Category Archives: Laws and Customs

Could the silk tallet make a comeback?

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Tallet corner with the arms of the da Costa family

Historically the tallet was most commonly made of wool or linen, and to this day in many orthodox Ashkenazi and Eastern Sephardi communities, wool remains the fabric of choice, mainly due to an opinion that only these two materials fulfill the original Torah command (others being only a rabbinical addition).

However, in Western Sephardi and Italian communities with access to the silk route luxuriant, lightweight silk tallets became the tradition, as a way of honouring and beautifying the mitzvah.

These silk tallets were often personalized for their owners with elaborately decorated squares at each corner, emphasizing the four fringes.

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Auspicious foods for the New Year (“Simanim”)

pommegranOn Rosh HaShana we stand, as it were, before the Heavenly Court, while each of our past actions, words, and thoughts are scrutinized and our future decided. To help ourselves focus on the implications of the day, one widespread custom is to eat “auspicious” foods – “Simanim” – symbolizing the propitious year with which we pray to be blessed.

Simanim literally means “signs”, and though sometimes translated as “omens” I think that gives a very misleading impression of what they are to most people who observe them. Continue reading

Apple Jam for a Sweet Year

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This is not any old apple jam, this is “Marabba” – one of the culinary treasures of the Jews of Baghdad. Originally invented for New Year use as an alternative to the Ashkenazi custom of apple in honey, due to a kabbalistic aversion to using honey, Marabba is sinfully sweet and absolutely delicious. The amber-coloured pieces of apple are soft and succulent. It merits special mention in the writings of Rabbi Yoseph Haim (“Ben Ish Hai”) and has become an essential feature of many people’s New Year’s Eve meal.   Continue reading

The seven circuits

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Judaism has many rituals to help transition the body and soul of the deceased, and no doubt also to help the living come to terms with their loss.

In the Sephardi world one of the important places where these rituals took place was the “House of the Circuits” (Casa de Rodeos or Rodeamentos). This building served the same purpose as the House of Tahara in Ashkenazi cemeteries, and was where the ritual washing of the body was performed. In the Sephardi tradition, after the body has been purified, the burial service starts with the men present walking seven times around the body. Continue reading

Never Again

Candles_0Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) in Israel. The date was chosen because of it’s position between the Anniversary of the Waraw Ghetto Uprising and Israel Independence Day, and indeed in Hebrew the full name of the day is Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laGvura (Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day). There is a clear “angle” here, but then different points of view are fine as long as we recognise them as such.  Continue reading

Voo-Jew?

schlissel challasA little-known Chassidic custom has been gaining momentum. For the last few years I’ve been finding two opposing kinds of posts on my Facebook wall just days after the end of Pesach.

Some of them proudly show photographs of a home made challah in the shape of a key (with an accompanying wish to friends for “prosperity”); while others include derisory memes berating the “Christian or pagan” custom of “Schlissel Challah” as yet another “segulah” that cheapens God into a sort of “vending machine for superstitious people”.

So what is it really? Continue reading

Roasted or boiled?

eggIn the early seventies there was a marvelous British TV advert by the Egg Marketing Board. It involved a lodger who comes down for breakfast to a harridan of a landlady who asks him sourly, “How do you want your eggs, fried or boiled?

He drifts off into a fantasy of eggs cooked in all sorts of delicious, exotic ways, asking himself in his mind: “or scrambled?, or poached?, or en cocotte…?” Responding to her from within his fantasy, he says out loud: “Eggs Risotto please, Mrs. Burridge.” She shocks him back to reality with the caustic retort: “Is that fried or boiled?”

My question is a little different. Should the egg on the Seder plate be roasted or boiled? Continue reading