AROUND THE FAMILY TABLE (pocket, softcover edition)
Weight: 0.60 kilograms
AROUND THE FAMILY TABLE (pocket, softcover edition)
Around the Family Table: Songs and Prayers for the Jewish Home (pocket edition)
With insights and commentary
by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
Hardcover edition also available!
Around the Family Table is a practical and inspiring book of devotion and prayer for the Jewish home. Many uplifting and ancient Jewish traditions are rooted in the home and celebrated with the family. This book of prayer and celebration is intended to serve as a guide for meaningful expressions of the Jewish experience at home. Inspiring stories and personal commentary by the author supplement the text throughout.
Blessings and songs celebrating the entire year of Jewish festivals and Sabbaths, in Hebrew, with English instructions and translations, make this work of fundamental value for the Jewish home.
From the blessings said on festivals and for Hannukah candle lighting to birth celebrations for boys as well as for girls, the marriage ceremony and blessings, prayers for inaugurating a new house, and other momentous life cycle occasions, all are marked with traditional praise and holy words. Rabbi Riskin's sensitivity and unique imprint is present throughout this comprehensive and handy companion.
Some of the special additions include the following:
Blessings for the children on Yom Kippur eve
Symbolic foods and ceremony for Rosh Hashana
Ushpizin for sukkot meals (welcoming patriarchs and matriarchs)
Songs for all festivals
Hunnukah candle blessings
Eve of Israel Independence Day meal celebration
Tu b'shevat seder
Shalom Zakhar, Shalom Bat
Redemption of the firstborn
Simhat bat ceremony for baby girls
Dedication of a new home
About the Author:
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin's contributions to Israel and world Jewry over the course of the past 35 years have been instrumental in shaping today's Modern Orthodox society. His vision of an authentic Judaism which is inclusive of every Jew and appreciative of universal human concerns has made him an outstanding figure and leading voice in today's Jewish world.
The founding rabbi of the famed Lincoln Square Synagogue of Manhattan, Rabbi Riskin is internationally renowned for his innovative educational and social action programs, as well as his personal outreach to Jews of all backgrounds. He is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, a network of groundbreaking educational institutions including a rabbinical and communal leadership college for men, a college for advanced Jewish studies and the training of women advocates for the rabbinical courts, a women's "hesder" program, and a Legal Aid Center for agunot.
The author of several books, monographs and articles on Jewish tradition and modern life, his weekly columns on the Biblical portion-of-the-week appear in The Jerusalem Post, as well as in over 30 Anglo-Jewish newspapers worldwide.
Rabbi Riskin received his rabbinical ordination from his mentor, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, at Yeshiva University, and his Ph.D. from New York University. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Rabbi Riskin serves as the Chief Rabbi of Efrat, where he resides with his extended family, traveling frequently around the world for speaking engagements.
published with Ohr Torah Stone
2005, softcover, 216 pages
pocket edition of the hardcover book Around the Family Table
* Generous discounts available for bulk purchase of 10+, 50+, or 100+ copies, for weddings, dinners, bar/bat mitzvahs, gifts, or home celebrations. Please email benchers@UrimPublications.com for details. (Space available on front cover for an individual imprinted stamp.)
Praise for Around the Family Table:
Around the Family Table is one of the most beautiful and useful "Benchers" created.
It contains every prayer, song and ceremony one could ask for - from Birkat HaMazon, candle lighting, zemirot, Shalosh Seudot, Kiddush for all festivals, Ushpizin, child-oriented ceremonies including Shalom Zakhar and Shalom Bat, and a Simhat Bat ceremony, and, finally, songs of Eretz Yisrael. One would hope that the publisher will find a way to produce a less expensive format to produce this book in a way to make it cost-effective for each family to buy five or two or more copies - perhaps with a paper cover, and smaller layout. Rabbi Riskin's useful and novel insights and commentaries are sprinkled throughout the book.
A very worthwhile addition to the library of every Jew.
-Dov Peretz Elkins, Jewish Media Review (written for the Hardcover edition)
At the Passover seder table, many families enjoy having their own Haggadot. Because various editions are filled with different commentaries, this means readers can contribute both their own observations as well as submit the remarks contained in their Haggadot.
In a word, it's fun.
