A User’s Guide to Tasting Torah


Shabbat dinner is often idealized with a family welcoming guests to a sparkling table laden with choice foods, lovingly prepared.  In reality, it can be a not-so-amazing race to assemble dinner and collect all family members at the same time.  Tasting Torah offers a few suggestions to match a food at your Shabbat table to a topic in the weekly Torah portion (parasha).  With busy schedules in mind, most recipes are simple.  I hope this cookbook and discussion guide promote food for thought and a discussion about how to enhance your Shabbat dinner experience.

Innovating at Shabbat dinner can be trying.  Children tend to be hard-core conservatives.  If they’ve always had white grape juice, switching to purple can produce major trauma. Here are some suggestions for implementation:

  1. Begin on a small scale.  Find a parasha that speaks to you and create one dish—feel free to use the cookbook or create your own. Ask your family for feedback.  I have discovered that for my family, the change had to be incremental.  You are the best judge of your own family—perhaps they will enthusiastically join in the experiment.
  2. A food-centered parasha.  This is how I began.  Parashat Toldot includes the story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for lentil stew.  Lentil soup is an easy and delicious way to introduce the idea of food connected to a parasha.  Lentil soup is available in a can or package so even if you think you cannot cook soup, you can still be part of this game.  Beginning with a concrete example rather than an analogy or clever pun allows even the youngest child at the table to jump into the discussion.  Furthermore, the topic of sibling rivalry is a topic relevant to all ages.
  3. A good story.  For younger children, the parshiyot of B’reishit (Genesis) are the most accessible.  They are stories that children can intuitively understand.  The stories center on the need for order and permanence, connections, and family issues.  Once children have verbal ability, these are topics they ponder aloud and in their thoughts.  Vayikra presents a lot of barbeque ideas but reading through requirements for sacrifices will probably not engage your young children in the same way.
  4. The BIG occasion.  Planning for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah involves a Shabbat meal or two.  Your child will know his or her parasha well by the time you start thinking about food.  See if he or she can suggest a menu based on the parasha.  Use the cookbook as a template.  I include colors, word plays, etymology, and analogy as well as directly taking an ingredient or food from the parasha’s content.  During the meal with your guests, allow the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child to lead a brief discussion about the parasha-food connection or ask him/her to delegate another family member to help out. 
  5. A special Shabbat.  This can be a Shabbat that includes a special occasion in your family like a birthday or anniversary or it can be one of the special Shabbatot on the calendar like Shabbat Hanukkah, Shabbat haGadol before Pesah or Shabbat Nahamu after Tisha B’Av.  For a family occasion, I’d begin by asking the honoree about his or her favorite foods and then finding a connection to the parasha. Remember that if you’re celebrating a 50th anniversary, for example,  you can translate the number to its Hebrew letter equivalent (i.e. Nun=50) and find a food that begins with that Hebrew letter like nanna, mint. With a smaller number like a third birthday, you can assemble a three vegetable side dish.  It gets tougher once you’re past the number 10.  For named Shabbatot like Shabbat Nahamu, try working with the meaning of the word—Nahamu means comfort, so select the comfort foods your family enjoys.
  6. Have fun.  Be silly and aim for bad puns, wild connections.

Intermediate and Advanced

If you are beyond adding one dish that connects to the parasha, try creating entire menus that connect to the parasha.  Some parshiyot lend themselves easily to this like parashat B’reishit that mentions all of creation.  Involving children in the menu creation (and rotating the participation roster) is another way to stir their creative juices and help them engage in the study of the parasha. In addition, it develops empathy as you ask children to consider the needs and the food favorites of other people at the Shabbat table.  You can create a sensitivity to seasonal foods as well, encouraging children to select ingredients as they become available in the local farmers’ markets. Here in Minnesota, many of us still eat fruits and vegetables in the off-season so I’ve included recipes with out-of-season vegetables.  It’s a fair topic of conversation—should we eat Chilean grapes and Mexican eggplant?  What about frozen produce?

Below is a sample menu for the middle of Minnesota winter.  When I create an entire menu, I also print the verse and the food connection so that everyone has a chance to both hear the verse and read it.

Sample Ta’am Torah menu

Parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)

Hallah, Wine

White Bean and Vegetable Soup

Orange, Avocado, and Almond Salad (25:33—m’shukadim, shaked=almond)

Herbed Chicken [25:6—b’samim(spices)]

Artichoke Heart, Red Potato, Button Mushroom, Onion Ring Casserole  [25:2—lebam,(their heart) 26:16 madamim, (red)25:35 kaftor, (button) 25:12 taba’at,(ring) 25:12]

Eggplant and Onion Rings (25:12—taba’at)

Chocolate Cake with Cherries (Duvd’vanim) (25:2—y’dvenu)

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