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The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL's Guide to Everyday & Holiday Rituals & Blessings

The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL's Guide to Everyday & Holiday Rituals & Blessings

by Vanessa L. Ochs (Editor), Irwin Kula (Editor), CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, Tsvi Blanchard (Contribution by), Daniel Silberman Brenner (Contribution by)

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Discover how to make virtually any moment in your day a significant part of a meaningful Jewish life.

As we have discovered, and as our sages have long known, there is no experience in the life of a Jew that cannot be marked in Jewish ways…. The book you hold in your hands is the result of the kinds of rituals we have


Discover how to make virtually any moment in your day a significant part of a meaningful Jewish life.

As we have discovered, and as our sages have long known, there is no experience in the life of a Jew that cannot be marked in Jewish ways…. The book you hold in your hands is the result of the kinds of rituals we have sculpted together over the years. It is not a prayer book or even a compendium of obligatory Jewish rituals. Rather, it is a source for all to use creatively.
—from the Introduction

Decades of experience by CLAL—The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in connecting spirituality with daily life come together in this one comprehensive handbook. In these pages, you have access to teachings that can help to sanctify almost any moment in your day.

Offering a meditation, a blessing, a profound Jewish teaching, and a ritual for more than one hundred diverse everyday events and holidays, this guide includes sacred practices for:

  • Lighting Shabbat candles
  • Blessing your parents
  • Running a marathon
  • Visiting the sick
  • Building a sukkah
  • Seeing natural wonders
  • Moving into a new home
  • Saying goodbye to a beloved pet
  • Making a shiva call
  • Traveling ... and much more

Drawing from both traditional and contemporary sources, The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices will show you how to make more holy any moment in your daily life.


Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams, PhD • Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard, PhD • Rabbi Daniel Silberman Brenner • Shari Cohen, PhD • David M. Elcott, PhD • Rabbi Niles E. Goldstein • Michael Gottsegen, PhD • Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, PhD • Rabbi Steven Greenberg • Rabbi Brad Hirschfield • Janet R. Kirchheimer • David Kraemer, PhD • Rabbi Jennifer E. Krause • Rabbi Irwin Kula • Rabbi Benay Lappe • Rabbi Natan Margalit • Rabbi David Nelson, PhD • Vanessa L. Ochs, PhD • Rabbi Rachel T. Sabath • Robert Rabinowitz, PhD • Andrew Silow-Carroll • Rabbi Lawrence Troster

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A totally original and deeply needed book... Takes you by the hand and shows you how to make every important moment of your life holy."
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of Jewish Literacy and The Book of Jewish Values

"Provides a refreshing and innovative path into Jewish life and ritual. Its format is easily accessible and will inspire both new learners and those who are more knowledgeable about Judaism."
Rabbi Lori Forman, director of the Jewish Resource Center, UJA–Federation of New York; coauthor of Sacred Intentions: Daily Inspiration to Strengthen the Spirit, Based on Jewish Wisdom

"Clal's important work provides sensitive and innovative ways to help us find greater Jewish meaning in many moments in our life."
Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, editor of The Women's Haftarah Commentary: New Insights from Women Rabbis on the 54 Weekly Haftarah Portions, the 5 Megillot & Special Shabbatot

“An extraordinary guide for elevating the everyday activities of our lives into spiritual moments! An essential volume for the Jewish home.”
Dr. Ron Wolfson, vice president of the University of Judaism; author of Hanukkah: The Family Guide to Spiritual Celebration and The Art of Jewish Living series