Now from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin comes Around the Family Table, which is something like a Shabbat (and other holiday) version of the Passover Haggadah. It has the traditional Shabbat blessing after the meals, Eishet Chayil ("A Righteous Woman"), and songs. It also features Rabbi Riskin's commentary at the bottom of each page, both his personal observations and compelling information about the text.
In a word, it's great.
The wonderful thing about Judaism is that no matter how much you know, or think you know, there's always more to learn, because Judaism is so vibrant it invites conversations and ideas and new ways of looking at old favorites.
Most families who sing Eishet Chayil, for example, likely do so as a tribute to the mother-wife's masterful job as homemaker. Rabbi Riskin notes, however, that the song, in its complete form in the Book of Proverbs, talks about much more than that.
"It is clear from the text," he writes, "that the biblical view of the woman's role was not necessarily to be fulfilled exclusively in the home; the woman described here takes care of her household but is likewise involved in business and agriculture as well as the pursuit of wisdom and loving-kindness."
He also writes that in Sephardic homes, a custom exists "for the husband and children to dance around the woman of the house" while singing Eishet Chayil.
You won't want to miss Rabbi Riskin's story of his visit with Reb Shmuel, the bookseller in Meah She'arim (in the section about Havdalah) or his retelling of the Chafez Chayim's lesson on the value of meeting a child's emotional needs (look for the part on Pidyon haBen, redemption of the first born).
Detroit Jewish News
Long after "women's lib" has become an anachronism, "women's issues" continue to keep modern Orthodox rabbis busy. Many of these rabbis have set themselves the task of scouring halachic literature for opinions and traditions that conform with modern sensibilities.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is one such rabbi. In Around the Family Table, he uses the family table as a focus for guiding the Orthodox Jew through the holidays and lifecycle events. At the same time, Riskin emphasizes egalitarian traditions unearthed from classical (albeit sometimes obscure) Jewish sources.
Riskin recommends reviving what he calls an ancient Spanish-Portuguese tradition called Zeved Ha'Bat (gift of a girl) - the female parallel to a brit mila. The ceremony includes recitation of the last chapter of Proverbs, Eshet Hayil (a woman of valor), a few verses from the Song of Songs and a blessing: "May He who blessed Sarah and Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, Miriam the prophetess, Avigayil and Queen Esther, daughter of Avihayil, bless this lovely girl with good fortune and a timely blessing and raise her to a life of Torah, health, peacefulness and tranquility. May He permit her father and mother to see her happily married, with sons and daughters, prosperous and well respected, vigorous and flourishing into a productive old age. May this be your will, and let us say, Amen."
The birth of a girl brings no less joy than that of a boy, and so Riskin delves into classic sources to give expression to this joy. In doing so, he implies that normative Orthodox practice, which offers no framework for the celebration of the birth of a girl except for the giving of a name on the first public Torah reading after her birth, is somehow unsatisfactory for modern attitudes. If practice seems inconsistent with heartfelt emotions or attitudes, Riskin resolves this tension by changing practice, while remaining within the bounds of Orthodoxy.
Some other examples of this almost reconstructionist approach to Jewish practice include Riskin's argument in favor of celebrating a Shalom Bat ceremony - a parallel to the Shalom Zachar celebrated on the first Shabbat after the birth of a boy.
If the Shalom Zachar is a thanksgiving for the mother surviving childbirth, then it applies to boy and girl alike. Likewise, the Shalom Zachar should be gender-neutral if it is an expression of mourning, argues Riskin. The mourning aspect is in accordance with the talmudic legend that an angel teaches every fetus the entire Torah, but just before birth touches the fetus above the lips, leaving an indentation. We should mourn this loss whether it was a boy or a girl who suffered it.
Riskin also mentions that a bride can give her groom a ring under the huppa as "a gift of love." He quotes the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, 18th century), who directs three women to join in prayer (zimun) in the Grace after Meals, like three men. In short, Riskin, Efrat's chief rabbi, seems to be making a conscious effort to accommodate modern sensibilities.
However, many Orthodox Jews would say Riskin's attempts are destined to be fruitless. They would argue that it makes little difference whether there was an ancient Spanish-Portuguese tradition recorded in some book if it is not widely practiced. And even if Orthodox Jews were to start celebrating a Zeved Ha'Bat or a Shalom Bat, it would be a flimsy substitute for generations of tradition.
