When you’re writing a book about sewing, you get some of the most insightful questions from editors who don’t do a lot of sewing. And if you’re writing a book that touches on Judaism, you get some of the best questions from editors who don’t know a lot about Judaism. Enter my friend Ann, who fits both of these categories and who gave me her take on a draft of the Sew Jewish book. She wanted to know more about the rituals and traditions behind a lot of the projects in the book, and her questions sent me back to do a bit more research on some of the projects.
Take the challah cover, for example. It’s such a well-known piece of Judaica, I thought it didn’t need much introduction. But Ann wanted to know more.
My first impulse was to write up the explanation I had been taught for the challah cover: We use it to cover the loaves of challah bread at the beginning of the meal so that the bread isn’t embarrassed when the wine gets the first blessing. It’s the bread, after all, that in Jewish teaching defines the meal. I’ve always liked that explanation. It captures a sense of compassion that fits a peaceful Shabbat meal.
But Ann’s comments sent me looking for the full story, and I found an explanation that feels even more inspiring than the one I first learned. It’s the explanation I decided to include in the book. I thought I’d share it with you. Here’s the introduction to the challah cover project that appears in the Sew Jewish book:
…In the morning there was a fall of dew about the [Israelites’] camp. When the fall of dew lifted, there over the surface of the wilderness lay a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?”—for they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “That is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat…” (Exodus 16:13-15)
If the table is the center of Jewish family holidays, then the challah cover is the centerpiece. When we sit down to Shabbat and festival meals, the cover lies over two loaves of challah bread, recalling the dew that covered the bread that God provided for the Israelites in the desert. This challah cover features the traditional Hebrew phrase “Shabbat v’yom tov,” which means “Shabbat and holiday,” making it suitable for Shabbat and all of the holidays except Passover. On classic Old World challah covers the phrase is often embroidered in gold. Here, the letters are appliqued, a technique that’s faster and easier than hand embroidery and adds a solid shot of color to a modern table.
[Photo: Challah Cover from Sew Jewish: The 18 Projects You Need for Jewish Holidays, Weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebrations and Home]