The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices

The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL’s Guide to Everyday & Holiday Rituals & Blessings
Edited by Irwin Kula and Vanessa Ochs

Jewish Lights, 2002

Reviewed by Rabbi Jason Miller

Have you ever wondered what your birthday would be like without a cake, candles, gifts, or a birthday song?  These are examples of rituals that we associate with the anniversary of our birth.  Think about how many events in our lives we have ritualized.  Thanks to Hallmark, most of these events include a greeting card.

In Judaism, we mark life’s milestones with ritual.  We bring babies into the fold with a naming ceremony.  We are called up to the Torah for an aliyah on our wedding anniversary.  We visit the graves of our loved ones before holidays.  We crave ritual, and we seek new and different ritual acts for different occasions – imagine if we only recited the shehechiyanu for every milestone in our lives, how would we make that event stand apart?

Clal – the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership has been adding occasions to the list of ritualized events for several years, and now these sacred practices have been compiled into book form.  While the book contains many of the acts that are already in the Jewish canon of ritual (e.g. fasting on Yom Kippur, Counting the Omer, and Studying Torah on Shavuot), the contributors, who are all Clal faculty, put a new spin on these events.  So, while we might have found putting up a sukkah to be a very ritualized act, chock-full of religious symbolism, this book offers a way to bring out the significance of taking our sukkah down at the end of the holiday.

Indeed, many of you have sent your children off to college or on a summer trip to Israel, and perhaps you would have liked to mark the occasion with a blessing or meditation.  This book transforms these actions into sacred acts.  Upon successfully quitting smoking, Clal recommends reciting the blessing, “Blessed is the One who frees those who are held captive.”

A meditation for starting to workout begins “each extra step on the treadmill or the Stairmaster, each lap in the pool or around the track, each turn of the pedal, each lift of the weights, each stretch of muscles long out of use… in each bead of sweat and panting breath I praise You—with all my bones.  For each event included in the book, the sacred practice of a meditation, blessing, ritual, and teaching is included.  The chapters are usefully divided by category (parents and children, relationships, special moments, healing, learning, etc.).

Many will undoubtedly find new rituals for which they have been wanting, such as saying good-bye to a beloved pet or honoring a teacher at the end of the year.  However, it might never have occurred to anyone to recite a blessing or learn a piece of rabbinic text before preparing a family recipe or taking on a volunteer role in the community, but each of these new rituals helps us bring a bit more holiness into the seemingly mundane actions of our daily lives.

If each of us can find one new aspect of our lives to sanctify and make more meaningful through the aid of this book, then it is a most worthy and enriching addition to our bookshelves.