Jewish Ways

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.


Saying shehechiyanu

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 1, 2011

Many people's favourite blessing, shehechiyanu, thanks God "who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment".

We say shehechiyanu on significant occasions like weddings and Jewish festivals but also on more private moments like wearing new clothes or getting a promotion at work.  Anything new and good in your life is legitimate grounds for a shehechiyanu.



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.