Publishers Weekly
Readers who want to create significance out of ordinary as well as remarkable moments will find an invaluable resource in this guidebook from CLAL the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. There's a ritual to mark almost every possible occasion, from the mundane (making a list of things to do) to the sublime (falling in love). Organizing a room becomes a symbolic act of repair, of bringing order to a chaotic world. Quitting smoking, running a marathon, honoring a teacher, sending a child to college, mourning a pet these experiences that until now have not been addressed by Jewish tradition receive a new sanctity as they serve as potential "tools for awakening and self-transformation." The contributing rabbis and scholars from every denomination of Judaism also try to renew rituals that may have become routine, like lighting Sabbath candles or cleaning the house for Passover. "What we get from each moment ultimately depends on the attention (kavanah) we give to those moments," writes rabbi and editor Kula, CLAL's president. More than 100 occasions are classified into 11 sections: everyday life; parents and children; relationships; special moments; healing; life and death; learning; leadership and communal life; Israel; tzedakah; and holy days. Each event includes a meditation, a ritual, blessings and teachings drawn from biblical or rabbinic texts. This traditional Jewish framework should appeal to Jewish readers; non-Jewish readers may also enjoy the inclusive and thought-provoking approach, which does not require giving up or adopting new religious beliefs. (Dec.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
CLAL is the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, an educational agency that promotes the integration of Jewish knowledge and practice into contemporary American life. This interesting guidebook is an example of a successful interpolation of traditional Jewish practices into everyday activities. Judaism attempts to make all human activity sacred, no matter how humble, since the world and everything in it is a gift from God. There are specific blessings for eating, traveling, waking up, going to sleep, even ordinary bodily functions. This book now extends that idea to modern phenomenon such as beginning to exercise, quitting smoking, writing an ethical will and moving into a new house. Each activity has a meditation and a ritual associated with it, along with a blessing, and one or more "teachings," or texts to study and discuss. The Hebrew blessings are transliterated and translated. The blessing before running a marathon, for instance, is "You abound in blessings, preparing a person's steps." The meditation is Psalm 118, and the teaching is also from Psalms--"Bless God, celebrate God's praises, who has given us life and has not let our feet slip." A good addition for libraries with spirituality or religion collections. 2001, Jewish Lights Publishing, $18.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Miriam Rinn

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



As soon as I sit up in bed and see
the light through the windows, I
am suddenly aware I'm alive and a
new day has begun. Then I say to
myself something like this:
"Thank you, God. I know You're
still out there
doing Your thing,
because here I am
again doing my
thing, thanks to
You." That's my
version of the
Modeh Ani prayer,
which appears in my siddur as: "I
render thanks unto Thee, everlasting
King, who has mercifully
restored my soul within me; Thy
faithfulness is beyond measure."
As I continue my morning ritual, I
do my own riffs on the traditional
morning prayers. As I put on
my glasses, I say: "Whoa! I can
see again!" for "Blessed art
Thou ... who openest the eyes
of the blind." As
I pull my body
out of bed: "I'm
standing on my
feet. Thank You!"
for "Blessed art
Thou ... who raisest
up those who
are bowed down." As I dress:
"Clean, fresh clothes!" for
"Blessed art Thou ... who clothest
the naked."



Modeh ani l'fanekha.

Thank You, God, for waking me up and giving
me another day.


After waking and saying your own version of Modeh
, pause, even if it's only for a few seconds, to register:
it really is a miracle to be alive for this new day! It
doesn't really matter what language you use, or whether
you say it out loud or to yourself. Just stop and notice:
I'm awake, I can see, I'm getting up, I'm washing, I'm
dressing. Be aware of the feelings that come as you make
these observations. It is these feelings that generated the
traditional prayers in the first place.


With every part of my being I praise the One who is clothed
in splendor and majesty, wrapped in light as in a garment,
unfolding the heavens like a curtain.


How long will you lie there, lazybones? When will
you wake from your sleep? A bit more sleep, a bit
more slumber, a bit more hugging yourself in bed.

(Proverbs 6:9-10)

This assignment originated from the Baal Shem
Tov's advice that every Jew should make 100 blessings
a day. Did they have to be in Hebrew? Did
they have to be only for Jewish things? I explained
to the class that the idea of the homework was to
notice all the ways in which their lives were blessed
and that making 100 blessings would be so challenging
that they would not have any energy to
notice anything but blessing.

(Johanna J. Singer, "100 Blessings a Day," in Traditions by
Sarah Shendehnan and Avram Davis)


In theory, praying for what we
need should be easy. Who knows
better what we
need than we do?
However, we wonder:
is it okay to
ask for the very
private things
that are important
to us? Should
we be distinguishing between
what we want and what we need?
And we may wonder:
if we ask for
what we need and
are answered positively,
what are
we bound to do
in return?


Barukh atah she'asah
li kol tzorki

Blessed is the One who
provides for all my needs


A Prayer for What I Need

    We used to pray for wine, flour, oil.

