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Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D.

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I had never seen a challah until I first came to America in 1961, but once I discovered it I began to like it very much.

Why am I writing about challah? Recently, I was contacted by the leadership of the town of Soncino, Italy, requesting information about the use of bread among Jews for a special “bread festival” in their region. This prompted me to think a bit more about the role challah played in Jewish life.

Challah is the quintessential Jewish bread that is eaten on Shabbat and festivals. As a yeast-risen bread, it comes in different shapes and textures, mostly with...

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Jews all over the world will begin to celebrate Passover with a ritualized meal called the seder, a Hebrew word meaning “order” that refers to the order of the prayers that are recited and the symbolic foods that are eaten prior to a fancy meal. The purpose of the seder is to tell the story of the liberation of the Israelites from the Egyptian slavery.

Passover is a popular family holiday, primarily observed in the home. Even though rabbinic Judaism portrays the festival solely as the commemoration of the exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses, its history is complicated...

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I hear a great many people say “I am not religious” when what they actually mean is, “I am not observant.” What is the difference between the two?

The way I see it, “religious” refers to beliefs and values, whereas “observant” involves ritual practices and carrying out daily mitzvot (commandments). Though many religious Jews are also observant, there are many – like me, a liberal rabbi of non-theistic persuasion, a religious naturalist by self-definition – who are not nearly as observant as, say, many Orthodox Jews. It is said that the famous Jewish philosopher Martin Buber (1878-...

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The Hebrew month of Elul begins soon. During this month preceding the High Holidays, many Jews take time to reflect on the past year and to take stock of their actions.

As people mature, they begin to formulate achievable goals, allowing them to later look back and evaluate what they accomplished and where they fell short. The Babylonian Talmud (the repository of Jewish wisdom compiled in the 6th century CE) teaches that at the final judgment, we are asked three basic questions: Did you conduct your business with integrity? Did you set aside fixed times for study? Did you hope for...

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Last fall, my granddaughter Ariella became a bat mitzvah in California, and made us very proud and happy.

There are moments in life which define us. There is a before and an after that particular event. In the present Jewish practice, a bar or bat mitzvah is one of those cutting moments. A 13-year-old-boy (a bar mitzvah) or a girl (a bat mitzvah) marks a significant transitional period in life by celebrating it with family and friends during a religious ceremony and often with a big party afterwards.

In Hebrew the expression bar/bat mitzvah, usually translated as “son/...

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