These Orthodox Jews base their claim on the assumption that Jewish attitudes must be absorbed through immersion in family or community, internalized and lived instinctively. Yiddishkeit for them is the accumulation over thousands of years of a myriad intangible nuances, attitudes, traits, a sense of humor and simple yirat shamayim (fear of God).
Nevertheless, those who would criticize Riskin overlook a simple fact: too many Jews in Israel today have lost touch with Yiddishkeit.
Israeli modern Orthodoxy is the result of a sudden ingathering of exiles. During the upheaval of immigration, many were estranged from their traditions. There are Sephardi or Yemenite Jews who were obliged to abandon the customs they brought with them and adopt mainstream National Religious-style Judaism (although in the past decade many have rebelled and returned to the traditions of old, hence the rise of Shas). There are Anglos or Russians who are new to Orthodoxy altogether. There are Holocaust survivors and their offspring, who were cut off from their traditions by the trauma of the Shoah.
A large number of modern Orthodox Israelis know only one kind of Judaism - that presented at the educational institutions they attended; they are familiar with the bare-bones tradition transmitted by books. Besides uncompromising adherence to Halacha, they lack a significant first-hand contact with Judaism as lived by family members.
Perhaps it is for these Jews that Riskin writes. If the tradition is transmitted today via books, Riskin is right to believe he can revive an ancient rite simply by including it in Around the Family Table. If many Orthodox Jews need to consult written rules for everyday practice instead of acting on internalized, almost intuitive codes inherited at home or from the community, they will be oblivious to the revolution Riskin proposes, and embrace his suggested customs wholeheartedly.
Around the Family Table is a practical and fundamental work for the budding library of every young Jewish family. The colors and figures in the book are very beautiful and the commentaries throughout are sufficiently clear and suitable to understand the meaning of Shabbat, festivals, and other occasions, and reflect a modern egalitarian role between husband and wife. It contains blessings, songs, and short stories, all of which are in Hebrew with English translations and introductions and instructions on halachic questions, which are intended to serve as a guide to the Jewish experience at home.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin represents modern Orthodoxy. His opinions as presented in several interviews are completely within halachic tradition but his insights and words are sensitive to and reflect the concerns of the modern Jewish family. Faithful to this attitude and of cultural interest to us here in Spain, Around the Family Table contains a beautiful seder for Simchat Bat based upon the ancient Zeved Ha-Bat ceremony of the Spanish Portuguese tradition.
I can recommend this book for all ages and as a welcome addition to all Jewish homes and all types of libraries both academic and private. It is a comprehensive guide and the best companion both for parents and children who want to get a foothold on observing Shabbat. It is especially useful for the many eastern European immigrant families looking forward to learning step-by-step how to bring Shabbat to life in their new homes but who usually come to English speaking countries with minimal knowledge and experience about this important celebration. It is hoped that some day it will be translated into other western European languages, especially for Spanish-speaking communities in South America as well as those transplanted in Israel and the rest of the world.
[Editor's note: a pocket-size edition is also now available.]
-Adrian Varela Cangado
Among the most used ritual booklets in Jewish life is the birkhon or bentscher. This compilation contains the Grace After Meals (Birkhat Hamazon), various formats for the Shabbat and Holiday kiddush, Shabbat songs known as z'mirot, and the various prayers associated with a wedding and a circumcision. Since these are always distributed at traditional weddings, most families have quite a collection and indeed there is some competition to seek and distribute ones that are somehow unique. Some are amply illustrated, some are in calligraphy, some contain beautiful photos and still others bear special covers. Most are merely a generic reminder of the event.
Around the Family Table by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is a birkhon worth keeping, and even purchasing in multiple copies for the entire family. There are no illustrations, but there are numerous insights and concise commentaries on all the traditional prayers associated with the Jeiwsh celebratory rites de passage and home-based rituals. In a too-brief introductory essay, Rabbi Riskin discusses what he terms Jewish table culture. This concept is a crucial factor in Jewish family life. Shabbat and Holiday meals as a family, candle lighting and Havdalah, the Passover seder, sheva brakhot, shalom zakhor, etc. are important elements that bind the Jewish family unit.
