Engaging Jewish Leaders (2023)

In this tip sheet, you will discover foundational information to help you interact with Jewish leaders. It is part of a set of tools and training for FEMA to help disaster response professionals engage with faith communities. Much of the information also can help students, researchers, government agencies, non-profits and businesses learn about and develop relationships with communities. Click here for the PDF version of this tip sheet.

Religion Called: Judaism
Adherents Consider Themselves: Jewish and are called Jews
House of Worship: Synagogue (or Temple for many liberal congregations)
First Point of Contact: Temple or community center board of directors and/or Rabbi
Religious Leader: Rabbi
Spoken Direct Address:Use “Rabbi”
Physical Interaction: Avoid physical contact with Orthodox Jews of opposite gender

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  • Synagogue (Greek for “House of Assembly”), Shul (Yiddish), Beth Knesset (Hebrew), and Beth Midrash (Hebrew).
  • Many Liberal Congregations use the term “Temple.” This term should not be used for Orthodox synagogues.


Ordained/Commissioned/Licensed Leaders

  • Rabbi: Means “teacher.” Many Rabbis are employed by a synagogue’s congregation to lead worship and provide spiritualguidance. In Liberal Jewish Congregations, the Rabbi may be female.
  • Rebbe: Spiritual leader of a Chasidic community who governs the entire community and junior Rabbis.
  • Rosh Yeshiva: Title given to the dean of a Talmudic academy (Yeshiva or Mesivta).

Lay Leaders

  • Synagogue Board of Directors: Hires Rabbis and governs/approves use of congregational resources.
  • Rebbetzin: Wife of a rabbi, typically from the Orthodox or Chasidic congregations (Very influential in community).
  • Jewish Day School Principal: Most senior teacher, leader and manager of a Jewish Day School.
  • Jewish Community Center (JCC) Executive Director: Responsible for managing the general recreational, socialand fraternal needs of the local the Jewish community.


  • Local: Synagogues via Rabbi and/or Executive Director/Board of Directors. Some Jews may not attendsynagogue but could be reached through a JCC. In Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, a Vaad is a council of localRabbis. In Chasidic Judaism, contact the Rebbe’s staff.
  • Regional: The Jewish Federations of North America represents 153 Jewish Federations and 300+ networkcommunities. Jewish Community Relations Councils are the central coordinating/resource body for a region.
  • National: Many synagogues are affiliated with one of the major movements which provide standards, vision,leadership, and programmatic support; while some are completely independent. Of the approximately 3,700 synagogues inthe U.S., 40 percent are Orthodox, 26 percent are Reform (largest movement in the U.S. by adherants) and 23 percentConservative. Chabad/Lubavitch-Chasidic congregations are the most widespread across the U.S. Synagogue Organizations: Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (Modern Orthodox); Agudath Israel of America(Centrist); National Council of Young Israel (Orthodox); Chabad-Lubavitch (Chasidic); United Synagogue of ConservativeJudaism (Conservative); Union for Reform Judaism (Reform); Jewish Reconstructionist Communities (Reconstructionist).


National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership based organization thatserves as the forum where organizations share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle. FEMA DSA teammembers should check with their VAL to determine whether local or regional VOADs exist in their operational area.

  • National VOAD members include: Jewish Disaster Response Corps, National Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC),NECHAMA – Jewish Response to Disaster
  • The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) – umbrella organization which coordinates Jewish VoluntaryOrganizations Active in Disaster (JVOAD)


When introducing yourself to a religious leader, use formal religious titles unless instructed otherwise (e.g. Rabbi).

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Physical Interaction
As a general rule, avoid initiating physical contact when meeting or greeting Orthodox religious leaders. Most Orthodox Jewsdo not exchange handshakes with or embrace people of the opposite gender, as a gesture of respect and modesty. Whengreeting a Jewish person of the opposite gender, one should wait until to see if they extend their hand to shake, rather thanfirst extending one’s own. In the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements a handshake introduction would welcomed. When in doubt, ask before making assumptions or wait for the other person to initiate the greeting. Male disasterresponse personnel should also never be alone with an Orthodox woman (have other women present).

Male visitors to a synagogue or religious home may be offered or choose to wear a skull cap (yarmulke or kippah), or whenvisiting religious homes, wear a hat or baseball cap. Ask before participating in worship services. Ushers can help withcustoms, dress, and etiquette. Jewish homes should not be visited on the Sabbath and the majorJewish Holidays. A Mezuzah on the right side of the front door is the simplest indicator that a Jewishfamily lives in the house.