We knew the deal:
We pleased You, and asked for the things,
  we needed.
We expected You would come through.

I still need wine, flour, and oil,
But I do not ask for them.
(The market is just down the street.)

This does not mean You are off the hook.
As I see it, the deal stands:
My coming through,
My asking for what I cannot get alone.

These are the staples:
Love, health, work, protection.
And this is what I need now: __________________.
I need to have the courage to call out to You
when I am in need.
I need You to be ready to hear me.


Min ha'meitzar karati Yah, anani
va'merchav Yah.

  I have called You from tight places,
You answered me with expansiveness.


As you begin each day, either during the traditional
Amidah prayer or, perhaps, as you wait for your coffee,
set aside a fixed time to focus upon what you need that
you cannot achieve or acquire on your own. Then ask,
"Please, God, this is what I need now: ______________."


(After you have prayed for what you need)


Va'ani t'filati l'kha Adonai ayt ratzon, elohim b'rov
chasdekha, aneini.

Hear my prayer now, and in Your compassionate ways,
please answer me.


Barukh atah she'asah li kol tzorki.

Blessed is the One who provides for all my needs.


Barukh atah shomei'a t'filah.

Blessed is the One who hears my prayer.



Karov Adonai l'khol kor'av.

God is close to all who call out.


According to R. Eliezer: If people pray only according
to the exact text of the prayer and add nothing
from their own minds, the prayer is not complete.

(Babylonian Talmud: Mishnah Brakhot 4:4)


Hand washing separates us from
what came before and prepares us
for what's to come;
it symbolizes our
becoming conscious
of what we
do and who we
are. The most familiar
time for the
ritual washing of
hands is before meals, but there
are other traditional times for special
hand washing
rituals. These
include waking up
in the morning
and returning
home from a cemetery.


Al netilat yadayim

Upon washing our hands


Source of Blessing, may the washing of my hands
cleanse me and direct my hands to doing deeds of


First, you may wish to remove any rings you are wearing.
Then take a cup (preferably one with two handles)
and fill it with water. With your left hand, hold the
cup and pour three times over your right hand. Switch
hands, repeat, lift up your hands, and then say the



Barukh atah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha'olam, asher
kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al netilat yadayim.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, whose mitzvot make our lives holy
and who gives us the mitzvah of washing our hands.


Tradition specifies that for ritual washing, the water
be poured over the hands by human agency, not by
machine or faucet. The point is that awakening consciousness
cannot be accomplished by mechanical
means. Usually you pour water on your own hands
(on the right hand first), but pouring can also be
done by someone else as a mark of love or friendship.
It is also customary to be silent from the
moment of washing until the challah is broken and
eaten. The mind is concentrated, and consciousness
focuses on the bread and the meal to follow.

(Irving [Yitz] Greenberg, The Jewish Way)


The Rabbis of the Talmud once
said different blessings for
each kind of food. For delicacies,
our rabbis said:
"Blessed are You
who created all
kinds of delicacies
for delight."
For meats and
eggs, they said:
"Blessed are You
who created life
to give life." For
bread: "Blessed
are You who
brings out bread
from the earth." While some rabbis
taught that only the proper "formula"
could be recited over
specific foods, others took a more
pragmatic view,
saying, "If you
were to see a loaf
of bread and say,
'What a fine loaf
this is! Blessed is
the Holy One
who created it!'
you would have
fulfilled your obligation
to bless"
Talmud: Brakhot 6).


Barukh ... she'ha'kol
n'hi'yeh b'dvaro

Blessed are You ... whose
word calls all things
into being


When I sit down at the table, the Divine Presence
stands behind me. When I say a blessing, the Divine
Presence pushes forward to receive my words.

(Adapted from Zohar IV:186b)


Before you are about to eat, pause just long enough to
compose a blessing that recognizes the specific food that
you are about to enjoy. As an example, our rabbis offer
the blessing of a simple shepherd named Benjamin who
made a sandwich and said, "Brikh rachamana marai d'hai
." "Blessed be the Master of this bread."

(Babylonian Talmud: Brakhot 40b)



Barukh ... she'ha'kol n'hi'yeh b'dvaro.

