Test Questions on Judaism

General Advice

Sample questions with answers

General Advice

There are three types of question, generally corresponding to (a), (b) and (c).  It is really important to understand what sort of answer each type of question expects.  You should now know your stuff - here is where you can show the examiner this!

(a)  Knowledge and Understanding (examples from 1999 paper) [8 marks]

Notice the terms describe how and explain why.  You need to know what Jews believe and practice, and the reasons or symbolism that make them important.

(b)    Application [7 marks]

In section (b), you have to explain how Jewish beliefs and practices affect their daily lives.  This is where you have to 'think Jewish'.   You have to imagine the effects of the Torah, the Jewish community, Jewish customs and celebrations, Jewish history etc. on Jewish life.  It may be appropriate to mention some of the difficulties that arise, but really this section could be called the "How Judaism changed my life!" section.  You should explain how being Jewish gives extra meaning, purpose and value to someone's life.

(c)     Evaluation   [5 marks]

Do you agree?  Give reasons to support your answer and show that you have thought about different points of view.  You must refer to Judaism in your answer.  

The question is misleading - it always asks 'do you agree?', but however well you back up your answer, just giving your own opinion will only get a couple of marks.  It should say: 'Discuss all of the issues raised by this comment, making your own opinion clear.'   Imagine you were back in school, and the question came up in class.  Everyone would have different things to say about it, giving their own reasons to support their views.  Try to write down everyone's responses, organising them as carefully as possible, but do make clear what YOU think.  You could do this in a summary at the end.

Sample questions with answers:


Brit Milah

(a) (i) What happens at Brit Milah?

    (ii) Explain the meaning of this ceremony.    [8]

(b) Why are ceremonies like Brit Milah important for Jews?    [7]

(c) 'Ceremonies like Brit Milah are out of date.'

Do you agree?  Give reasons to support your answer and show that you have thought about different points of view.  You must refer to Judaism in your answer.  [5]

Have a go at answering this question, then look at the information below.  Try to answer the question again, but show that you have a wider knowledge and deeper understanding.

(a) (i) What happens at Brit Milah?
Brit Milah is usually carried out in the home, hospital or synagogue, and takes place early on on the eighth day of a Jewish boy's life, even if this is Shabbat or Yom Kippur. The boy is carried in by the kvatter and kvatterin (like godparents): this is usually a married couple, chosen in advance to bear the child to circumcision. The kvatterin takes the child from his mother and carries him on a cushion into the room where the men are gathered. The kvatter then takes the baby to the mohel, a man with medical and religious training who will perform the circumcision on behalf of the father. The child is placed on the Chair of Elijah, before ending up on the lap of the Sandek (the spiritual mentor of the child) where the circumcision takes place. 

The foreskin of the boys penis is removed, to be buried later, and the father recites a blessing acknowledging his son's entry into the covenant:
"Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the Universe, who sanctified us with his Mitzvah and commanded us to enter my son into the covenant of Abraham."
Those present, usually a minyan of at least ten men, respond with a prayer:
"As he has been entered into the covenant may he come to study the Torah, enter into a marriage worthy of thy blessing and live a life of good deeds."
The mohel will say a kiddush (blessing):
"Blessed are you Lord our God, king of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine."
Wine is drunk and a few drops are put on the lips of the boy. He is given his Hebrew name and then returned to his mother for feeding. 

After the ceremony a meal is eaten - Seudat Mitzvah (feast of the fulfilment of a commandment).

(a) (ii) Explain the meaning of this ceremony.
This ancient ceremony dates back to Abraham, who was commanded by God to circumcise every male (Genesis 12:9-11 "...every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be the sign of the covenant between me and you.") Circumcision is a sign of the covenant between Abraham and God, which was later re-established with the entire Jewish people.

The ceremony happens in the home to show the importance of family in bringing up an observant Jewish child, and is held early to show eagerness to fulfil the Mitzvah. 

Elijah constantly reminded the Jews to obey God's commandments, particularly regarding circumcision, and it is believed that the spirit of Elijah attends every circumcision to testify to God of the commitment of the Jewish people throughout the ages in obeying this mitzvah. Also, one day the messiah will come, and will be welcomed in by sitting in Elijah's Chair. 

Circumcision is an external symbol of the relationship with God. Brit Milah allows Jews to celebrate the entry of a baby into God's chosen race.

The foreskin is seen as a reminder of the disobedience of Adam and Eve, when they covered their nakedness in the Garden of Eden. The foreskin is a barrier between the baby and God, and the baby becomes 'religiously' clean as the foreskin is removed.

The circumcision takes place on the Sandek's lap as a reminder of the temple altar in Jerusalem. 

The child is given a Hebrew name which has special religious significance, just as Abram was renamed Abraham after his circumcision.

The baby is also welcomed into a Jewish family and the Jewish community, and this joyous occasion is symbolised in the wine and meal.

(b) Why are ceremonies like Brit Milah important for Jews?
Brit Milah is an opportunity to celebrate the birth of a child, showing gratitude to God. It is also a chance for the parents and wider Jewish community to show their commitment to bringing up the child as a faithful Jew. It is appropriate that the sign of Israel's loyalty throughout generations should be shown by a ceremony focussing on the part of the body that creates future generations.

Through Brit Milah Jews show their obedience to God's commandments and their acceptance of his sovereignty. They also reaffirm the role of Jews in making a better world: God created an imperfect world, needing man's co-operation to perfect it, just as circumcision perfects the man's body by removing the useless foreskin.

