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The Sabbath—A Family Event:  Cholent

September 20, 2010

by: Charleeda Sprinkle, Assistant Editor

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As a long-term volunteer, I’ve become so accustomed to its delights that when I return home to America, it is what I miss the most about Israel. Being Christian, I had always taken a Sabbath rest on Sunday, but in Israel (as well as for Jews worldwide), it is celebrated on the seventh day (Lev. 23:6), starting Friday night. It lasts almost 25 hours because it’s not officially over (by some accounts) until three stars are spotted in the sky, which is usually around 40 minutes after sunset. It’s common to see praying men standing outside their synagogues on Saturday nights watching the sky.

Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of the Sabbath for the Western modern-day world is its emphasis on family. During the Friday night meal, each member of the family is blessed, something good being said over each one. Families visit together over a beautifully prepared meal. Songs are sung, stories are shared, and everyone prays together. Walking through a neighborhood, you hear laughter and happy conversations from patios late into the evening and see families—grandparents, young adults, teens, children and infants—walking and talking together during the day.

I so wanted this for my family that when I was back in America for over a year, being the matriarch of my family, I declared every Friday night to be family night and invited my daughters, sons-in-law, my four grandchildren, and any of their friends to join me whenever their schedules would allow. Sometimes, baking the Jewish Sabbath braided bread (challah) became a joint effort as each grandchild was given a small ball of dough to roll into a long rope. (Twisting six ropes of dough, instead of three or four, required watching a video—at least six times!) We said words of blessing over each other and, after eating, played games that the whole family could join in.

Does your family need more “together” time? Creating a Sabbath tradition might be the answer. Our recipe is a good meal to gather around and is a traditional Jewish dish for Saturday lunch after it’s simmered in a low oven for up to 24 hours. It’s likely to make you satisfyingly full…and sleepy, so naptime is also a Sabbath tradition you won’t want to miss!


Photo from The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur

  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped coarsely
  • 1 kg (2.5 lb) beef brisket or roast, cut into large chunks
  • 350 g (12 oz) large white beans, soaked in water overnight
  • 3–4 veal marrow bones
  • 1 whole head garlic, halved crosswise (unpeeled)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2–2 tbsp. paprika
  • 1 liter (1 quart) chicken/ beef stock or water
  • 8 medium potatoes, halved
  • 300 g (10 oz) pearl barley, washed and drained

Heat oil in an ovenproof 6-liter/quart pot and fry onions until golden. Add meat and bones and brown on all sides. Add beans, garlic, and spices. Pour in stock or water until it covers the meat. Bring to a boil and cook for one hour over low heat. Skim off any fat and froth. Add potatoes and cook another 15 minutes. Add the pearl barley and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Preheat the oven to 100oC (225oF). Cover tightly and leave in the oven through the night. Serves 8–12.

Recipe from The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur

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