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.