In 1995, Rabbi and Mrs. Leib Kelemen arranged for a group of English speaking residents of Har Nof, Jerusalem to serve as Shabbos hosts for a few dozen students visiting Israel on a short trip from the US. Rabbi and Mrs. Jonathan Bressel were among the hosts that Shabbos, featuring meals and lodging with families, and ice cream parties with speakers. Upon Rabbi Kelemen’s suggestion, the Bressels took over the project, subsequently hosting and inspiring hundreds of such students over the next few years.
The Shabbos hosts soon became aware of a vital missing tool. Most of the students had little or no experience with formal Jewish practice and wanted to understand what was happening. Since the guests had minimal knowledge of Hebrew, blessings, and Shabbos, keeping them informed and educated was a real challenge. The hosts needed something written, something that could be placed next to each guest, a guide that would explain the often bewildering set of behaviors seen at the Shabbos table.
Rabbi Bressel undertook writing such a guide in his spare time, expecting it to take three months. He seemed uniquely qualified for the project: growing up in a Boston, MA area non-observant Conservative home, then earning an electrical engineering degree at Yale, he could relate to the students’ unfamiliarity with Torah observance. After working for a couple years in hi-tech, he immersed himself in yeshiva and became a close talmid of Rabbi Moshe Meiselman at Toras Moshe gaining expertise in learning, halacha and hashkafa. Resuming his hi-tech career at Intel, he passionately invested his remaining waking hours to writing the Shabbat table guide. The magnitude of the project soon became apparent, and after twenty years of meticulously researching, writing, collaborating and editing, the book was born, Treasure of Shabbat: An Illuminated Guide to the Shabbat Table Experience.
The book contains full directions for the entire Shabbat table experience, from candle lighting through Havdallah, including songs, blessings after the meal, and other blessings over food. Each section contains an introduction detailing the what, why, when, and where of the relevant activity. All Hebrew text is translated and transliterated linearly. Explanations, commentary, advanced directions, and customs surround the text, beautifully illuminated with color photographs. The book features a wealth of over seventy inspiring stories collected over the years, many of them from renowned Jewish writers.
Rabbi Meseilman’s Forward to the book encapsulates the Guide:
Rabbi Jonathan Bressel has produced a wonderful work, “Treasure of Shabbat: An Illuminated Guide to the Shabbat Table Experience.” In this book, he gives a detailed step by step guide how to experience Shabbat and fulfill all of its mandates. This provides the novice with all the information needed to enjoy and experience the beauty of Shabbat. It is a wonderful tool for people involved in education to explain and guide a newcomer to Shabbat. This book is highly recommended to all who want to learn or teach about the fundamentals of the Shabbat experience. It will become an indispensable tool to all who are involved in education.
Rabbi Kelemen adds an important perspective on the special quality and utility of the Guide:
I rarely write book reviews, but this is an extraordinary contribution. With the precision of a scientist and the sensitivity of a Chassidic Master, Rabbi Bressel provides detailed, practical, inspiring guidance to observing a traditional Shabbat. I have never seen a more comprehensive work, not only providing the choreography for actually conducting a 25-hour Shabbat experience, but explaining the depth behind every detail of this elaborate dance. Because of its encyclopedic coverage, it will be equally valuable to the novice and a traditional Jew who grew up with Shabbat his entire life. If you are going to consult one English-language text on how to live and love Shabbat, this is the one.
Looking to the future, Rabbi Bressel is already exploring how translations of the book into Hebrew, Russian, French, and Spanish can help strengthen and inspire Shabbos observance throughout the world.
A descriptive PDF and a page sampler can be found at www.jewishlivingpress.com.