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.