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U.S. Judaism is non-hierarchical. There is no Chief Rabbi or in any city within the U.S.

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Scheduling and Holidays
Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew and Shabbos in Yiddish), the day of rest. Shabbat is observed from 18minutes before sunset on Friday evening until approximately 48 minutes after sundown on Saturday or after the last day of oneof the holidays listed below. Observance includes attending Services, visiting family and friends, refraining from a range of activities including: using electricity, driving, cooking, carrying objects outside of the home or community boundary ifestablished, showering, traveling, writing, working, and tearing objects. Disaster staff should avoid non-emergency meetingson Saturdays, but note that rabbinic law actually requires people to violate Shabbat to save human lives. Yom Kippur, RoshHashanah, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Passover, and Shavuot are holidays when business activities are prohibited and meetingsshould be avoided on these days.

Orthodox and many Conservative Jews follow Kosher dietary rules in accordance with Halakha (Jewish law). Most Reform andReconstructionist Jews do not keep kosher but may choose to avoid eating pork products. Food that is acceptable meets thestandards of kashrut (kosher). In Kashrut, meat and dairy products are not served at the same meal. Kosher animals includecows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks and most fish. Reasons for food not being kosher include the presence ofingredients derived from non-kosher animals (pigs, horses, carnivores, shellfish, scavenger fish and birds, etc.) or of kosheranimals that were not slaughtered in the ritually proper manner. Other reasons include mixing meat and milk, producing wineor grape juice (or their derivatives) without rabbinic supervision, or cooking with non-Kosher cooking utensils/machinery. Orthodox Jews and many Conservative Jews will only eat food that has been certified by a Nationally recognized KosherCertification Organization. The four nationally recognized Hechsher (Kosher approval) symbols are:

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Respecting the Sabbath, major Jewish holidays, and keeping the congregation facilities kosher are the most important thingsto keep in mind when asking for congregation assistance. Bringing Kosher food into a Synagogue must be closely coordinatedwith the Congregation’s Rabbi. All Kosher food offered must be certified and have an approved Hechsher label on every item.

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The capacity to provide disaster assistance (e.g. shelter and/or meals) to displaced people is directly dependent on theresources of each individual congregation; some may have the infrastructure and financial means and some do not. Somelarger congregations will also have dining halls or classrooms that can be used as shelters during a disaster; it is be wise toask for these spaces first instead of sanctuary space.


In post-disaster settings, some Jews may or may not immediately choose to self-identify. Orthodox Males will wear a Kippah orYarmulke (skullcap) and may be wearing a black hat, baseball cap or some other form of headgear. Most Orthodox males willwear tzitzit (fringes) which may be hanging out of their shirts or they may be tucked into their shirts. Married Orthodox femalesmay be wearing a wig (Sheitel) or other head covering over their hair. Some may wear loose fitting clothing, long skirts andlong sleeves that go past the elbow. Orthodox men and women dress modestly as a sign of respect.


Judaism is the first and oldest monotheistic religion. Its origins date back approximately 3,500 years. There are anestimated 13 million Jews living in the world today. Approximately 42% of Jews live in the United States.There are two basic divisions within Judaism: Ashkehnazic (Descendants of Jews from France, Germany and EasternEurope) and Sephardic (Descendants of Jews from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East). Ashkenazi Jewscan be further classified further into Orthodox Judaism and into Liberal Judaism. In North America, the four main branches of Judaism are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist:

  • Orthodox Judaism maintains that the Torah and Jewish law are divine in origin, eternal, unalterable, and be strictlyfollowed. The Orthodox movements are all very similar in belief but may differ in customs and prayer liturgy.
  • Reform Judaism (largest of the four) subjects religious law and customs to human judgment, attempting to differentiatebetween the facets of the Torah that are divine mandate and those that are specific to the time in which they were written.
  • Conservative Judaism developed mainly in the 20th century and sought to conserve tradition by applying new,historical methods of study within the boundaries of Jewish law to mainstream American society.
  • Reconstructionist is the newest denomination within Judaism. It rejects the assertion that the Torah was given toMoses at Mount Sinai and views Judaism as a continual process of evolution, incorporating the inherited Jewishbeliefs and traditions with the needs of the modern world.

