Jewish Ways

Asking God for intelligence

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, June 25, 2015

The 13 middle blessings of the Amidah begin with a request for wisdom: "Grant us from Yourself knowledge, understanding and perception."

Why did the rabbis choose the provocative phrase of "grant us from Yourself"? What do knowledge, understanding and perception - references to multiple forms of intelligence - from God look like?

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Breaks in torah reading

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, June 19, 2015

Calling up at least seven people to the Torah (or more if there's a barmitzvah, aufruf, etc) is a custom that goes back to the Talmud. However, the traditions of where exactly we make those breaks are much more recent.

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Standing for Kiddush

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, June 11, 2015

Some people stand during kiddush and some sit. Some stand for Friday night kiddush and sit for Shabbat lunch. Sometimes there is a moment of confusion and of awkward standing up and sitting down when you are a guest at someone's house and don't know their custom.

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Supervised milk

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, June 4, 2015

Only milk from kosher animals, for example cows, sheep and goats, is kosher. Milk from non-kosher animals such as pigs or camels is not kosher. All milk looks the same and in former times it was the custom of farmers to mix milk from different animals. The rabbis, therefore decided that milk from a non-Jewish farmer is not kosher, unless a Jew observes the milking (Talmud Avodah Zarah 35b).

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Mezinka wedding dance

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, May 28, 2015

With the Jewish wedding season moving into high gear, you might be fortunate to witness the rare and picturesque Mezinka dance. This is a dance done at Ashkenazi weddings when a youngest child is married off, after all of the elder siblings are already married.

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Reciting Akdamut on Shavuot

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, May 21, 2015

On Shavuot in most Ashkenazi communities, before the congregation reads Exodus 19 -20, the story of the giving of the Torah, we recite an Aramaic poem called Akdamut or "Prologues".

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Men wearing wedding rings

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, May 14, 2015

Should Jewish men wear wedding rings? There is currently some controversy about this. Opponents say that since it is not part of the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony for the man to receive a ring, wearing one after the wedding is gratuitously adopting a non-Jewish custom.

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Using a yad for the Torah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, May 7, 2015

You may remember that when you read publicly from the Torah for your bar/batmitzvah, one follows the words on the scroll using a long, silver, ornate, pointing hand called a yad. So far as I can tell, the source for this custom is the Talmud ( Megillah 32a), which forbids touching the bare Torah with our hands.

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The Hebrew Calendar

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, April 30, 2015

If you ask the average Jew what year it is, she would probably say, "2015" rather than "5775". Most Jews think of time in terms of the Gregorian rather than Jewish calendar. Is this a problem? It might seem so. The first commandment Israel received as a nation was to sanctify the new month (Exodus 12:2), to mark time according to the lunar cycle.

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Hallel on Yom ha'atzmaut

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, April 23, 2015

What is the religious meaning of the foundation of Israel in 1948? Was God's hand at work in the victory of the small Jewish yishuv, vastly outnumbered by Arab numbers? Can such spiritual meaning be affirmed even though the founders were mostly secular and even as Israel remains imperfect?

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