Jewish Ways

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.


Tu bishvat seder

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 2, 2012

Tu Bishvat, the New Year for trees, has implications for when to give tithes and other agricultural offerings but otherwise the day was not very widely noticed.


Gelilah: rolling the sefer

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 26, 2012

After hagbah, the one who lifted the Torah sits down with it and the someone else steps forward to do gelilah. This involves rolling the two ends of the Torah scroll together to meet in the middle, then dressing the Torah in its velvet robes and silver breastplate, bells and pointer.   

Gelilah has a reputation as a second-class mitzvah, though this is thoroughly undeserved.


Hagbah: Lifting the Sefer

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 19, 2012

Hagbah is one of the most dramatic and potentially heart-stopping moments in the synagogue service. After the Torah reading, the heavy scrolls are raised high in the air for all to see.


Sanctifying the moon

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 12, 2012

Sanctifying the new moon, Kiddush Levanah, is a prayer recited once every month sometime during its first half - ideally at the conclusion of Shabbat. You should be able to actually see most of the moon. People go outside and bless God for "creating the Heavens… setting for them laws and times...


Fast of silence

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 29, 2011

A "speech fast" (ta'anit dibbur) is one of the more radical tools in the arsenal of self-improvement developed by Jewish pietists over the centuries. Words, the medium that most express our divine uniqueness, are so easily devalued. Empty chatter is everywhere, but real conversation is rare.


Lighting candles outside

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 22, 2011

In Jerusalem, most people light their Chanucah lamps outside their front doors or at the entrance to apartment buildings. They place them in pretty glass-fronted boxes, which allow the lights to be seen from the road, while protecting them from wind and rain. 

Halachic sources teach that we should, preferably, light outside the front door on the left.


Spinning the dreidel

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 15, 2011

Dreidel is a four-sided top used to play a children's gambling game on Chanucah. Each side is inscribed with one of the letters nun, heh, gimmel, shin, standing for nes gadol hayah sham, "there was a great miracle there". In Israel shin for sham is replaced by peh for poh, meaning here - the miracle was "here". 

This is how you play.


Bensching with wine

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 8, 2011

Many people have the custom of saying grace after meals on Shabbat while holding a full cup of wine in their right hand. At the end of bensching, they say the blessing on wine and drink. Some sources say that one should do this after every meal. The predominant view is that while it is a good thing to bensch, with a cup of wine, it is not necessary.