Jews of Algeria - Religion and Expressive Culture

Yet another result of the emancipation and Westernization of Algerian Jews can be found in religious practices. When families Frenchified their way of life, they tended to relinquish religious observance. The observance of Sabbath prescriptions and dietary laws were the first to be affected by this process. Some nonkosher food items are now tolerated in the daily diet, although they will never be included in a festive meal such as the Sabbath dinner or other ritual-table reunions. Although religious practice has decreased since the mid-twentieth century, some major rituals—such as Yom Kippur—and the great festivals of the Hebrew New Year, the Passover seder, and most rituals of the life cycle continue to be observed. These rituals have resisted the erosion of secularization because they have always required well-attended family reunions. The family is what perpetuates major rituals, and it is strengthened through the celebration of these convivial kin gatherings. One of the most dramatic of family ritual reunions is the wedding celebration. The Middle Eastern characteristic still alive in the celebration is the ceremony of the Henna, named for the vegetal substance that is spread on the hands of the spouses and of their single siblings. The Henna is celebrated a few days before the religious ceremony in the synagogue, which is structured according to the canonic rule of Hebrew law. By contrast, the Henna is not a religious ritual. It is a traditional and popular celebration that includes a banquet of traditional North African delicacies, Middle Eastern folk music, and the exchange of gifts and jewelry between the bride and the groom.

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