Jewish Ways

Adon Olam

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 5, 2015

Shabbat morning prayers end with singing Adon Olam, by far the most well-known liturgical poem (piyut). It dates back to the 13th century, part of the golden age of medieval Hebrew poetry.

Adon Olam is about God's eternal existence, Creation, and trusting God in times of trouble.


Making a noise on Purim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 26, 2015

On Purim there is a comprehensive breakdown of decorum in shul, the most blatant expression of which is the outbreak of noise-making whenever Haman's name is uttered during the Megillah reading.


Writing a megillah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 19, 2015

Megillat Esther is read on Purim from a handwritten parchment scroll. It is better to read from a scroll, but ok to read it from a book if a scroll is unavailable.

Traditionally, trainee sofrim, scribes, cut their teeth by first writing a Megillat Esther. Esther is known as the "easiest" biblical book to write (though there's nothing easy about being a scribe).


Psalm of the Day

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 19, 2015

The Levites were the master singers of the Temple. They sang psalms and played music to accompany the divine service. Every morning and afternoon, during the wine libation of the daily tamid offering, the Levites sang a specific psalm depending on the day of the week. Each daily psalm, Shir shel Yom, contains a reference to that day of Creation.


Shabbat siren

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 5, 2015

If you have ever spent Shabbat in Jerusalem, you will have heard the siren sound 40 minutes before sunset announcing the imminent onset of Shabbat. The city streets begin to fall quiet. This continues a very old tradition dating back to the Temple.


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 . . .