Jewish Ways

Reading the Torah in public

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 10, 2013

Public Torah reading is the centrepiece of the Shabbat synagogue service. Most scholars claim that this practice was instituted by Ezra the Scribe when the people returned from exile in Babylon to re-establish the people’s connection to Torah. (See Nechemiah chapter 8 for the account of the first public Torah reading after the return.)

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Reading the Haftarah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 4, 2013

The haftarah reading from the Prophets is a staple of synagogue on Shabbat morning and festivals. Some say this originated in the run-up to the Maccabean revolt when Antiochus Epiphanes forbade Torah readings. The Jews found a loophole and turned to readings from the Prophets instead. When the decree ended, the custom endured.

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Bensching when full

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 27, 2013

“You shall eat and be satisfied and give thanks to the Lord,” says the Torah (Deuteronomy 8:10). From here the Talmud learns that you must feel satiated or full in order to say to say birkat hamazon, Grace after Meals (Berachot 49b). If you have eaten less than your fill, you still need to say grace, but the obligation is on a rabbinic level.

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Saying Elohai Neshamah in the morning

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 20, 2013

The prayer Elohai Neshamah, whose first line in English reads, “My God, the soul that you breathed into me is pure” is one of the first things we say after rising in the morning. 

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Not greeting mourners at a shivah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 13, 2013

It is a big mitzvah to comfort the bereaved, for example by visiting mourners at the shivah house. It is normal to feel awkward around death and not to know what to say. The Jewish laws of mourning are carefully crafted to allow mourning and ultimately healing to happen, but sometimes they can be followed in a way that has the opposite effect.  

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Reciting Hallel on Rosh Chodesh

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 6, 2013

The start of a new month is a joyful time in Judaism. The Torah speaks of Rosh Chodesh together with the major holidays: “And on your joyous occasions, your fixed festivals and new moon days…” (Numbers, 10:10).

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Eating in a succah on Shemini Atzeret

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 25, 2013

The eighth day of Succot, Shemini Atzeret, is its own festival. Outside Israel, it has to share the stage with the extra day of Succot added on for diaspora Jews to avoid doubt about the proper date of the holiday. This is the only time in the Jewish year when two festivals overlap. How do we observe both holidays without compromising the integrity of either one?

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Reading Kohelet on Succot

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 18, 2013

Why do we read Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), a book that flirts with the idea that life is futile and proclaims, “utter vanity, all is vanity” (1:2), on Succot, which is supposed to be a joyful holiday?

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Yizkor

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 13, 2013

Yizkor, a prayer in which we remember parents who have died, is said before the mussaf service in shul on Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, the last day of Pesach and Shavuot.

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Why we have two days Rosh Hashanah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 4, 2013

Rosh Hashanah is the one festival about which Israelis cannot say that they have it easier than the diaspora with only one day of Yomtov. Rosh Hashanah here is two days, like all the Yomtovim in the diaspora.
(OK, there’s Yom Kippur, but two days of Yom Kippur was always a non-starter due to the potential dangers of fasting for 49 hours.)
 

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