Author: Yossi Belz

How to choose a Tallit

Perhaps your son, grandson or nephew is getting Bar Mitzvah-ed? You’re getting married, or your daughter or granddaughter is and you want to know what to buy the groom? The Tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl is the fitting present in any of the above scenarios. In Sephardi circles boys over the age of Bar Mitzvah wear a Tallit. According to Ashkenazi custom, a man wears a Tallit after he gets married. There is also a custom to make a blessing over a new Tallit under the wedding canopy. What is the special message of the Tallit? The message of the Tallit essentially lies in its fringes on the four corners. These fringes are meant to remind the wearer of G-d and His commandments and his obligation to fulfill them. Moreover, according to Kabbalah, scholars of the Torah wear the Tallit over their heads as this signifies the light of the Torah that envelops them. Most of us are not Torah scholars but there are those with the custom of covering their head for the entire prayer. This act creates a special, private space for the wearer. The envelopment helps him to focus on personal connection with the Almighty. Some pointers for the Tallit buyer Traditionally, the Tallit is worn flowing down the back with two shoulders draped over the shoulders. Conservative and Reform Jews often prefer a smaller Tallit,...

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The practice of wearing the Tallit during morning prayers

It is the accepted practice that the Tallit, through which the commandment of wearing Tzitzit is fulfilled, is worn only during the morning prayers, also known as Shacharit. Why? In the book of Genesis, in the section called Lech Lecha a story is related regarding Abraham. Abraham (at the time of the story was called Abram, only later G-d added on the extension making his name Abraham) had rescued his nephew Lot and the king of Sedom from the hands of five other kings. The king of Sedom turns to Abraham in gratitude and offers Abraham spoils of war. Abraham is then quoted as saying, “I have raised my hands to Hashem, G-d the most High, Maker of heaven and earth. If so much as a thread or a shoe strap; or if I shall take from anything that is yours so you shall not say, “It is I who made Abraham rich” (Genesis 14:22, 23). Abraham had no problem in the previous verse accepting tithes from Avimelech the king of Shalem. Seemingly, there was something in the wickedness of the people of Sedom that Abraham realized that even the acceptance of a mere shoelace could ruin him. He did not want to be associated in any way whatsoever with the people of Sedom. The Talmud (Sotah 17a) informs us that as a reward for Abraham’s refusal to accept...

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Looking for a special gift for your loved one? Buy her a name necklace!

Am Segula Judaism emphasizes the uniqueness of the Jewish people, as those who took upon themselves the law of G-d.  In the book of Deuteronomy the phrase “Unique People” or “Am Segula” is coined with regard to the Jewish people and throughout the ages has been their self-defining label. What about Yechidei Segula? Fast-forward three-thousand plus years after the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people and one finds Jews living all over the world, in all kinds of cultures in a variety of streams of Judaism. The Jews of today live in a constantly changing, fast-paced world where individuality is becoming a major issue. People want to be different, unique and special in the technologically-orientated, often cold world we live in. People feel more of a need to express their individuality through clothing and accessories. People no longer want to only be part of an Am Segula-they want to be Yechidei Segula (Unique individuals) too. Name Necklaces In the eighties the name necklace burst onto the scene, originally boasting wealth. It became an acceptable fashion accessory after popular celebrities in the secular world were seen wearing them. People living a more conservative life were also attracted to the customized, one-of-a-kind jewelry. What makes the Name Necklace such an eye-catching gift? The fact that only the name-bearer can wear it! The necklaces are tasteful and personal. Furthermore, they...

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The Four Cups of Wine

On the first night of the festival of Pesach the Seder ceremony is held. In a similar fashion to the festival of Purim which takes place exactly a month before, wine plays an important role in the proceedings. However, whereas in the case of Purim wine is used to numb the senses, on Pesach it is used to heighten our awareness of the miraculous events that took place and to symbolize them. The First Cup The first cup of wine is used to recite Kiddush, that is, the sanctification of the festive day through the blessing and drinking of wine. In the Kiddush, the Jewish people thank G-d for making them holy as His chosen people and thereby enabling them to make the festive days holy. The Second Cup This cup is drunk after the fulfillment of the part of the Seder ceremony called Maggid. In Maggid, the participants of the Seder fulfill the commandment to relate the story of the exodus from Egypt. Psalms of thanksgiving are recited, ending in a request for the final redemption. After the blessing over G-d redeeming Israel the cup is drunk, leaning to one’s left side (it is an obligation to lean to the left while drinking the cups of wine on Seder night because this is an expression of freedom). The Third Cup The third cup is drunk following the recitation...

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Matzah

What is Matzah? Matzah is a cracker-like, unleavened bread made of white flour and water eaten by Jewish people on Passover instead of bread. It is pricked all over and is not given enough time to rise when baked. Indeed the time taken from the moment the flour touches the water until the Matzah enters the oven must not exceed eighteen minutes. The sages concluded that after eighteen minutes the dough ferments making the dough rise and ultimately forbidden to a Jewish person on the festival of Passover. Leavened products are forbidden on Passover and there is a positive commandment to eat Matzah on the first night of the festival of Passover which falls on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, during the spring. What does Matzah symbolize? A historical explanation for Matzah is linked to the fact the festival of Passover commemorates the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. As the Jewish people hastened to leave, the bread that they had prepared for the journey didn’t have time to rise, resulting in Matzah. Matzah is also regarded as “poor man’s bread”. Despite the fact that the first night of Passover is a remembrance of the redemption from Egypt, the Matzah symbolizes the fact that the Jewish people must never forget their suffering, how it felt to be the underdog. The act of eating Matzah essentially enhances one’s...

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