Jewish Ways

Havdalah before Tishah B'av

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 23, 2015

When and how do we make havdalah when Shabbat is the eve of the fast of Tishah b'Av as it is this year? After all, we cannot drink the wine as Tishah b'Av has already started. There are three main opinions. (I am indebted for this analysis to Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon.) One opinion is that of the Geonim (cited by Tosafot); havdalah is said on Sunday night at the end of Tishah b'Av.


Spilling wine at Havdalah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 16, 2015

There is a common custom to fill the havdalah cup with wine all the way to the brim for the ceremony marking the end of Shabbat, so that a little spills and overflows when you pick up the cup. The symbolism of the custom is that we wish for a week with an overflowing abundance of blessing.


Thirty days of mourning

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 9, 2015

When Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook recently posted a heartbreakingly moving piece about her husband who had suddenly died, she noted that she was writing to mark the end of the traditional Jewish 30-day mourning period, the shloshim. In so doing she probably increased by tenfold the number of people who had ever heard of this concept.


Turning at Lecha Dodi

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 2, 2015

There are places in the siddur where one feels that the actions and stage directions instructed once encoded greater drama than we can currently muster. An example is the climax of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayers on Friday evening when we sing the great liturgical poem Lecha Dodi by the 16th-century kabbalist, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz.


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?


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.


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.


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).


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.


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".