Jewish Ways

Blessing hagomel

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 24, 2011

You say this blessing out loud in shul if you have emerged from any one of four potentially threatening events, a dangerous journey, a sea voyage, illness (even if not life threatening) and imprisonment.


Blessing on a rainbow

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 17, 2011

There are blessings for all sorts of occasions. On seeing a rainbow in the sky you say, "Blessed are you God, King of the Universe, who remembers the covenant, is faithful to the covenant, and keeps his word" (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 229:1).


Pilgrimage to Jerusalem

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 10, 2011

Aliyah l'regel, literally ascent on foot, was a central practice of Judaism almost from its origins. The Bible declares, "Three times a year shall all of your males appear before the Lord your God". On Pesach, Shavuot and Succot, many thousands of familes (and not just males) would go up to celebrate the holidays in Jerusalem.


Blessing over a good wine

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 3, 2011

If a different wine is brought to the table that is better than the one you had been drinking until that point, then one says a special berachah, hatov v'hameitiv, meaning, "The one who is good and does good". You also say this on hearing certain kinds of good news.

Say that on Friday night everyone has some kiddush wine. Then, during the meal, you crack open a bottle of something else.


Separating the Challah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 27, 2011

In Temple times, one of the priestly gifts was a bit of dough separated before baking, called hafrashat challah.We still symbolically observe this commandment, and if your dough is big enough - more than 1.3 kilos - you remove a small amount of dough, make the blessing and burn it.


Dancing on Simchat Torah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 19, 2011

Processing seven times around the synagogue and dancing with the Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah is a surprisingly recent custom. It emerged in the Middle Ages. Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the great 16th-century Polish halachic authority, wrote "in our lands we have this custom", implying that others did not.


Welcoming the ushpizin into the succah

October 11, 2011

Every night of Succot we welcome into the succah one of the Ushpizin, the seven mystical visitors. They are Abraham (the fist night's visitor), Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David.

Ushpizin means guest in Aramaic. Each night a prayer is said to welcome the appropriate guest.


Eating before Yom Kippur

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 6, 2011

It is a mitzvah to eat and to have a big meal (at least one) before Yom Kippur, according to the Shulchan Aruch. Big yes, but heavy, no; we do not want to arrive at shul for Kol Nidre feeling over-full, complacent or arrogant.

It is good to get home early and to break off other activities, even Torah learning, to do this.  One reason for the mitzvah is to fill up for the fast.


Visiting cemeteries

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 27, 2011

Many people have the custom to visit the graves of their parents before Rosh Hashanah.

The origin of this practice is in Talmud (Ta'anit, 16a), which teaches that on communal fast days of repentance and reflection,people used to go and pray in cemeteries.


Annulling vows

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 22, 2011

Kol Nidre, the prayer we say on Yom Kippur eve pleading for release from vows, is very famous. Hatarat nedarim, the halachically effective process for annulling such vows, which many Jews perform just before Rosh Hashanah, is much less so.

Here is how it is done.