Jewish Ways

Learning for its own sake

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 11, 2014

In Ethics of the Fathers, Rabbi Meir declares, "Whoever occupies himself with Torah for its own sake (lishmah) merits many things" (Pirkei Avot 6:1). Lishmah means for "her (or its) name or purpose".

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Writing a mezuzah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 4, 2014

We read in the Shema, "you shall write them on the doorposts of your house" (Deuteronomy 6:9). This refers to a mezuzah, the rolled-up scroll of parchment on which are written the first two paragraphs of the Shema.

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Shaving off your beard

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 1, 2014

The Torah prohibits the “destruction” of one’s beard (Leviticus 19:27). The Rambam explains this prohibition as shunning the ways of idolatry. Indeed, the Yiddish word for priest, goloch, derives from the Hebrew for shaven. The Christian priests’ smooth face was their distinguishing trait.

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Criticising someone

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 28, 2014

Criticising others is easy and, for many enjoyable. So it may be a pleasant surprise to learn that there is a mitzvah to rebuke wrongdoers (Leviticus 19:17).

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Judges must not be afraid to administer justice

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 18, 2014

When the Torah describes the mitzvah of establishing a court system in the Land of Israel and appointing judges, it adds, “You shall not fear any person”. Judges must decide on the basis of the facts and evidence and not to succumb to fears and threats of intimidation from the accused.

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Jewish Valentine's Day

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 7, 2014

Tu B'Av, the fifteenth day of the month of Av, is a sort of Jewish Valentine's Day. The Talmud describes it as, together with Yom Kippur, the most joyful day in the Jewish calendar - a provocative pairing (Ta'anit 30b). On Tu b'Av the maidens of Israel went out to the fields to dance and find a match.

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Yahrzeit candles

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 31, 2014

Lighting a memorial candle for departed loved ones on the Hebrew anniversary of their deaths is a very widespread Jewish practice. However, the way we do it might be missing the point.

The Rosh, Rabbeinu Asher, wrote in the14th century that it is good to donate candles and oil lamps to the synagogue for use on Yom Kippur, "to atone for one's mother and father".

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Mezuzahs on bomb shelters

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 24, 2014

Millions of Israelis are spending much of their time in bomb shelters these days. Do these rooms in basements and underground require a mezuzah?

We are commanded to inscribe the words of the Torah "on the doorposts of your house and on your gates". From here, the sages learn that a mezuzah is only for a space that is fit for dwelling.

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Running to do mitzvot

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 20, 2014

If you have a chance to do a mitzvah, do it right now! Not after a cup of tea and the football's finished. Who knows, maybe you will get distracted, or something else will come up or the opportunity to do something good will slip away and the moment be lost. We can always find excuses and persuasive reasons to procrastinate and do it later. This is an insistent refrain in Jewish sources.

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Reciting psalms

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 10, 2014

The book of Psalms contains 150 poems covering the whole range of religious experience from joy and exultation to sadness and brokenness, from praise to perplexity, from longing for God's presence to grief at his absence, and more.

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