Jewish Ways

Bedikat chametz

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, April 14, 2011

The culmination of days of frenzied pre-Pesach cleaning is bedikat chametz. After days or weeks of sweeping, searching and scouring, designed to remove anything that looks or tastes like bread or other leavened food from our homes, bedikat chametz is the final check.

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Brit Milah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, April 7, 2011

Brit milah is one of the central mitzvot of Judaism, taking place when the baby is eight days old, if he is healthy, or as soon as possible thereafter if not. A brit is delayed whenever there is the slightest risk to the baby's health (Jaundice is the commonest reason for postponement).

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Havdalah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 31, 2011

Havdalah marks the end of Shabbat. It is a beautiful ritual. We make blessings over a cup of wine, a plaited candle whose flames flare up like a torch, and a box filled with spices.

There is something to stimulate each of the sentences. (Touch you ask? The warmth of the flame. Hearing? The sound of the blessings and verses.)

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l'maaseh b'bigdo erev shabbat

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 24, 2011

It is a Jewish practice to turn out your pockets on Friday afternoon before Shabbat and make sure that there is nothing there that is not Shabbesdik, not suitable to have around on Shabbat. The Talmud (Shabbat 12a) describes this as hilcheta rabati, a very important halachah of Shabbat.

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Hitchapsut

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 16, 2011

Dressing up in costumes and masks is one of the best known Purim practices. In the days leading up the holiday, the streets of Jerusalem fill with children attired as Queen Esther, long-sidelocked Chasidim, IDF generals and Justin Bieber. Interestingly the custom is relatively recent. It is thought that dressing up on Purim originated among Italian Jews of the 15th century.

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Mishloach Manot

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 10, 2011

Giving mishloach manot is one of the central mitzvot of Purim. Everyone should send at least one parcel containing at least two items of ready-to-eat food. The source for this is in Megillat Esther itself, which says that Purim should be observed by "sending gifts of food, each person to his friend" (9:22). The reason is to strengthen the bonds of love and friendship between us.

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Berachot

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 3, 2011

Berachot are the Jewish way of saying thank you to the Source of all. From when we open our eyes in the morning to when we close them at night, on every drop of water we drink, on fragrant smells, rainbows as well as on most mitzvot we do. In an average day an observant Jew will say around 100. 

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Zimun

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 17, 2011

When three men or three women have a meal, they should say birkat hamazon, grace after meals together. This togetherness is forged by the experience of sharing a meal, and is sealed by the zimun, the invitation to bentsh collectively. One person says "rabotai nevarech", or in some circles, "rabosai, vir willen bentshen", or possibly even "guys let's bentsh", which is the direct English translation. Then the others present answer, confirming their wish to bless together.

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Hafsakah bein betziah l'netilah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 10, 2011

One is not meant to talk between netilat yadaim, washing hands, and breaking bread. This can be a strange and even intimidating custom for the uninitiated. After washing, the table falls silent, and insouciant attempts at communication before hamotzi may be met with grunts or gesticulations.

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Bizyon ochlim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 3, 2011

A special and distinctively Jewish facet of table manners is not to abuse food. We should not treat food in a way that is likely to lead to it getting gross or disgusting. So, the Shulchan Aruch teaches (Orach Chayim 171:1), don't put a slab of raw meat on a slice of bread; don't pass a container of liquid over bread if spillage would mess up the bread; and don't sit on a basket of figs or dates - though it's ok to sit on a basket of raw lentils or beans as they will not thereby be injured.

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