Jewish Ways

Searching for the afikoman

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 29, 2012

Where do kids get off stealing the afikoman and then demanding a gift for its return? The Talmud (Pesachim 109a) recommends taking away the matzot to keep the children awake. Later commentators suggest allowing children to hide the afikoman and giving them presents as a way to keep them involved in the Seder until the very end.


Lighting shabbat candles

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 15, 2012

The mitzvah to light Shabbat candles derives from the Talmud: Rabbi Yehuda says, "Lighting a candle for Shabbat is not optional and is way of honouring the Shabbat" (Shabbat 25b).

Before electricity, Shabbat candles ensured that there would be some light in the house during the Shabbat and that no one would sit in darkness.


Facing East in Prayer

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 8, 2012

"My heart is in the east (mizrach) and I am at the end of the west." So lamented Yehuda Halevi, the greatest medieval Jewish poet.


Cutting a boy's hair

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 1, 2012

The custom waiting to cut a boy's hair until he is three and having a party to celebrate - upshirin in Yiddish or halakeh in Arabic - symbolises the end of infancy and the start of doing mitzvot. The rabbis see three as the age when a child's parents should introduce him to the world of Torah.


Checking eggs for blood

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 23, 2012

Although we rarely find blood spots in eggs from supermarkets today, the custom to check every egg is still entrenched in observant Ashkenazi homes.

The Talmud (Chullin 64b) prohibits eating an egg with a blood spot if it might have been fertilised. But most chickens in industrial farms never see a rooster. Any blood spots in their eggs are from tissue irregularities.


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.