Jewish Ways

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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Devarim hanohagim b'seudah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 27, 2011

Judaism believes in good table manners. The Shulchan Aruch devotes 12 lengthy sections to customs about behaviour at meal times.

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Sichah bateilah b'beit haknesset

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 20, 2011

Who defines Jewish ways - what Jews do, or what the books say that Jews should do? Around no issue is the gulf between these two greater than over question of talking in shul. This has been a battleground between rabbis and regular Jews for centuries. As much as rabbis inveigh against speaking in synagogue, Jews do. We are talkative people.

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Masa v'matan

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 13, 2011

After fixing time for Torah study, the classic halachic codes say that you should go to work. To quote the Shulchan Aruch, "Afterwards, he should go to his business, because all Torah study that is not combined with work will eventually be negated and lead to sin, for poverty takes a person away from knowledge of his Creator" (Orach Chaim 156:1). There is no mitzvah to be poor. For most people, a balanced and sustainable spiritual life includes working in the world. 

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Keviat Etim L'Torah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 6, 2011

Torah study is important in Judaism. Judaism tells us how important more by describing the way in which it needs to be a regular part of our lives than by expanding on the spiritual and metaphysical benefits of Torah study (though it certainly does that, too).

The halachah is that we should each fix regular times for Torah study, morning and evening; whether times short or long; whether in a class or with a learning partner or alone; whether studying Talmud or halachah or Jewish thought.

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Kriat Shema

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 29, 2010

Shema is the first prayer that a child learns and the last that a Jew says before he dies. The mitzvah is to say it twice, morning and evening every day, in between. Shema encompasses the most fundamental beliefs of Judaism. The first paragraph speaks of God's unity, loving God, learning Torah and passing on Judaism to our children; the second discusses reward for good actions, and the opposite for bad ones and the third is about remembering the Exodus from Egypt and the mitzvah of tzitzit.

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Giving charity before prayer

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 22, 2010

The Talmud asks rhetorically, "How is God different from a human ruler?" and answers that if you bring a gift to a human ruler, he may or may not deign to receive you. But if you give money to a poor person you will see the face of the Shechinah, the divine presence, as it says in Psalms 17:19, "I ,in righteousness shall see Your face." An act of righteousness is the best possible preparation for prayer. The face of God may be revealed, so to speak, when you honour the face of a needy person.

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Tefillin

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 16, 2010

The next mitzvah performed by Jewish men after donning tzitzit is putting on tefillin. (May women? That would take more I have room for in this column.)

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