See Hebrew Literature.


Tribe of Ethiopian Jews living in separate small villages west of Lake Taana. Although during the past hundred years Christian missionaries have succeeded in converting tens of thousands of Falashas, almost 20,000 remained true to their faith. By 1993, most had been brought to Israel through a special rescue operation. Their absorption into Israeli society was hindered by their differing Jewish customs.


The family unit is central to the Jewish religion and life. In biblical times, extended families lived together within a tribal structure, and polygamy was practiced. In post-biblical times, polygamy disappeared for the most part and was forbidden in Europe around the year 1000 (See Gerhsom, Rabbenu). Among both European and Sephardic Jews in Israel and elsewhere the tradition of extended families living in the same community and maintaining strong ties has continued to this day. In the U.S., however, because of the general trend of young adults relocating due to career opportunities, the extended family structure has broken down, negatively impacting Jewish continuity. The synagogue, especially through the havurah movement since the 1970’s, has had a certain measure of success in addressing this problem.


See Agriculture.


Fasting has always been a part of the profound process of soul purification for Jews. Purity of thought and action were considered the key to happiness in both this world and the next. According to Jewish belief, God keeps a strict accounting of each person’s deeds, and in accordance with this record, He metes out justice. If one wishes to ward off divine punishment, he must repent of his sins and cleanse himself of them. When he repents, he first recognizes his transgressions and confesses them to God. This may be done at all times, but is especially auspicious during the Ten Days of Awe and Repentance following the New Year. Therefore the prayers of these days include long confessions of sin and pleading for forgiveness, chanted by the congregation in unison.

In addition to confession and repentance, man must actively atone, or make up, for his misdeeds. The chief way of atoning is the fast, in which man “torments his flesh” and begs forgiveness. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the chief fast day when observant Jews abstain from food and drink for 24 hours. Pious Jews, however, observe additional fast days. Mondays and Thursdays are favored for this purpose, since they are the days when the Torah is read in the synagogue. Any other day may be chosen for fasting, with the exception of Sabbath and holidays, when fasting is forbidden. When a fast day falls on a Sabbath its observance is postponed until the next day, except in the case of Yom Kippur, which takes precedence over the Sabbath.

In addition to the fasts of purification and atonement, there are a series of fast days that are associated with mournful events in Jewish history, especially with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Since it is believed that these catastrophes were punishments for the sins of Israel, such fast days are occasions for repentance as well as mourning. They are marked by fasting and the recitation of special prayers and lamentations. Their sadness, however, is tempered by faith that the Messiah was born on the day the Temple was destroyed, and will one day come to redeem the people of Israel from the misery of the exile that began with the Destruction.

The most mournful of these fast days, and the “blackest day in the Jewish calendar,” is Tisha b’Av, or the Ninth of Av. Tisha b’Av is the anniversary of the destruction of both Temples: the First by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E., the Second by Titus in 70 C.E. The fast lasts from sundown of the eighth of Av to sunset the next day. During the morning hours until noon, both work and study are forbidden. The Book of Lamentations, the Prophet Jeremiah‘s outpouring of grief at the destruction of the First Temple, is chanted. Many kinnot, or lamentations, of later origin are also read. Some of these recall other calamities which befell Jews on this day, such as the massacres of whole Jewish communities during the Crusades.

Three other fasts are observed in commemoration of events connected with the destruction of the Temple. The 17th of Tammuz marks the day on which the enemy broke through the walls of Jerusalem and entered the city. The three-week interval between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha b’Av are observed as weeks of mourning. The Fast of Gedaliah, on the third day of Tishri, commemorates the assassination of Gedaliah, the governor of Judea in the days that followed the destruction of the First Temple. After Gedaliah’s murder, the last vestiges of self-government were taken from the Jews. The 10th of Tevet was the day on which Nebuchadnezzar began the siege of Jerusalem. These three fast days are observed from sunrise to sunset, rather than from sundown of the preceding day to sunset of that day itself.

FAST, HOWARD (1914-2003).

American author. A very prolific historical novelist, his best-selling books often touched upon the idea of the struggle for freedom including My Glorious Brothers (about the Maccabees) and a biography of Haym Salomon. Other well know works include Citizen Tom PaineFreedom Road and Spartacus. He also wrote detective novels under the pen-name, E. V. Cunningham.

