Jewish Ways

The seven fruits of Israel

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 29, 2015

Seven iconic fruits are listed by Deuteronomy as emblematic of the Land of Israel: "A land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olives trees and (date) honey" (8:8). They are indigenous to Israel and suit the climate and ecology.


Anim zemirot

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 22, 2015

A young boy, usually pre-barmitzvah, leads the congregation in singing this song of praise and yearning for God. The fruit of 13th-century Ashkenazi pietists, it is also known as Shir Hakovod, Song of Glory.

Although, we can never really know God, this lyrical poem boldly attempts to describe and praise God: "I will recount Your Glory, though I have not seen You.


What you say after sneezing

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 15, 2015

Saying something reassuring when you (or someone else) sneezes is an old Jewish custom, though of course other people do it too.

A famous midrash on Parashat Vayechi says that Jacob was the first person to become sick before he died. Previously people would sneeze and immediately expire.


Blessing your host

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 8, 2015

According to Talmudic etiquette, the host says the hamotzi blessing and breaks bread, then at the end of the meal asks one of the guests to lead the Birkat Hamazon or Grace (Berachot 46a).


Praying quietly

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, January 1, 2015

VWhen the synagogue falls quiet and we say the silent Amidah prayer, we are not to let others hear our voices. The Talmud learns this from the bible story of Hannah. When she prayed for a child, “only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard” (I Samuel, 1:13). The Talmud infers from this verse from this, “one’s lips should form the words . . .


Hydroponic plants and shmittah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 26, 2014

Shmittah, or letting the land lie fallow every seven years, extends to plant pots outdoors and exposed directly to the sun. We are forbidden to tend our fields during the seventh year. But what about hydroponic plants?


Saying al Hanisim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 18, 2014

The Tosefta (a supplement to the Mishnah) teaches that on Chanucah and Purim, we should mention "some of what happened" in the Amidah, during the "thanksgiving blessing". By this, the rabbis apparently meant a summary of the miraculous events of the festival.

By the eighth century, a text for this had developed with an introduction thanking God for redemption throughout the ages.


Spending Chanucah away

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 11, 2014

The home is the main place for the mitzvah of lighting Chanucah candles. Part of "publicising the miracle" is the sight of many homes with menorahs in their windows and doorways. But what if you are away? As long as someone is home to light candles, you're covered and there is no need to light your own candles.


Covering knives for grace

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 4, 2014

Some people have the custom to cover up knives during Birkat Hamazon, Grace after Meals. Commentators explain that just as it is forbidden to use metal tools to build an altar (Exodus 20:22), it is forbidden to have metal tools on the table while reciting Birkat Hamazon.

The Talmud compares a table to an altar (Chagiga 27a).


Blessing friends

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 27, 2014

When seeing a family member or beloved friend after at least a month's separation, we say the blessing Shehechiyanu. Even if you have been in touch by phone or otherwise, a face-to-face meeting still merits thanking God, "who has enabled us to reach this moment." A reunion after a year of absolutely no contact requires the blessing "who revives the dead".