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What is Challah?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

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A. In Halachic terms, the word Challah has a very specific definition, and colloquially, it came to mean a certain type of bread thousands of years later.


B. Today Challah is most commonly used as the name for the soft and sweet bread loaves customarily eaten at the Shabbat and holiday meals (also known as “hally,” as per popular pronunciation).


C. The Halachic definition of Challah is a reference to Positive Mitzvah #133. It entails separating a section of dough from your kneadings and giving it to the Kohen. This piece of dough is called "Challah." Any dough which is made of wheat, barley, spelt, oat or rye is obligated in this Mitzvah. The Kohen and his family would eat the Challah while in a state of ritual purity. The Rabbis determined that the the home-baker give 1/24th of the dough to the Kohen, while the commercial baker has to donate 1/48th of his dough.


D. Biblically speaking, the Mitzvah of Challah is only observed in the land of Israel. Furthermore, according to most Halachic authorities, the Mitzvah of Challah was a requirement only in the times of the Temple. Today, no Temple, no Challah. But the Rabbis re-instituted the practice of Challah -- even outside the land of Israel -- to commemorate this special Mitzvah. However, since today we are all considered ritually impure, the Kohen cannot eat the Challah. Instead, Jewish women through the centuries knead homemade dough and then separate a piece of the dough and burn it. All Kosher bakeries do the same -- they separate a piece of dough from each batch, and throw it on the floor of the oven. Today, only a small piece of dough is separated for Challah -- since the Challah isn't eaten, it would be wasteful to separate 1/24th or 1/48th of the dough.


Eventually, the soft, sweet bread loaves customarily eaten by the Shabbat meals became known as Challah
E. Before separating the "Challah," the following blessing is recited:

Baruch atta Ado-noy Elo-hai-nu Melech ha'olam asher kid-e-sha-nu b'mitz-vo-tav v'tzi-vanu li-haf-rish Challah.

[Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to separate Challah.]


How do I make Challah?


1. Gourmet your Challah


For Challah recipes of all types, check out "Spice and Spirit: the Complete Kosher Jewish Cookbook", or click here for an online recipe.


2. Measure your Challah


The Mitzvah of hafrashat Challah (separating Challah) divides raw dough into three categories: Small, Medium and Large. A small amount of dough (less than 2 lb. 11 oz. of flour) does not require the Mitzvah. A medium amount of dough (more than 2 lb. 11 oz. but less than 3 lb. 11 oz.) requires the Mitzvah, but without the recitation of the Separating-the-Dough blessing. A large amount of dough (more than 3 lb. 11 oz.) requires the Mitzvah and the Separating-the-Dough blessings.


3. Burn your Challah


See that little lump of dough you just cut loose from your main batch? Wrap it in silver foil and over-bake it till it’s black. Then throw it out. Congratulations--you’ve done the Mitzvah.

TAGS: Challah

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Shabbat » Shabbat Meals

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Halachic
Pertaining to Jewish Law.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Challah
A loaf of bread. Usually refers to: 1) The section of dough separated and given to the priest (today that section is burnt). 2) The sweetened, soft bread customarily consumed at the Sabbath meals.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.