Fast, was a strong advocate of communism, and his activities caused him to spend a few months in Federal prison for failing to cooperate with Congress. His novels were blacklisted by mainstream publishers.  In 1956, disillusioned  by truth of Stalin’s brutality  and growing anti-antisemitism in the Soviet Union, he publicly broke with the Communist party. After that, some of his earlier books gain renewed popularity.


See Judaism, Conservative.


Hebrew writer in Russia, whose novel Le’an (Whither) dramatized the hopelessness of Jewish life in eastern Europe at the time, thus presaging Zionism.


U.S. Democratic Senator from California since 1992. She served as mayor of San Francisco and became known as a moderate liberal who, while supporting pro-choice and environmental protection, was nevertheless a hard-liner on crime and supported curbs on illegal immigration.

FEINSTEIN, MOSHE (1895-1986).

The leading Orthodox rabbinical authority of his time, whose rulings on Jewish law were accepted worldwide. He headed the Tiferes Yerushalayim yeshiva in New York for many years. His decisions were published in a multi-volume collection titled Igros Moshe (Moshe’s Letters).


American rabbi and founder of the Jewish Publication Society and the American Jewish Historical Society.

FERBER, EDNA (1887-1968).

American writer whose book Showboat became a classic American musical and film. She wrote about the diversity of American life in books like Giant and Ice Palace.


German-born novelist and dramatist, famous for his book The Jew S


Term used by the Nazis to describe their secret plan to murder Jews in Europe.


(1895-1991). American scholar and rabbi who served as chancellor of the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary. He was an expert on the post-biblical Mishnaic period.


European republic between Sweden and the former Soviet Union. In a population of 5 million, there are about 1,200 Jews, living mostly in Helsinki. Jews settled there under Swedish rule in the 18th century. After Finland became Russian territory in 1809, the only Jews permitted to settle were ex-servicemen and their families. There was never severe persecution as in Russia proper, but Jews suffered many restrictions. After the Finns gained independence in 1917, they granted the Jews full equality. All the Jews of Viipuri, which was annexed by Russia in the war of 1939-40, moved to Finnish territory. Finland was the only part of Europe under Nazi domination from 1941 to 1944 where Jews did not suffer from persecution. Most Finnish Jews are engaged in commerce and trade. Their small numbers and distance from other Jewish communities made a full Jewish life difficult.


See Shavuot.


See Pidyon Ha-ben.

FISCHER, BOBBY (1943- ).

In 1972, he became the first American to win the chess world championship. A grandmaster at age 15, he is considered one of the greatest chess players of all time.


The word “flag” is mentioned many times in the Bible. Each tribe had its own standard, though there is no description of the design or color. No information is available about Jewish flags during the First or Second Commonwealth. Not until the 16th century did a specific Jewish flag appear. In 1524, Pope Clement VI received a mysterious visitor in Rome. He was David Reubeni, who claimed to be a forerunner of the Messiah. He brought with him a white flag, embroidered with silver and golden letters.

In modern times, Theodor Herzl, founder of political Zionism, suggested in the book The Jewish State (1895) that the Zionist organization adopt a flag showing seven gold stars against a white background. The white was to signify new and pure life, the seven stars the seven-hour workday. Instead, the Zionist movement chose a white flag with two horizontal stripes of blue and a blue Star of David in the center, inspired by the traditional prayer shawl. By a special act of the government, on November 12, 1948, this flag became the official standard of the new state.


With close to 700,000 Jews, Florida has become the state with the third largest Jewish population in the U.S., after New York and California. The first Jew associated with Florida was Moses Levy who in 1819 sought to settle Jews there. His son David Yulee was the first Jew elected to the U.S. Congress. The first Jewish community was organized in Jacksonville in 1850, and the first synagogue was founded in Pensacola in 1875. Before the Civil War there were few Jews in Florida, but as Miami began to develop as a winter resort, a steady increase of Jewish population began. Today, there are major Jewish communities in Miami (145,000), Fort Lauderdale (174,000) Boca Raton-Delray (84,000), Hollywood (63,000), and Palm Beach (63,000). These communities support a large number of temples and synagogues, mostly Reform and Conservative, Jewish community centers, and charitable Jewish organizations.