Jewish Ways

Checking mezuzot before Rosh Hashanah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 13, 2012

Having a scribe (sofer) inspect the parchment of the mezuzah before Rosh Hashanah is a common custom (even though, according to most rabbis, mezuzot need checking only once every three and half years).

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Sending Rosh Hashanah Cards

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 7, 2012

Sending Rosh Hashanah cards is a much-loved custom that crosses religious-secular lines. The first cards that we know of were sent in 14th century Germany. The custom really took off in Eastern Europe and the United States with the development of the postage stamp there around 1860-70.

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Aufruf

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 30, 2012

Aufruf, meaning “calling up” in Yiddish, is the custom of calling a bridegroom (chatan) up to the Torah on the Shabbat before his wedding. After he has finished the blessings, people shout “Mazeltov” and throw sweets. Children rush to gather armfuls of them. Often the bride has a Shabbat Kallah at the same time, which is an informal send-off by her friends into married life.

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Wishes for a safe journey

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 23, 2012

To someone beginning a journey we say, “Leich l’shalom”, “Go toward peace”. The Talmud finds biblical endorsement for this phrase: Jethro told Moses “Leich l’shalom” when Moses set off for Egypt. And we all know that his trip was a success.

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Praying in a community

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 21, 2012

Judaism places great value in communal prayer or tefillah b’tzibbur. The rabbis quote many biblical verses to show that praying as a group is more powerful than praying alone.

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Shabbat Nachamu

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 6, 2012

The Shabbat after Tishah b’Av is called Shabbat Nachamu, meaning the Shabbat of comfort. It is named after the first words of the haftarah from Isaiah 40, “Comfort, comfort my people”. 

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Singing about Elijah at the end of Shabbat

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 27, 2012

After reciting havdalah at the end of Shabbat, many people sing “Eliyahu Hanavi”, a song about the prophet Elijah and our hope that he may arrive soon to herald of the coming of the Messiah. (As Malachi prophesies, in the haftarah read before Pesach, Elijah will be sent before the “great and awesome day of the Lord”.)

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Blessings over Torah study

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 20, 2012

Torah every morning: “Who has commanded us to engage in the words of Torah”, “Make the words of the Torah sweet in our mouths,” “Blessed are You, Lord, Giver of the Torah.” 

These berachot are a combination of acknowledgment of the mitzvah of Torah study, prayer to make our learning inspiring and thankfulness to God for giving us the Torah.

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Pidyon Haben

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 12, 2012

About one in 10 Jewish families will need to pidyon haben, when their first baby boy is 31 days old. The qualification is that you need to have a son, delivered naturally (not by caesarian) who is the firstborn of a mother who did not previously have a miscarriage. Neither parent must be the child of a Cohen or a Levi.

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Kissing the Torah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 6, 2012

In Judaism, kisses are not just for people. They are also for mitzvah objects. Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, the 17th-century scholar, records the custom of kissing the matzah at the Seder and the walls of the succah on Succot for the sake of chibuv hamitzvah, affection for the mitzvah.

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