What’s in a number? 18
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What’s in a number? 18

Rabbi Alex Chapper helps figure out why 18 is so significant to the Jewish tradition

Perhaps one of the best known numerical values in Judaism is 18, because it
is synonymous with the word chai, meaning life.

For this reason, monetary gifts are often given in multiples of chai and are invariably made as a donation to remember a departed loved one.

Although as one gabbai (warden) once acerbically remarked, ‘Meit is worth more!’ (‘meit’ being the Hebrew word for ‘death’, which has the value of 440!)

The Amidah, which is the central prayer of every service, was originally composed with 18 blessings and is still referred to as the Shemoneh Esrei – the Hebrew words for the number 18. 

The Talmud records a variety of reasons for this: To correspond to the
18 vertebrae in a person’s spine, the 18 times that our forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are mentioned together in the Torah or the 18 times God’s name is mentioned in the Shema.

There is even a connection to food, because for matzah to be kosher for use on Pesach, it must be made in a maximum of 18 minutes, as this is the time it takes for dough to rise and that is why you might see the words ‘18 minutes’ printed on the box.

Although golf is a popular game among Jewish people, I have not been able to uncover the significance of it consisting of 18 holes, but suggest it may reflect
life itself being a journey into the unknown, where we encounter the rough and fairways with the ultimate aim to make it back to the clubhouse for a l’chaim!

In the 18th chapter of Vayikra, God instructs us: ‘You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which a person shall live: I am God.’ 

The phrase v’chai bahem – and live by them is the source of the Jewish principle that the sanctity of human life is
paramount. 

Rabbi Alex Chapper serves Elstree & Borehamwood Synagogue and is the Children’s Rabbi, childrensrabbi.com

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