Click here for the PDF version of this tip sheet.

The Engaging Faith Communities tip sheets were created through a collaboration between the DHS Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, USC CREATE and the National Disaster Interfaiths Network. For further training, please see EMI course IS-505, which was also developed by this partnership.

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What makes a good Jewish leader? ›

Ancient Jewish leaders display strengths and weaknesses, respond swiftly, express deep emotions, and even err in judgment, yet ultimately they exemplify unswerving belief in God and humanity. They lead their families, their towns, their tribes, and even the nation as part of their mission or destiny.

What is a Jewish leader called? ›

Rabbi: Means “teacher.” Many Rabbis are employed by a synagogue's congregation to lead worship and provide spiritual guidance. In Liberal Jewish Congregations, the Rabbi may be female. ◆ Rebbe: Spiritual and religious leader of a Chasidic community who governs the entire community and junior Rabbis.

Who are the important leaders of Judaism? ›

  • Abraham.
  • David.
  • Isaiah.
  • Joseph.
  • Joshua.
  • Moses.
  • Moses Maimonides.

What are some rituals of Judaism? ›

  • Circumcision. Eight days after a male baby is born the ritual of Brit (or Bris) Milah takes place. ...
  • Naming of a girl, (Brit Bat, Simchat Bat or.
  • Pidyon haBen (Redeeming of the Son) ...
  • Bar-Mitzvah/ Bat-Mitzvah. ...
  • Mikvah. ...
  • Wedding. ...
  • Funeral / Burial. ...
  • Mezuzah.

What types of Jews are there? ›

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that nearly all Israeli Jews self-identify with one of four subgroups: Haredi (“ultra-Orthodox”), Dati (“religious”), Masorti (“traditional”) and Hiloni (“secular”).

What is the sacred text of Judaism? ›

Sacred texts: Judaism

The Hebrew Bible contains the Torah, or Five Books of Moses, the Nevi'im comprising the books of the Prophets, and the Ketuvium, or additional writings. Originally the Bible was copied onto scrolls, but from about the 7th century the text was also copied into books.

How do you address a rabbi? ›

"Rav" is the Hebrew word for "master." "Rav" can be used as a generic honorific for a teacher or a personal spiritual guide, similar to Rabbi. In Modern Hebrew, Rav is used for all rabbis.

Can rabbis marry? ›

Traditionally, rabbis were expected to marry women who were devoted to Judaism. The convention was a logical one. As a symbolic exemplar of Judaism, everything a rabbi does should reflect his commitment to the Jewish religion.

What are the four branches of Judaism? ›

Today, the most prominent divisions are between traditionalist Orthodox movements (including Haredi and Religious Zionist (Dati) sects); modernist movements such as Conservative, Masorti and Reform Judaism; and secular or Hiloni Jews.

What is the ultimate goal of Judaism? ›

The universal goal of the Jewish people has frequently expressed itself in messianism—the idea of a universal, political realm of justice and peace.

Why is Judaism so important? ›

Judaism, in addition to being a vibrant religion in its own right, is the parent religion of both Christianity and Islam. One cannot understand the origins of these religions without understanding their roots in Judaism. Israel is the only country on earth with a Jewish majority.

What are two major beliefs of Judaism? ›

Jewish people believe there's only one God who has established a covenant—or special agreement—with them. Their God communicates to believers through prophets and rewards good deeds while also punishing evil. Most Jews (with the exception of a few groups) believe that their Messiah hasn't yet come—but will one day.

What do Jews do every day? ›

Life and worship

A great deal of Jewish religious observance is centred in the home. This includes daily prayers three times each day - in the morning (Shacharit), the afternoon (Mincha), and after sunset (Ma'ariv or Arvit). Synagogues are for congregational prayer and study.

What foods are Jews not allowed to eat? ›

Kashrut—Jewish dietary laws

Certain foods, notably pork, shellfish and almost all insects are forbidden; meat and dairy may not be combined and meat must be ritually slaughtered and salted to remove all traces of blood. Observant Jews will eat only meat or poultry that is certified kosher.

What are the 3 sects of Judaism? ›

Tickets. First-century historian Josephus observed that there were three sects among the Jews: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and Essenes.

What are Russian Jews called? ›

Overview and background. The largest group among Russian Jews are Ashkenazi Jews, but the community also includes a significant proportion of other non-Ashkenazi from other Jewish diaspora including Mountain Jews, Sephardi Jews, Crimean Karaites, Krymchaks, Bukharan Jews and Georgian Jews.

