Jewish Ways

Public fasts

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 11, 2013

The Rambam teaches that leaders of the community call a public fast (ta’anit tzibbur) in times of crisis or to mark a tragic event in Jewish history (Hilchot Ta’anit, 1:1-2).The goal is repentance. Fasting not only removes the distraction of food but reminds us that we should always be dedicated to a higher purpose than simply our physical needs.

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Using oil for the Chanucah lights

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 1, 2013

The ideal way to light Chanucah candles is using olive oil and cotton wicks. Olive oil makes a bright, clear flame. For this reason and also because the priests used olive oil to light the menorah in the Temple, olive oil is best.

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Chanucah presents

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 24, 2013

Chanucah presents, while getting a major modern era boost from the popularity of Christmas presents, have roots in Jewish tradition. Baghdadi Jews used their children cakes and gifts on Chanucah. The giving of money (in Yiddish, gelt) is a European custom that goes back centuries.

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Making misheberachs

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 17, 2013

During and after the Shabbat Torah reading is the time for misheberachs. These are blessings for those who have been called to the Torah (and their wives, children extended families etc) and also for anyone else who might need a blessing — the community, the sick, IDF soldiers, bar- and batmitzvah children, to name just a few.

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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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