Blessed are You ... whose word calls all things into being. (Offer the
traditional blessing for specific foods, or add your own blessing to
heighten your awareness of the source of your food.


Rabbi Yosi the Elder would not have his meal
cooked until he prayed to God for sustenance.
Then he waited a moment. Then he would say,
"Now that the Sovereign has sent sustenance,
let us prepare it."

(Zohar 11:62b)

When you have eaten and you are satisfied,
bless God for the good earth that has been
entrusted to you.

(Deuteronomy 8:10)

                   Let us take time to bless that which gives us life—sweet
                   as the fruit from Eden's tree, filling as Sarah's
                   cakes, savory as Jacob's stew, plentiful as the
                   manna in the wilderness, liberating as the crunchy
                   matzah, fresh as the first harvest brought to the
Temple, heavenly as the taste of the World to Come
in the Shabbat challah.

(CLAL Faculty)


Each morning my father consults
his list of things to do, which is
numbered clearly and prioritized
on a long yellow
pad. "Buy milk
and shredded
wheat" may be
number one, or
"Exercise bike at
the JCC." Some
days, other important
items appear, such as
doctors' appointments, anniversaries,
birthdays, shiva calls, and
preparations for
holidays and vacations.
One thing
is for sure: If it
isn't on the list, it
probably will not
get done.


Talmud Torah k'neged

Study Torah, embracing
all of life


To do:

Teach children Pray with intensity
Honor parents Make peace
Be where I am needed And, most of all,
Make study a priority Talmud Torah k'neged
Welcome guests kulam
Visit the sick Study Torah:
Help those who are The embrace of all life,
   starting out Leading to all that we
Honor the dead value.


Imagine beginning your day by writing out a sacred "to
do" list, reminding you that opportunities to perform
life's holiest tasks are not beyond you, not "in the heavens,"
but are right here in your daily encounters with
family, friends, and strangers. What if you made your
own "to do" list and noted the deeper dimensions and
ethical implications presented by your own tasks—buying
groceries, calling a lonely friend, repairing the
car, paying bills, going for a checkup? Start out with
the traditional sacred "to do" list. Then add the
specific tasks you must perform this day, each a
sacred opportunity.


(When you have completed writing your list)


Eitz chaim hi la'machazikim bah.

Torah is a tree of life, embracing us as we embrace it.

Blessed are You who sanctifies us with mitzvot and commands us
to make Torah concrete in our lives.


Rabbi Yose said: "Apply yourself to study Torah, for
it is not yours by inheritance, and let all your deeds
be in the name of heaven."

    (Pirkei Avot 2:17)


Dor l'dor y'shabach ma'asekha,
u'gvurotekha yagidu.

Every generation will praise Your works to the next
and will speak of Your powerful deeds.


Meet the Author

Vanessa L. Ochs is the Ida and Nathan Kolodiz Director of Jewish Studies and associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia. A recipient of a fellowship in creative writing from the National Endowment of the Arts, she is author of several books, coauthor of The Jewish Dream Book: The Key to Opening the Inner Meaning of Your Dreams, and coeditor, with Rabbi Irwin Kula, of The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL's Guide to Everyday & Holiday Rituals & Blessings (both Jewish Lights).

Vanessa L. Ochs is available to speak on the following topics:

  • Jewish Ritual Innovation
  • Haggadah
  • Jewish Feminism
  • What Makes a Jewish Home Jewish
  • Raising Kids with Jewish Values

Rabbi Irwin Kula is president of CLAL—The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leading voice for religious pluralism in the Jewish community. A sought-after speaker, he was named by the PBS program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly as one of the "10 People to Watch" helping to shape the American spiritual landscape. Fast Company magazine listed him as one of the seventeen new economy leaders, and Forward newspaper named him one of the top fifty Jewish leaders in America. He received his rabbinic ordination from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

CLAL—The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership was founded in
1974. A think tank, leadership training institute and resource center, CLAL convenes interdisciplinary conversations that explore the Jewish and American futures, and enhances Jewish participation in civic and spiritual life in North America. Its faculty includes rabbis from every denomination and scholars from a broad array of disciplines,
including anthropology, political science and philosophy. CLAL combines
Jewish texts and intellectual traditions with cutting-edge contemporary scholarship in its work to transform Jewish communities around the country.

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