Jewish Ways

Baking bread without milk

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 21, 2013

It has long been a custom for Jews not to have bread made with milk. The reason is that you might forget. Half way through your two-day loaf, you might mistakenly use a couple of slices to make a salami sandwich. Bread, being a staple food, needs to be parev, able to be eaten with anything.


Sitting on low chairs on Tishah b'Av

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 12, 2013

On Tishah b’Av, we rearrange the furniture of the synagogue. The curtain hanging before the ark is removed, and people sit on low chairs and benches. Some sit on the floor. These are marks of mourning. As in the shivah period after a personal bereavement, sitting low down is an expression gesture of abasement and grief.


Seudah Shlishit

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 7, 2013

It’s important to eat three meals on Shabbat and the Talmud promises all kinds of spiritual rewards to those who do so (Shabbat 117b-118a). Seudah Shlishit,  the third meal, eaten on Shabbat in the late afternoon, tends to get short-changed, or even forgotten, particularly in the winter when Shabbat ends early.


Protecting people's privacy

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, June 30, 2013

There is a strong presumption in favour of privacy in Jewish law. One may not build a window directly opposite your neighbour’s house from which you can peep into his home (Talmud Baba Batra, 2b). Lengthy sections of tractate Baba Batra deal with hezek re’iyah, damage caused by a prying eye.


Not marrying in the Three Weeks

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, June 23, 2013

The upcoming fast of the 17th of Tammuz marks the beginning of three weeks of mourning culminating in the fast of the 9th of Av, in memory of the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem by the Babylonians and Romans.


Shorter form of the Amidah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, June 16, 2013

There is a short version of the weekday Amidah, which can be said when one is very pushed for time.


Oppressing someone with words

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, June 9, 2013

Reminding people of an embarrassing incident or of their chequered past, or even putting them in an awkward position by volunteering them for a favour or job that they do not want to or cannot do are examples of ona’at devarim, verbal oppression. It is rooted in the verse, “Do not oppress one another, but fear your God” (Leviticus 25:17).


Giving false impressions

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, June 2, 2013

Little deceptions such as inviting people to dinner when you know that they already have a previous engagement or pretending that you remembered someone’s birthday when you really didn’t are often thought to be harmless “white lies”. The Torah, however, forbids them under the category of gneivat da’at, literally “mind theft”.


Taking three steps back at Amidah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, May 26, 2013

Before the Amidah, the custom is take three steps back and then three steps forward. The idea is to step into a place of prayer, a different headspace that is more than a few inches distant from where you were, in which you know that you are standing before the Creator.


Writing 'with God's help' on letters

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, May 19, 2013

From personal letters to business cards to emails, one comes across the Hebrew letters bet-heh or bet- samech-daled in the upper-right corner. They stand for “with God’s help” in Hebrew and Aramaic, respectively b’ezrat Hashem, or biseyata d’Shmaya.