About Challah

When you think of 'Challah', does the image of a soft, golden, braided loaf of bread come to mind? Challah has been the centerpiece of a Shabbat table for millennia.

The name Challah originates from a Biblical commandment of “separating challah (dough)”, its practice relating specifically to the times of the ancient Temple, but carried through even today.

Thousands of years ago, Jews all lived together in Israel under a single commonwealth, with the Holy Temple as the center of Jewish life. The holy work of the Temple was done by the kohens, the priests. It was a real honor to do this work, but practically speaking, these priests didn’t have the opportunity or time to pursue a living. The Torah outlines a variety of “tithes” for the Jewish people to give to the priests as their “salaries,” and separating dough from their kneading was one such donation. This piece of dough was called “challah,” and any dough which was made with wheat, barley, spelt, oat or rye was obligated in this mitzvah.

In modern times, without the Temple or priests, the practice of separating challah is still maintained as a commemoration of this beautiful mitzvah. Whether the dough is made at home or at a kosher bakery, a small piece is separated from the batch and burned (rendered unusable).

“Separating dough” is a mitzvah that belongs to all Jews who bake bread; however it is traditionally seen as one of the special mitzvot of the Jewish woman, who is seen as the “foundation of the home.” Bread symbolizes the basic sustenance that a mother provides for her family; fulfilling this mitzvah from the dough represents the spiritual nourishment as well.