Spir­i­tu­al Knead­ing Through the Jew­ish Months: Build­ing the Sacred through Challah

Dahlia Abra­ham-Klein

  • Review
By – June 29, 2015

Chal­lah bak­ing is not mere­ly the action of bak­ing bread, for one is shar­ing a long-stand­ing cus­tom of Jew­ish women every­where. Chal­lah loaves may be shaped dif­fer­ent­ly but their pur­pose is the same: We are spir­i­tu­al­ly enhanc­ing our Shab­bat and hol­i­day tables with deli­cious and tan­gi­ble efforts. The chal­lah takes on a greater spir­i­tu­al sig­nif­i­cance. In his fore­word to Spir­i­tu­al Knead­ing Through the Jew­ish Months Arthur Kurzweil notes, Through an in-depth, beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten, thor­ough­ly researched explo­ration of chal­lah, this book, guid­ed by its gift­ed author, trans­forms itself into a gate­way into all of Jew­ish tra­di­tion. Read­ers of this book will return to it again and again. From the most prac­ti­cal advice and insights to the most mean­ing­ful spir­i­tu­al truths, this is not a book about chal­lah; it is a holy sefer con­cern­ing our rela­tion­ship with the Almighty.”

The author explains, Rosh Chodesh is about renew­al, that first tiny, lumi­nous sliv­er of light that her­alds the begin­ning of a new cycle. Rosh Chodesh lit­er­al­ly means Head of the Month[…] We can work on our­selves as the moon is wax­ing, and change course, if nec­es­sary, before the full moon arrives[…] The action of knead­ing back­wards and for­wards, using con­trolled breath and kavanah (inten­tion), becomes the phys­i­cal vehi­cle to spir­i­tu­al­ly ele­vate the dough.”

There are med­i­ta­tions upon the Jew­ish theme of the month, with spe­cif­ic Torah texts for each one as well as a spe­cif­ic chal­lah recipe that relates to that month’s theme. The author even sug­gests form­ing a Rosh Chodesh chal­lah bak­ing group. This is tru­ly a text, prayer book, cook­book, bib­li­og­ra­phy, and guide for the begin­ner or the expert bak­er. Bless­ings are explained. Tech­niques are thor­ough­ly and patient­ly described, as are all of the cus­toms con­cern­ing challah.

The instruc­tive pho­tographs of the process of shap­ing the dough — as well as images of the fin­ished prod­uct — inspire the home bak­er. Water chal­lahs do appear, as do the famil­iar egg loaves. Pita makes an appear­ance as well. For the month of Elul, the Crown-shaped Chal­lah with Olive Oil and Za’atar should inspire and ani­mate all those prepar­ing for the Jew­ish New Year and the ensu­ing holidays.

Read­ers will be ele­vat­ed and edu­cat­ed in so many ways through the care­ful read­ing and re-read­ing of this delight­ful book.

Danièle Gor­lin Lass­ner (wife, moth­er, grand­moth­er) retired after 35 years at Ramaz where she served as Dean of Admis­sions, For­eign Lan­guage Depart­ment chair and teacher of French and Span­ish. She owns hun­dreds of cook­books. She has trans­lat­ed sev­er­al chil­dren’s books from French into Eng­lish. She has recent­ly trans­lat­ed “ A Mem­oir of Sanc­ti­ty “ by May­er Moskowitz (Mazo Pub­lish­ers, Jerusalem, Israel) from Hebrew into Eng­lish. No mat­ter the lan­guage, food is a con­stant.”

Discussion Questions