Jewish Ways

Prayer for the state of Israel

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 1, 2012

The prayer for the State of Israel is a focal point of the Shabbat morning service both in Israel and the diaspora.

In addition to praying for the welfare of the state and its leaders, the prayer contains the dramatic theological claim that Israel is “reishit tzmichat ge’ulateinu”, “the beginning of the flowering of our redemption.” 

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Covering eyes to say the Shema

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 25, 2012

Even before they can speak full sentences, many Jewish toddlers know to put a hand over their eyes during the recitation of the Shema. It is the best known hand gesture in Jewish prayer.

According to tradition, Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi was the first to cover his eyes while saying Shema (Talmud Berachot 13b). The Shulchan Aruch codifies it as standard practice. 

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Rosh Chodesh

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 18, 2012

The start of every month, Rosh Chodesh, is a minor festival. As Numbers 10:10 declares: “And on your joyous occasions — your fixed festivals and new moon days — you shall sound the trumpets.”

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Public reading of the Torah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 11, 2012

Every Shabbat we read one parashah from the 54 of the Torah beginning today with Shabbat Bereshit. (Sometimes we double up, reading two parashiyot at a time). We finish up the entire cycle by the end of each Succot.

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Chatan Torah and Chatan Bereshit

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 10, 2012

It is an ancient tradition for the Chatan Torah and Chatan Bereshit (the bridegrooms of the law), who are called up for the last and first aliyot of the annual Torah reading cycle, to give a kiddush. The earlier custom was to provide a whole feast and to do it on Simchat Torah. Now it is generally done on Shabbat Bereshit.

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Not working on Chol Hamo'ed

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 27, 2012

Succot lasts seven days. But only the first day is a Yomtov (or the first two days in the diaspora) and carries the prohibition against doing any labour, with the exception of cooking and carrying. The subsequent five or six days are Chol Hamo’ed —the everyday days of the festival.

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The Synagogue Sermon

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 20, 2012

The sermons in shul over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are usually the longest and hopefully the most inspiring of the year. Week in, week out, however we are used to regular derashot, and, based on the amount of post-match analysis that the rabbi’s sermon receives, you would think that this is the most important part of the service.

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Checking mezuzot before Rosh Hashanah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 13, 2012

Having a scribe (sofer) inspect the parchment of the mezuzah before Rosh Hashanah is a common custom (even though, according to most rabbis, mezuzot need checking only once every three and half years).

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Sending Rosh Hashanah Cards

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 7, 2012

Sending Rosh Hashanah cards is a much-loved custom that crosses religious-secular lines. The first cards that we know of were sent in 14th century Germany. The custom really took off in Eastern Europe and the United States with the development of the postage stamp there around 1860-70.

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Aufruf

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 30, 2012

Aufruf, meaning “calling up” in Yiddish, is the custom of calling a bridegroom (chatan) up to the Torah on the Shabbat before his wedding. After he has finished the blessings, people shout “Mazeltov” and throw sweets. Children rush to gather armfuls of them. Often the bride has a Shabbat Kallah at the same time, which is an informal send-off by her friends into married life.

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