By performing ceremonies like Brit Milah, Jews link with other Jews through space and time. Martyrs died for it (1 Maccabees), and a moving story tells of one lady who borowed a knife from a Nazi soldier in the Holocaust to circumcise her son, saying to God "You have given me a child, I give you back a Jewish child". This shows how Brit Milah establishes the Jewish identity. In the second century, Hadrian forbade circumcision hoping it would destroy Judaism. However, by faithfully following the Brit Milah ceremony, Jews ensure that the religion will always survive.

(c) 'Ceremonies like Brit Milah are out of date.'
Orthodox Jews would disagree - the rules laid down in the Torah and passed on in the Oral Torah (Talmud) are from God and are therefore timeless - they cannot go out of date. Reform Jews might argue that the way ceremonies happen can change as only God's moral laws are eternal.

Judaism has always changed the way it conducts ceremonies, with different cultures affecting the way the ceremonies are conducted. The important thing is the symbolism behind the circumcision. Modern evidence shows that circumcision puts the child at risk and is a painful experience that can leave the boy psychologically scarred. It also leaves him open to bullying at school. The ceremony needs to be changed to involve women, especially the mother, who can also be hurt by giving up her child to be scarred without even being in the room. The central themes - remembering God, following his moral instructions, linking with the Jewish community and strengthening the family - can all happen without taking a knife to a baby boy. There is also the issue of Human Rights (circumcision is a form of child abuse), and choice. If the boy wants to be circumcised he can choose for himself when he's older.

However, Brit Milah is such an important ceremony, taking precedent even over Yom Kippur, that it must be faithfully observed. Without being circumcised, a boy will not feel Jewish. The Torah clearly commands circumcision, and it has been carried out on Jewsih boys for the last 3500 years, even in the most difficult of circumstances. It gives Jews unity, identity and a strong bond with Jews throughout the world and throughout history. Elijah the prophet repeatedly reminded Jews in the strongest terms of the importance to show their commitment and obedience to God through circumcision. Evidence conflicts as to whether circumcision really does cause damage - many think it has positive health benefits, although this isn't the important issue. Although being circumcised doesn't make you Jewish, it marks the entry into the covenant, and is a reminder throughout life of who you are as a Jew. 95% of Jewish men would consent to circumcision, so there is a form of retrospective consent - circumcision is performed because that is what the boy would probably choose later in life.


(a)    Describe how and why Jews celebrate Sukkot.

This question was taken from the 1998 exam paper, Q5.  There are 8 marks available, but you won't need to include all of the information given below.  Try the question on your own first, then visit the revision pages and read the information below before having your second attempt.  Remember to say both HOW (what they do) and WHY (meaning and symbolism behind what they do).

"In booths you are to dwell for seven days ...so that your generations will know that I caused the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them from the land of Egypt...." Leviticus 23:42

On Sukkot, Jews remember the 40 years their ancestors spent in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites lived in temporary shelters, showing their faith that God would protect them. To remember this, Jews build sukkot which they live in for seven days. [Orthodox Jews outside Israel - 8 days] A sukkah is a dwelling with a roof made of leaves. The sukkah always has a hole in the roof so that those inside can see the stars. This reminds them of when their ancestors only had the stars to guide them.

Some Jews only eat their meals in the sukkah, especially in countries where the weather is bad. It is not enough just to build the Sukkah, as the commandment is to live in a sukkah.

Sukkot is the third pilgrimage festival - meaning that, in Temple times, Jews would travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate these festivals and offer sacrifices. They also represent harvest festivals, thanking God for providing for Jews. Sukkot celebrates the fruit harvest. For this reason, Jews hang fruit from the ceilings of the sukkah. It is a joyous festival, and the sukkah is often decorated with colourful pictures drawn by children to show the historical stories behind the festival.

Celebrating Sukkot links Jewish families and communities with other Jews around the world, as well as with their ancestors. Sukkot is also know as 'The Season of Our Rejoicing'. During this joyous time, Jews are expected to show hospitality towards one another, including inviting a visitor to the meals in the Sukkah.

At the synagogue service on every day during Sukkot, except on Shabbat, the arba'at haminim (Four Species) will be bound together, following the commandment in Leviticus 23:40. They are (i) etrog - citron, (ii) lulav - palm, (iii) hadassim - myrtle, (iv) aravot - willow. The citron has both taste and aroma, representing the Jew who is both observant and has studied the Torah. The lulav produces dates that have taste, but has no aroma and represents the Jew who has studied the Torah but does not keep the mitzvot (commandments). The hadassim has fragrance but no taste, representing the Jew who does good deeds, but has not studied the Torah. The aravot has no aroma or taste, representing the Jew who is both ignorant and selfish. These four species are bound together to represent the unity of the Jewish community. Those who study the Torah and keep the mitzvot make amends (atone) for the Jews who do neither. This means that even the non-observant Jews have a role to play - they are the means by which the other Jews are elevated.

The Four Species are waved in every direction, remembering Jews around the world and showing that God is omnipresent (present everywhere). The Species also remind Jews of the joy and happiness of the harvest that God has provided, and they pray that God will continue to look after them by providing rain. Sukkot marks the beginning of the rainy season, and Jews pray for rain on every day of the festival (except Shabbat).