Greg Schneider, Rituals, and Baking

By Jonathan Watts on September 17, 2007

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Greg Schneider, professor of behavioral science, enjoys celebrating rituals with good food. Every Friday, he prepares braided Jewish challah (pronounced "hala") bread for consumption that evening, when he and his family celebrate the coming of the Sabbath. Their Friday night meal also includes a special grape juice, like Navarro or Sparkling Catawba.

Schneider appropriated the Friday night celebration from the orthodox Jewish tradition, where the challah bread is a standard remembrance of the temple service and table of shewbread. "I believe in the importance of ritual and tradition, and I wanted to make this part of a family ritual," he said.

Schneider makes two varieties of challah bread: a milk and honey version, favored by his teenage sons, and an orange juice-cranberry version which his wife Candy prefers."The milk and honey bread is easier to make, so things often go the boys' way," said Schneider.

Preparing challah bread every week involves a certain dedication, although Schneider is aided in his task by an automatic breadmaker which kneads the dough and lets it rise. "If can use a mechanical toy, men tend to get involved in things," he said. But it's up to Schneider to manually shape and braid the bread, glaze it with egg whites, and bake it in a conventional oven, a process that takes about two hours.

Schneider does not begrudge the time and energy it takes to make the challah bread nor the money it costs to buy grape juice for this weekly celebration."We don't mind spending six or eight dollars a bottle on grape juice for Friday night because it sends the message that this is a special occasion to celebrate the coming of the Lord's Sabbath," he said.

Schneider's culinary interests extend beyond challah bread, grape juice, and Sabbath ritual to the less sanctified realm of dessert. He is fond of making chocolate mousse pies (semi-lowfat), two varieties of healthful sorbet (grapefruit and mango), and an extremely decadent variety of homemade ice cream. These are often shared with fortunate colleagues and students during certain secular rituals such as departmental parties.

On March 17, Schneider outdid himself by bringing six chocolate mousse pies (three mint-flavored and three mocha-flavored), a large quantity of both kinds of challah bread, and several bottles of sparkling grape juice to the final test of his upper-division Issues in Religion, Ethics, and the Human Sciences class. Schneider wanted to reward his students for the heavy reading, classwork, and discussion they had accomplished during the quarter; and he also wanted to reinforce some of the concepts they had discussed. "Our class emphasized the importance of community and sharing and ritual," said Schneider. "I thought bringing in challah bread and dessert would be a good way to reinforce these concepts. Teachers are always looking for ways to drive home ideas."