Jewish Ways

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".


Saying barechu

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 20, 2014

Communal prayer begins with the chazan's exclaiming "Barechu et Adonai Hamevorach", "Bless God, the Blessed". Before that, the morning prayer opens with blessings and praises that may be said by an individual and do not need a minyan.


Saying baruch shem k'vod

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 13, 2014

The first paragraph of Shema, one of Judaism's two central prayers, consists of verses from Deuteronomy chapter 6. Except that after the first line, Shema Yisrael, another line is interpolated, "Baruch shem k'vod" that does not appear in the Bible.

According to the Talmud, Jacob feared that his children might have strayed, spiritually (Pesachim 56a).


Finding a mistake in a sefer

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 6, 2014

It's one of those dramatic shul moments. The reader is sailing along with the Torah leyning on Shabbat morning, when suddenly he stops mid-verse. He squints at the Torah scroll, frowns and calls over the rabbi.

The rabbi bends over to examine the scroll and signals that it should be rolled up, put back in the ark and another scroll brought out for the rest of the reading.


Blessing over a meal

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 30, 2014

Many people who are not in the habit of saying berachot before and after eating during the week will make kiddush and hamotzi on Friday night.


Praying in English

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 23, 2014

The sages were sympathetic to those who did not understand Hebrew. They list prayers that may be said in another language: Shema, Grace after Meals and the Amidah. Most rabbis rule that if absolutely necessary, people may recite everything in their own language.

That does not mean that we needn't bother with Hebrew.