Angels at the Table: a Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat

How to make the angels smile


Yvette Alt Miller
Continuum, £22.99

This ambitious and unusual work combines a step-by-step guide to Shabbat observance, with recipes, song-lyrics and ideas for 'fostering meaningful conversations'. Harvard-graduate Miller's work dispels myths about the value and practicalities of Shabbat observance for modern suburban families.

I confess to having been bemused by some of her Americanisms ("Some people link arms and sway... at this point"). And the melody selections (singing Ani Ma'amin, I believe with perfect faith, to California Dreaming) I found silly. But the book is well-written, carefully planned and packed with sensible information about the wonders and physical and spiritual benefits of Shabbat. The sections on "Torah questions" for the table and guides to preparing and hosting Shabbat meals are particularly helpful.

A clever and original aspect is her attempt to show how Shabbat offers a window into many other areas of Jewish life: she convincingly asserts that once one has created a "religious space" in one's life, it can easily grow to accommodate kashrut, Torah study and prayer.

Inevitably, a book of this grand scope is somewhat shallow in places. It errs by decentralising the religious functions of Shabbat - recognising and emulating God as creator and celebrating the Exodus - in favour of an instrumental approach which focuses on "what Shabbat can do for you". And remarkably, it fails to cite Heschel's masterpiece "The Sabbath", perhaps the greatest English-language monograph on the topic.

Yet overall, Miller's project is successful, ably weaving her own experiences and excitement about Shabbat with a down-to-earth programme that will surely inspire young families to give full, traditional Shabbat observance a try.

Dr Belovski is rabbi of Golders Green Synagogue

    Last updated: 5:42pm, November 21 2011