Jewish Ways

Reading the Haggadah on Shabbat Hagadol

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, April 11, 2014

Preparation is key to having a meaningful Seder (and to many other things too. If you keep Shabbat, you don’t start preparing for it ten minutes before candle-lighting time).

Consequently, there is an old custom to the Great Shabbat, to reacquaint ourselves with the ideas and practices of the Seder (Rama, Orach Chaim 430:1).


Storing in a geniza

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, April 6, 2014

Genizot, storage rooms for holy books and objects (lignoz, in Hebrew, means to hide or put away, are particularly busy in the days before Pesach, when people want to clear out their homes. 

The Sages thought it inconceivable that we would simply throw away a holy book or object when it no longer filled its purpose.


Burning chametz

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 31, 2014

The custom today is to make a bonfire of your leftover chametz on the morning before Pesach. This is based on a biblical commandment to “remove leaven from your houses”. The Talmud states that “removing leaven” according to the Torah is simply declaring all your chametz null and void (Pesachim 4b). The sages add to this the command of biur, the physical destruction of, chametz.


Kissing the mezuzah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 23, 2014

Many people touch the mezuzah and kiss it when they pass through door. The source of this practice is a story in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 11a) about the famous convert and biblical translator Onkelos. His uncle, the Roman emperor, peeved by Onkeles’s conversion, sent three different delegations of soldiers to return his nephew to Rome. But each time, Onkelos converted them to Judaism.


Giving charity instead of food on Purim

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 14, 2014

Recently, people have started sending cards on Purim saying, “I’m making a donation to this charity in your name instead of mishloach manot”, (the gifts of food parcels to friends that are among the mitzvot of Purim).


The Fast of Esther

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 9, 2014

When Esther decides to try to prevent the massacre of the Jewish people, she charges Mordecai to assemble all the Jews and fast on her behalf for three days. According to the Talmud, Esther’s original three-day fast was over Pesach. Pesach, however, isn’t a good time to hold a fast, for obvious reasons. Instead most Jewish communities instituted a one-day fast right before Purim.


Sweet versus plain challah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 2, 2014

Sweet challah is such an inseparable part of our Shabbat meals that it is hard to believe Jews are divided about whether we can recite hamotzi (the bread blessing) on it.

The halachah states that bread must be something you can eat with your meal. If it is too sweet, you could not eat it with savoury foods.


Waiting before eating meat after hard cheese

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 23, 2014

It is well known that Jews who keep kosher wait after eating meat before eating milk (for one, three or six hours, depending on custom), because the meat can leave an aftertaste or get stuck between your teeth. Less well-known is the chumrah, stringency, that many have of waiting up to six hours after eating hard cheese before eating meat for the same reasons (Rama, Yoreh De’ah, 89:2.).


Reading the Megillah in a leap year

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 16, 2014

If this were not a leap year, then today, the 14th of Adar I would be Purim. In a leap year, however, an extra month of Adar is inserted so as to align the lunar calendar of Judaism with the solar calendar of the seasons(Otherwise, Jewish holidays would move around the year, instead of staying anchored in their accustomed times.)


Stopping saying Kaddish

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 7, 2014

The Ashkenazi custom is to stop saying Kaddish for a close family member 11 months after their death. Although the period of mourning is a year, there is a tradition that judgment for the righteous takes 11 months, whereas for the guilty it lasts a year (Talmud Rosh Hashanah 17a). We want to give our relatives the benefit of any doubt and so stop after 11 months.