Jewish Ways

Repetition of the amidah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 2, 2014

Is the job of the chazan to pray with the community or for them? This is an argument in the final mishnah of tractate Rosh Hashanah. The rabbis say the chazan does not discharge the obligation to pray for a person who knows how to read.


Praying according to your nusach

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 23, 2014

Nusach means "version" and refers to the wording and style of prayer. Sephardi and Ashkenazi nusachim subdivide into groups such as Iraqi, Syrian, Italian, and even English.

Rabbi Isaac Luria (the 16th-century kabbalist) taught that the nusachim reflected different ways of reaching God and were all needed.


Finding a place for prayer

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 18, 2014

The Talmud teaches: "Whoever designates a permanent place [makom kavua] for his prayer, the God of Abraham assists him."

The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish law) recommends having a regular synagogue and a makom kavua there.

Abraham is the model for someone who prayed repeatedly in the same place.


Learning for its own sake

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 11, 2014

In Ethics of the Fathers, Rabbi Meir declares, "Whoever occupies himself with Torah for its own sake (lishmah) merits many things" (Pirkei Avot 6:1). Lishmah means for "her (or its) name or purpose".


Writing a mezuzah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 4, 2014

We read in the Shema, "you shall write them on the doorposts of your house" (Deuteronomy 6:9). This refers to a mezuzah, the rolled-up scroll of parchment on which are written the first two paragraphs of the Shema.


Shaving off your beard

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 1, 2014

The Torah prohibits the “destruction” of one’s beard (Leviticus 19:27). The Rambam explains this prohibition as shunning the ways of idolatry. Indeed, the Yiddish word for priest, goloch, derives from the Hebrew for shaven. The Christian priests’ smooth face was their distinguishing trait.


Criticising someone

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 28, 2014

Criticising others is easy and, for many enjoyable. So it may be a pleasant surprise to learn that there is a mitzvah to rebuke wrongdoers (Leviticus 19:17).


Judges must not be afraid to administer justice

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 18, 2014

When the Torah describes the mitzvah of establishing a court system in the Land of Israel and appointing judges, it adds, “You shall not fear any person”. Judges must decide on the basis of the facts and evidence and not to succumb to fears and threats of intimidation from the accused.


Jewish Valentine's Day

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 7, 2014

Tu B'Av, the fifteenth day of the month of Av, is a sort of Jewish Valentine's Day. The Talmud describes it as, together with Yom Kippur, the most joyful day in the Jewish calendar - a provocative pairing (Ta'anit 30b). On Tu b'Av the maidens of Israel went out to the fields to dance and find a match.


Yahrzeit candles

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 31, 2014

Lighting a memorial candle for departed loved ones on the Hebrew anniversary of their deaths is a very widespread Jewish practice. However, the way we do it might be missing the point.

The Rosh, Rabbeinu Asher, wrote in the14th century that it is good to donate candles and oil lamps to the synagogue for use on Yom Kippur, "to atone for one's mother and father".