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Rabbi Sacks’ Teachings Inspire Conversations Around the Shabbat Table

Ceremony & Celebration Family Edition is scheduled to be released later this month.

Reviewing: “Ceremony & Celebration: Family Edition” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Koren Publishers. 2023. English. Hardcover. 212 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1592646159.

“For Jews, education is not just what we know. It’s who we are.” This quote by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z”l illustrates the weight he placed on education in Judaism as one of the core principles of our faith. For Rabbi Sacks, the primary institution of education was not the school, but the parents and environment the child is raised in, along with the conversations being discussed as a family. This attention to learning in the home is the vision behind “Family Editions,” a series of newly released works by Koren Publishers Jerusalem that is aimed at enhancing intergenerational conversation in the Jewish home.

Released earlier this year, “Covenant & Conversations Family Edition’’ is a collection of engaging essays on each parsha. The theme and lessons of each essay are based on Rabbi Sacks’ weekly essays on the parsha that he began writing in 2007, which put forward complex ideas in a way that is relevant to everyday life.

In 2018, Koren Director of Education Rabbi Dr. Daniel Rose had a vision to adapt these sophisticated essays into a format that would be accessible and engaging to younger audiences and families of various ages. The two worked together on this endeavor. Each essay was reformatted to include a short and accessible summary of the parsha, a core theme, a story to illustrate the main idea, questions to ponder for deeper thinking, prompts for discussion around the Shabbat table, and a quote from Rabbi Sacks.

When “Covenant & Conversations Family Edition” was in its early stages of development, Rabbi Sacks shared his vision behind the project. He wrote, “I have called these essays Covenant & Conversation because this for me is the essence of what Torah learning is—throughout the ages and for us now. The text is our covenant with G-d; the interpretation of this text has been the subject of an ongoing conversation that began at Sinai and has never ceased.”

Rabbi Sacks hoped that “Covenant & Conversations” would be a resource for parents to have meaningful conversations about Torah with their children around the Shabbat table. “There is nothing more beautiful or life affirming than learning Torah with your children,” he wrote. “Give them the space not only to be your students, but also to be your teachers, and they will grow tall.”

In the essay on parshat Vayeshev, for example, the text draws attention to the unnamed man that directed Yosef to his brothers and quotes the Ramban who explained that this man was sent as a guide “without his knowledge.” The story that is shared relates to an encounter between U.S. President Harry Truman and a man named Eddie Jacobson during Israel’s struggle for independence in 1948, which is meant to illustrate the theme of the intervention of an angel to move history forward. One of the suggested prompts for this parsha is, “Can you think of a time when the direction of your life was changed by an ‘angel who didn’t even know they were an angel?’”

The latest work in the series is “Ceremony & Celebration Family Edition,” which provides a framework for conversations around the Jewish and Israeli national holidays and is scheduled to be released later this month. Like Covenant & Conversations, each section of the holidays opens with a summary of the core theme and the holiday’s relevance to our times. Each section includes a story and questions to ponder for deeper consideration, as well as illustrative word games, quizzes and fun facts and a deep dive into the liturgy associated with the holiday. The section of Chanukah opens with a summary of the festival in its historical context and continues with an inspiring message for each of the eight nights of Chanukah that resonates with modern times. One of questions to ponder asks, “Can you give other examples from Jewish history of the ‘Jewish spirit?’”

A career educator, Rabbi Rose had the opportunity to become acquainted with Rabbi Sacks when the former was living in England before he made aliyah. What stood out for him was Rabbi Sacks’ investment in young people, especially young educators and leaders of youth movements. He was also drawn to Rabbi Sacks’ big picture Judaism that focused on the values of Judaism, the lessons of Torah and what our mission in the world is as Jewish people, beyond the details of halacha.

He was also fascinated by his writing, which Rabbi Rose says “was like poetry.” He explained that Rabbi Sacks had a gift of taking complex ideas and writing them very clearly so that audiences of all levels could learn from him and relate. “He was a master educator,” he added.

Rabbi Rose hopes that the volumes will truly be a resource to enhance intergenerational conversations, as Rabbi Sacks envisioned. But more than that, he sees these works as a continuation of the legacy of Rabbi Sacks, whose teachings will continue to inspire conversation from generation to generation.


Alisa Bodner is a Fair Lawn native who immigrated to Israel a decade ago. She is a nonprofit management professional who enjoys writing in her free time.

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