What is so special about Ashkenazi Jews? ›

Most people with Ashkenazi ancestry trace their DNA to Eastern and Central Europe. But many also have Middle Eastern ancestry, which is just one reason for their genetic “uniqueness.” It's clear that people with European ancestry are genetically distinct from those of Asian or African descent.

What does it mean if you are Ashkenazi? ›

The term Ashkenazi refers to a group of Jews who lived in the Rhineland valley and in neighbouring France before their migration eastward to Slavic lands (e.g., Poland, Lithuania, and Russia) after the Crusades (11th–13th century) and their descendants.

What do Jews call their God? ›

In casual conversation some Jews, even when not speaking Hebrew, will call God HaShem (השם), which is Hebrew for "the Name" (cf. Leviticus 24:11 and Deuteronomy 28:58). When written, it is often abbreviated to ה׳. Likewise, when quoting from the Tanakh or prayers, some pious Jews will replace 'Adonai' with 'HaShem'.

Who do the Jews worship? ›

God in Judaism has been conceived in a variety of ways. Traditionally, Judaism holds that Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the national god of the Israelites, delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and gave them the Law of Moses at Mount Sinai as described in the Torah.

Who founded Judaism? ›

LanguageBiblical Hebrew Biblical Aramaic
FounderAbraham (traditional)
Origin1st millennium BCE 20th–18th century BCE (traditional) Judah Mesopotamia (traditional)
Separated fromYahwism
10 more rows

What do you call the wife of a rabbi? ›

Definition of rebbetzin

: the wife of a rabbi.

How do you say hello to a rabbi? ›

The most common of all the Jewish greetings is Shalom, a Hebrew word that means hello, goodbye and peace.

How do you respond when someone says Shalom? ›

The appropriate response is aleichem shalom ("unto you peace") (Hebrew: עֲלֵיכֶם שָׁלוֹם). The plural form "עֲלֵיכֶם‎" is used even when addressing one person. This form of greeting is traditional among Jews throughout the world.

Is smoking allowed in Judaism? ›

In 2006, the Vaad Halacha (Jewish law committee), sponsored by the Rabbinical Council of America, ruled that the use of tobacco is forbidden to Jews, and the committee specifically cited and reversed precedents that permitted smoking.

Are piercings allowed in Judaism? ›

But there is nothing in Jewish tradition that states that you can't have pierced ears, a nose ring, a pierced eyebrow, navel, nipples, or whatever your little heart desires.

What are sins in Judaism? ›

Jews recognize two kinds of sin, offenses against other people, and offenses against God. Offenses against God may be understood as violation of a contract (the covenant between God and the Children of Israel).

What is modern Judaism called? ›

Modern Orthodox Judaism (also Modern Orthodox or Modern Orthodoxy) is a movement within Orthodox Judaism that attempts to synthesize Jewish values and the observance of Jewish law with the secular, modern world.

Why is it not kosher to mix meat and dairy? ›

Prohibition on mixing dairy products with meat

Others associate it with the general prohibition on certain mixtures set out in the Torah, such as that of coupling animals from different species. Yet others see it as symbolic: the refusal to mix life (milk) and death (meat).

What religion believes in one God? ›

The three religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam readily fit the definition of monotheism, which is to worship one god while denying the existence of other gods. But, the relationship of the three religions is closer than that: They claim to worship the same god.

What are 5 basic beliefs of Judaism? ›

A summary of what Jews believe about God
  • God exists.
  • There is only one God.
  • There are no other gods.
  • God can't be subdivided into different persons (unlike the Christian view of God)
  • Jews should worship only the one God.
  • God is Transcendent: ...
  • God doesn't have a body. ...
  • God created the universe without help.
14 Sept 2009

Which is world's oldest religion? ›

The word Hindu is an exonym, and while Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit.

Who can be saved in Judaism? ›

In Judaism, salvation is open to all people and not limited to those of the Jewish faith; the only important consideration being that the people must observe and practise the ethical pattern of behaviour as summarised in the Ten Commandments.

