Sunday, June 3, 2012

Iraqi Jews Welcome Shabbat with the Sweet Smell of Spices

Now that all the holidays are behind us, let's have a look at the one constant in our life which arrives on a weekly basis. Of course, I'm talking about Shabbat.

In my opinion, the concept of a day of rest is one of the greatest gifts Judaism has given to mankind.   While there is a set format of blessings, prayers and Torah reading, different Jewish communities around the world have developed unique customs to celebrate Shabbat.

You know that researching and writing about Jewish customs around the world is my thing, so get ready. I am about to start a new project -- Shabbat Around the World, and I'm using this blog as the launching pad.

Let's get started with a wonderfully aromatic custom from Iraq which shows that the sweet smell of spices is not for Havdallah alone. Iraqi Jews have a wonderful pre-kiddush tradition where the father of the house circles the set Shabbat table when he returns from synagogue on Friday night. When he concludes the round he takes a (pre-picked) fragrant spice branch -- be it myrtle, mint, or whatever else grows nearby -- and makes a blessing over the spice, adding the words a sweet fragrance, an offering to god. Immediately afterwards he recites the kiddush.

What a wonderful custom! Everything about Shabbat is sweet -- including the aromas associated with it. And Havdallah? It brings the custom full circle by heralding a sweet week.

Sounds good to me. Try it with your family, friends and students. What's more, this custom can serve as a great way to learn about your neighborhood/city/state's flora.

This custom is just a taste of what's to come. Starting in the Fall, I hope to be integrating more Shabbat customs into this blog. In the meantime, I'd like you to be in touch with me ( and tell me what you'd like to see me cover over the summer. Also, please write to me and share unique Shabbat customs that you know about.

Shavua Tov everyone.

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