The standard prayers and songs are included, each with an introduction and commentary. The Hebrew title of this book is Siah HaShulkhan-Table Conversation, since every mini-essay provides tidbits for further discussion. There are a number of notable additions worthy of mentioning that are absent in most traditional birkhonim. In the Grace After Meals the additional blessings for Israel and Tzahal are included as are the special insertions for one's host and for a mourner. The Friday night blessing of the children and that over spices is also also included. Hard-to-find rituals are incorporated, including the seder for Tu B'Shvat, the Redemption of the First Born, Dedication of a House, and Simhat Bat or Zeved HaBat ceremony.
The text is traditional with one possible exception. The Friday night kiddush prayer usually begins with "-and it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day" which is the middle of the verse in Genesis 1:31. Rabbi Riskin includes the first words of this verse since Biblical passages should be quoted in their entirety. Once he did this, he could have added or included some of the textual changes that appear in the Edah birkhon by Rabbi Saul Berman. The only other very minor point is the inclusion of a number of verses after Psalm 126 without commentary. Until the '60's these verses were not recited except by certain Sephardic communities and then as part of a larger compilation of verses. How they crept into our table liturgy makes fascinating detective work.
Around the Family Table should be found at everyone's table. It is available in paperback and in a hardcover edition.
Jewish Book World
This small volume should prove extremely valuable to the modern Orthodox family. It contains Kiddush zemirot and birkat hamazon, but goes way beyond the standard bentcher, including texts for Yom Ha'atzma'ut (Israel's Independence Day) meals, a dedication of a new house and a Tu be'shvat Seder. It contains the additional symbolic foods for Rosh Hashanah, and concludes with popular "songs of Israel Reborn." Rabbi Riskin has also carefully looked for precedents in Jewish tradition and sources to be sensitive to modern sensibilities. In particular, for zimmun in birkat hamazon, Rabbi Riskin notes straightforwardly, "When three or more males or three or more females are reciting Birkat Hamazon together, one invites the others to join in praise of God in a special introductory blessing," and he adds "(When three or more females eat together, the Vilna Gaon rules that they are obliged to recite this zimun while other authorities rule that it is voluntary.)" The harachamon blessing for a married woman uses the term, 'ishi' to refer to the husband paralleling 'ishti' for a husband to say and not 'ba'ali' which has the connotation of 'master'.
Not only does the volume discuss a Shalom Zachor celebration on the first Shabbat after the birth of a boy, but Rabbi Riskin proposes a Shalom Bat for girls and says that the reason for the Shalom Zachor is not only the idea of protecting the boy in the dangerous period before circumcision, but also that it is a celebration to thank God for the good health of the mother after childbirth. He also says that one can consider the Shalom Zachor as an expression of mourning for the amount of Torah the baby lost at the moment of birth (according to the legend that an angel teaches every fetus the whole torah, but then kisses the baby above the lips before birth so that everything is forgotten and will have to be relearned), and that this clearly also applies to girls. As well as including a text for the ceremonies of Brit and Pidyon Haben, Rabbi Riskin also includes a text for a Simchat Bat based on the traditional Spanish-Portuguese ceremony of Zeved Habat. Many parents like the flexibility to create their own individual ceremony for a Simchat Bat, but other families will welcome the inclusion of a text that has verses from Shir Hashirim, berachot, a mishaberach, and Eshet Chayil.
Rabbi Riskin includes a wedding ceremony with full notes of explanation. When discussing the chatan's tisch (bridegroom's table), he adds, "In many instances there is now a Kallah's tisch or Shulhan Kallah for the bride, her close family and friends in an adjoining room." He also acknowledges that a bride might want to give her groom a ring as a gift of her love under the chuppah, and suggests it be done in the "nissuin" part of the ceremony and offers possible verses for her to say at this point. Rabbi Riskin's text for the Ushpizin ceremony on Succot notes that there are those who greet female biblical guests as well as males and includes Sarah, Rivkah, Leah and Rachel, Miriam, Devorah and Ruth, each one being greeted individually with the male guest on successive nights.
The Hebrew title of this book is Si'ach Hashulhan-Table Talk or Table Conversation and indeed it provides much insight and information to stimulate further discussion at the table on Shabbat and other occasions.
-Jennifer Stern Breger