Who are famous Jews? ›

10 Jewish Americans Who Changed History
  • Albert Einstein. Born in Wurttemberg, Germany in 1879 to a German Jewish family, Albert Einstein went on to become one of the world's most influential scientists. ...
  • Gloria Steinem. ...
  • Irving Berlin. ...
  • Jerry Lewis. ...
  • Elizabeth Taylor. ...
  • Mark Rothko. ...
  • Stan Lee. ...
  • Stephen Sondheim.
28 Apr 2022

How does Judaism affect people's lives? ›

Judaism marked the beginning of a revolutionary idea that laid the groundwork for social reform: humans have the ability and therefore the responsibility to stop injustices in the world. The Jews were the first to decide that it was their responsibility as the Chosen People to fight against inequality in the world.

What country did Judaism originate? ›

The origins of Judaism date back more than 3500 years. This religion is rooted in the ancient near eastern region of Canaan (which today constitutes Israel and the Palestinian territories). Judaism emerged from the beliefs and practices of the people known as “Israel”.

Where do most Jews live in the world? ›

  • United States (51%)
  • Israel (30%)
  • France (3%)
  • Canada (3%)
  • Russia (3%)
  • United Kingdom (2%)
  • Argentina (1%)
  • Germany (1%)

What makes Judaism different from other religions? ›

Development of Judaism. Jews were monotheists—they believed in and worshipped only one god. This stands out to historians because monotheism was relatively unique in the ancient world. Most ancient societies were polytheistic—they believed in and worshiped multiple gods.

What are the seven elements of Judaism? ›

In describing the Jewish religion, Steinberg goes on to say that it is made up of no less than seven strands: doctrine, ethics, rites and customs, laws, a sacred literature, institutions, and the people Israel.

What is Christianity's spiritual leader? ›

Jesus, religious leader revered in Christianity, one of the world's major religions.

What is the role of prophets in Judaism? ›

Known as the literary prophets because they wrote down their prophecies, they were chosen by God at a time of social and political crisis in the community. Their task was to warn, criticize the morals and ethics of their day, and counsel and comfort the Israelite people.

Who made a covenant with God and is considered the father of Judaism? ›

Abraham is given a high position of respect in three major world faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In Judaism, he is the founding father of the covenant, the special relationship between the Jewish people and God – leading to the belief that the Jews are the chosen people of God.

What are the 4 pillars of Judaism? ›

  • 1.6.1 People are born with both a tendency to do good and to do evil.
  • 1.6.2 Reward and punishment.
  • 1.6.3 Israel chosen for a purpose.
  • 1.6.4 The messiah.

What are the qualities of a good spiritual leader? ›

10 Characteristics of a Spiritual Leader
  • Committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. ...
  • Growing in his walk with Christ. ...
  • Of Proven Character. ...
  • Humble. ...
  • Has a solid understanding of God's word. ...
  • Has a genuine love for people. ...
  • Has a godly marriage and family. ...
  • Commitment to the local church.
8 May 2017

How do you honor your spiritual leaders? ›

4 Ways to Honor Church Leaders (Session 1 – 2 Samuel 1:22-27; 2:1...
  1. Support them. “The elders who are good leaders are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. ...
  2. Love them. ...
  3. Pray for them. ...
  4. Follow them.
28 May 2018

What does God want in a leader? ›

To God, being a Christian leader is first and foremost about being in an active and fruitful relationship with God Himself. God does not need “business” of any kind. He does not need money, power, popularity, a big building, or anything else that the “business” of Church can provide. God loves people.

Who is the greatest prophet in Judaism? ›

Rabbinic tradition
  • Abraham – Hebrew patriarch according to the Bible.
  • Isaac – Biblical patriarch.
  • Jacob – Regarded as a Patriarch of the Israelites, later given the name Israel.
  • Moses – Abrahamic prophet said to have led the Israelites out of Egypt.

Who founded Judaism? ›

According to the text, God first revealed himself to a Hebrew man named Abraham, who became known as the founder of Judaism. Jews believe that God made a special covenant with Abraham and that he and his descendants were chosen people who would create a great nation.

Who was the greatest prophet of Israel? ›

The Talmud claims that he was the greatest prophet of his generation.
Venerated inJudaism Christianity Islam
Major shrineSafed, Israel
FeastOctober 17 (Orthodox Christianity)
3 more rows

Who is the mother of all religions? ›

The speech of Vivekananda went on to bridge the gap between India and America as Swamiji went on to promote Hinduism as the 'mother of religions' and one that has taught the world-- tolerance.

What language did Abraham speak? ›

This compound Jegarshahaduthla is Aramaic.


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