Jewish Ways

Facing East in Prayer

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 8, 2012

"My heart is in the east (mizrach) and I am at the end of the west." So lamented Yehuda Halevi, the greatest medieval Jewish poet.

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Cutting a boy's hair

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 1, 2012

The custom waiting to cut a boy's hair until he is three and having a party to celebrate - upshirin in Yiddish or halakeh in Arabic - symbolises the end of infancy and the start of doing mitzvot. The rabbis see three as the age when a child's parents should introduce him to the world of Torah.

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Checking eggs for blood

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 23, 2012

Although we rarely find blood spots in eggs from supermarkets today, the custom to check every egg is still entrenched in observant Ashkenazi homes.

The Talmud (Chullin 64b) prohibits eating an egg with a blood spot if it might have been fertilised. But most chickens in industrial farms never see a rooster. Any blood spots in their eggs are from tissue irregularities.

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Throwing bread at hamotzi

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 16, 2012

Years ago I found myself at a Shabbat table in Jerusalem where the challah was actually thrown to the guests around the table. I was shocked. Since when were adults allowed to throw food? 

Rabbi Yosef Karo author of the Shulchan Aruch explicitly forbids hurling bread. However, he also says that one should not place it directly into another's hands, for that is how one treats mourners.

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Learning bekiyut and iyun

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 9, 2012

What makes a great sage?  Breadth or depth? Loads of knowledge or penetrating insight? In the words of the Talmud, "What is preferable?  Sinai or oker harim?" Sinai means a scholar with an encyclopedic mind, as though he/she had been present at the giving of the Torah.

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Tu bishvat seder

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 2, 2012

Tu Bishvat, the New Year for trees, has implications for when to give tithes and other agricultural offerings but otherwise the day was not very widely noticed.

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Gelilah: rolling the sefer

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 26, 2012

After hagbah, the one who lifted the Torah sits down with it and the someone else steps forward to do gelilah. This involves rolling the two ends of the Torah scroll together to meet in the middle, then dressing the Torah in its velvet robes and silver breastplate, bells and pointer.   

Gelilah has a reputation as a second-class mitzvah, though this is thoroughly undeserved.

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Hagbah: Lifting the Sefer

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 19, 2012

Hagbah is one of the most dramatic and potentially heart-stopping moments in the synagogue service. After the Torah reading, the heavy scrolls are raised high in the air for all to see.

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Sanctifying the moon

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 12, 2012

Sanctifying the new moon, Kiddush Levanah, is a prayer recited once every month sometime during its first half - ideally at the conclusion of Shabbat. You should be able to actually see most of the moon. People go outside and bless God for "creating the Heavens… setting for them laws and times...

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Fast of silence

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 29, 2011

A "speech fast" (ta'anit dibbur) is one of the more radical tools in the arsenal of self-improvement developed by Jewish pietists over the centuries. Words, the medium that most express our divine uniqueness, are so easily devalued. Empty chatter is everywhere, but real conversation is rare.

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