals may be sent to the mourners. Food is also made available to those who visit to pay their condolences. Daily religious services (morning or evening) are often held in the home of the bereaved and light refreshments are usually made available at the conclusion of the service.

As a change from the initial Meal of Condolence which is traditionally dairy, meat (fleishig) foods can be served during the shiva period. (Meat and dairy food are never served at the same meal.) Kosher delicatessen platters and trays of prepared sandwiches have become standard fare in addition to hot cooked Kosher meals which can be brought into the home or prepared in the home. During the seven day period of mourning, foods may be carried into the home but food is not removed from the home.

ANSWERS TO YOUR QUESTIONS..

Q. Must the food be Kosher even if the family is not strictly observant?
A. It should be Kosher. While not all Jews strictly observe the Laws of Kashruth, many do. In addition, relatives and visitors to the home of the bereaved may be strictly observant. They cannot partake of the food it is not Kosher.

Q. If I am not Jewish would it be appropriate for me to send a condolence platter or meals to a Jewish friend?
A. Yes. In fact, it would probably be the most appropriate thing you can do for the bereaved. In your faith, flowers are probably the norm. Not so for those who are Jewish.

Q. Can’t I simply send flowers?
A. Flowers are not appropriate for a Jewish funeral. The custom of sending a condolence tray or other food gift to the home is more appropriate and welcomed.

Q. Since a large condolence tray would cost more than I wish to spend as an individual, would it be alright if it were sent by a group?
A. Yes, A group of co-workers, neighbors or friends, can share the cost. A card will be included listing all of the givers.

Q. Can I bring a food gift with me when I pay a condolence call?
A. It is perfectly alright to bring the gift with you during the Shiva (seven day period of mourning).

Q. If I know that others are already providing condolence trays, what can I do without duplicating their efforts?
A. You might have a hot dinner meal (for any specified number of persons) sent to the home during the period of mourning. The Shiva period lasts for 7 days after the funeral and your meal of condolence can be delivered on any of those days. You may also want to check with the funeral home to find out how many days the family is sitting Shiva. An appropriate basket of Kosher snacks, delicacies, fresh and dried fruit, cake and candy can also be given

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