Jewish Ways

The ban on tattoos

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, May 3, 2012

My sister-in-law recently posted on Facebook a picture of woman's arm bearing a black Jewish star surrounded by fire.


Not eating meat with fish

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, April 26, 2012

One of the lesser-known donts of Jewish law is not to eat meat and fish together. Religious people will avoid eating them at the same time, but will have them at the same meal, though usually with a break between them.


Saying "Half Hallel" on the last days of Pesach

April 11, 2012

On the last days of Pesach, we recite only half of Hallel (Psalms 113-8), even though we are celebrating awesome miracles - the splitting of the Red Sea and the end of Egyptian tyranny over Israel.

Why this subdued commemoration of such a liberating event? The Babylonian describes the angels as bursting out in song after the splitting of the Red Sea (Megillah 10b). God, however, rebukes them


Searching for the afikoman

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 29, 2012

Where do kids get off stealing the afikoman and then demanding a gift for its return? The Talmud (Pesachim 109a) recommends taking away the matzot to keep the children awake. Later commentators suggest allowing children to hide the afikoman and giving them presents as a way to keep them involved in the Seder until the very end.


Lighting shabbat candles

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 15, 2012

The mitzvah to light Shabbat candles derives from the Talmud: Rabbi Yehuda says, "Lighting a candle for Shabbat is not optional and is way of honouring the Shabbat" (Shabbat 25b).

Before electricity, Shabbat candles ensured that there would be some light in the house during the Shabbat and that no one would sit in darkness.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.