Mystical medicine

Rebbetzin and author Chana Bracha Siegelbaum pens a wholesome, spirited cookbook for the soul.

March 15, 2015 21:01
seven fruits of israel

Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum wears many hats. As head of Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin, she is rebbetzin, teacher, guide and friend to many young women. As a prolific author, she has written on subjects ranging from a women’s perspective on the weekly parsha to an exploration of Megillat Ruth. Rebbetzin Siegelbaum’s newest book, The Seven Fruits of the Land with their Mystical and Medicinal Properties, was awarded the Best Jewish Cuisine Book of 2014 by the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

You are an accomplished and celebrated author. What inspired you to write about the seven fruits of Israel?

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I had been teaching yearly for more than a decade about the mystical and medicinal properties of the seven species to my students at Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin. We would delve into Torah sources about each fruit, learn about its medicinal properties, and then pick the fruits and make something with them such as natural grapejuice, fig-jam and pickled olives. Over the years, I’d collected much research and taken many photographs of these beautiful fruits, which baruch Hashem [thank God] all grow in my garden. For about 15 years, tending these fruits, and using them in food and for healing has been an important part of my life since our trees first yielded fruits of the fourth year.

Can you share a couple of the medicinal properties from your book that might surprise the reader?

Lots of research has been done about how grapes promote brain health because of their resveratrol. Grapes can stall the onset of neurodegenerative diseases and are beneficial for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Likewise we can find Torah sources that teach how raisins strengthen the activity of the brain and develop wisdom.

Figs are full of seeds and grow in pairs. Hashem in His great wisdom created figs to resemble the male reproductive organs.

They increase the mobility and quantity of male sperm to overcome male sterility and impotence. The pomegranate develops from a flower in the shape of a six-pointed Star of David, which takes on the form of a crown as the fruit grows. The Magen David literally means the ‘Shield of David.’ No wonder that the pomegranate corresponds to the immune system according to Rav Ginsburgh. Pomegranate juice contain three times the antioxidant power of red wine or green tea.

How long did it take you to complete this latest book; was it a labor of love?

Creating the Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel was definitely a labor of love. It was a very long process that I began 17 years ago when I decided to write a wholesome, spirited cookbook with Torah teachings and recipes. Originally, The Seven Fruits was the last section of that cookbook, which was such an overwhelming project that I decided to divide up the cookbook into seven smaller sections. One has wholesome challah bread and cakes, which includes my famous Shabbat challah recipe and Torah teachings of the special mitzvah for women to bake challah. Another has herbology recipes with Torah teachings on plants, such as hyssop, myrtle, capers. So for some reason I decided about four years ago that I would begin with the last section about the Seven Fruits of Israel.

As I worked on the book, which I thought would be more like a booklet with maximum 100 pages, the project kept developing.

I had so many questions and was looking to prove the Torah teachings on the fruits. There was such an overwhelming amount of information available, so the project kept expanding beyond what I originally envisioned. With the photos and artwork in the end it filled 460 pages! I completed the writing for the book around two years ago. The third year I spent working with the graphic artist and fine tuning. The entire past year I spent on fixing mistakes. The book’s cover art is really beautiful.

Who is the artist and what was in the inspiration behind the design?

Hashem is the true artist, and the cover was a great teamwork. Originally Jessica Vaiselberg painted an oil painting of each of the seven fruits of Israel while she attended Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin about seven years ago. Some were painted in my own garden. She donated a photograph of each of the paintings to the midrasha to post on our website as student art.

I loved these paintings and thought they would be perfect for my book. For the cover Ruth Simchi, the graphic artist of Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin, took all Jessica’s paintings and overlaid them and voila, the cover had been created. This has been fine-tuned by myself and Menorah publishers who produced the back cover, chose the fonts and designed the writings on the cover with a lot of adjustment request from me, until I finally was happy with it.

You are the rebbetzin of Midreshet B’erot in Bat Ayin. How does being a rosh yeshiva influence or affect your writing?

It was challenging to be able to both run the midrasha and devote time to research and writing. However, it turned out to be a great symbiosis as my writings serve to promote the midrasha and teaching at the midrasha provided inspiration for teaching material.

Who is your favorite author of all time?

Being from Denmark I grew up with Hans Christian Andersen whose collected stories I own in the original Danish language.

What’s next on the horizon for you as a writer; is there a new book in the works?

There are many new books, its only a question to choose which project. I would like to put together a sequel to the The Wholesome Spirited Cookbook Nutrition & Health Series with Torah Teachings & Recipes.

Another project is Parasha Meditations, which I originally wrote for my blog, with a theme and appropriate meditation for each of the weekly Torah portions. In addition, I actually wrote my first children’s book while the Seven Fruits of Israel was being published. Its called The Nameless Chicken from Judea and includes original student artwork and photos of my own chickens. I will sell this book on my tour as well to raise money for the midrasha, and am excited to see how that goes. I have a few additional children’s books in mind as well.

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