Jewish Ways

Putting on tefillin before barmitzvah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 27, 2012

Along with a new suit and all the other accoutrements for a barmitzvah boy is a pair of tefillin: two small black boxes holding parchments with biblical verses. According to halachah, the barmitzvah boy is expected to wear these on his left arm near his heart and on his upper forehead every weekday morning for the rest of his life as a reminder of his relationship to God.

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Nittal Nach, Christmas Eve

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 24, 2012

Nittel Nacht, or “birth night”, is Yiddish for Christmas Eve . From around the late 16th century, many Jews in Europe observed this night, principally by not learning Torah. With many of the locals running wild in the streets on Christmas Eve, it was not safe for Jews to be out, and most Jews did not have any books at home.

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Marrying under a chupah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 13, 2012

Jewish weddings have been done under a canopy or chupah since biblical times. Psalms 19:6 describes the rising sun as being like a “bridegroom merging from his chupah”.

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Salting Bread

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 6, 2012

At every Shabbat meal, we bless the challah and salt it before giving it to our family and guests. This custom harks back to the Temple rite. The Torah commands us, “With all your offerings, you must offer salt” (Leviticus 2:13).

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Teaching children to swim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 30, 2012

Teaching kids to swim is, naturally, good idea and there might not seem to be anything particularly Jewish about it. However, when the Talmud states what parents should teach their children, the list comprises Torah, making an honest livelihood and how to swim (Kiddushin 29a) . Later on, the Gemara states that swimming is “life”, meaning a child’s life may depend on it.

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Wearing a kippah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 29, 2012

The kippah (or koppel/yarmulke in Yiddish) is the most obvious outward sign of Jewishness. Unlike Christians, who bear their heads as an expression of respect, Jews cover theirs.

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Blessing over thunder and lightning

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 15, 2012

There are blessings that we say when we hear certain things (good news, bad news) and blessings said on seeing certain sights (eg a wise person, a powerful ruler or a rainbow).

Most common among them are probably the blessings for hearing thunder and seeing lightning. On hearing thunder, we say shekocho ugevurato maleh olam, “His strength and might fills the world”. 

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Welcoming guests

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 8, 2012

Taking care of guests, hachnasat orchim, has been a big Jewish value ever since Abraham. Ore’ach means guest in Hebrew and comes from the Aramaic word orach, “way”.

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Prayer for the state of Israel

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 1, 2012

The prayer for the State of Israel is a focal point of the Shabbat morning service both in Israel and the diaspora.

In addition to praying for the welfare of the state and its leaders, the prayer contains the dramatic theological claim that Israel is “reishit tzmichat ge’ulateinu”, “the beginning of the flowering of our redemption.” 

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Covering eyes to say the Shema

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 25, 2012

Even before they can speak full sentences, many Jewish toddlers know to put a hand over their eyes during the recitation of the Shema. It is the best known hand gesture in Jewish prayer.

According to tradition, Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi was the first to cover his eyes while saying Shema (Talmud Berachot 13b). The Shulchan Aruch codifies it as standard practice. 

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