Loaves of Torah: Explor­ing the Jew­ish Year through Challah 

Vanes­sa M. Harper

  • Review
By – December 18, 2023

What began as a pan­dem­ic project by Rab­bi Vanes­sa Harp­er has blos­somed into a beau­ti­ful book that brings the week­ly parashah to life in a unique way: through the art of chal­lah. It all start­ed on Insta­gram (@lechlechallah), where each week she would post a pic­ture of a new and mean­ing­ful­ly shaped chal­lah that sym­bol­ized some aspect of the Torah por­tion. Now, she has com­piled all of her cre­ations and com­men­taries into Loaves of Torah: Explor­ing the Jew­ish Year through Chal­lah. As Rab­bi Michael Mar­mur, PhD, an ear­ly teacher of Rab­bi Harp­er, writes in the fore­word, The roll now has a new role.” 

Rab­bi Harp­er divides this use­ful book into three sec­tions: the first draws on the five books of the Torah; the sec­ond focus­es on the hol­i­days; and the third includes recipes and braid­ing tuto­ri­als. Each entry is accom­pa­nied by a beau­ti­ful pho­to­graph of that week’s inter­pre­tive chal­lah cre­ation, plus a few pages explain­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of the parashah. In essence, Rab­bi Harp­er has put a mod­ern spin on ancient Tal­mu­dic teachings.

This is a book to pick up again and again. Read­ers can look for­ward to, and be inspired by, clever cre­ations like two blue, intri­cate­ly braid­ed chal­lot for Par­sha B’shalach, which describes the part­ing of the Sea of Reeds. Rab­bi Harp­er also chal­lenges us to a kavanah, or week­ly inten­tion, encour­ag­ing us to find mean­ing in our week. Just like mak­ing chal­lah can be an indi­vid­ual prac­tice — regard­less of the fact that we all use the same ingre­di­ents — so too is Rab­bi Harp­er push­ing us to take each parashah and make it our own. 

Dr. Beth Rica­nati is a physi­cian, speak­er and the author of Braid­ed: A Jour­ney of a Thou­sand Chal­lahs, a final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award. 

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