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Ezra1 instituted ten enactments in his lifetime. Among them is the requirement for women to bake challah on Erev Shabbat.2 Although perhaps not one of the easiest preparations for Shabbat, baking one’s own challah bread is surely one of the most rewarding. It is considered to be exceptionally meritorious to personally bake the challot for one’s Shabbat meals.3 Not only does baking challah allow one to honor Shabbat but it also allows one the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of hafrashat challah, separating the required portion from the dough.4 Indeed, it is explained that the Shabbat bread is called “challah” in order to remind women that they must perform hafrashat challah when baking the Shabbat bread each week.5 Baking challah at home ensures that there will be bread available for a poor person who has none, should one come knocking.6

The custom for women to bake challah on Erev Shabbat was meticulously observed during the Talmudic era.7 In more recent times, the late Satmar Rebbe is quoted as having said, “If women knew the reward that awaits those who bake challot for Shabbat, bakeries wouldn’t sell a single challah.” Nowadays, however, it is not always practical for women to bake their own challot, and every woman must weigh her many obligations and mitzvah opportunities accordingly. Although it is preferable for women to bake their own challah,8 it is perfectly acceptable to purchase challot from the local bakery. This is especially true if one prefers their taste.9 Some authorities suggest that one bake at least a small amount of challah at home and buy the rest from the bakery.10

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In order to be able to perform the mitzvah of hafrashat challah when baking challot – or any bread for that matter, one must be sure to use a specified minimum amount of flour,11 which is “forty-three eggs’ worth.”12 In modern-day terms, this is about five pounds,13 or just over two kilos of flour. One who uses less than this amount of flour when baking should still separate challah, but the accompanying blessing is not recited. There are, however, authorities who rule that one may recite the accompanying blessing if four pounds14 – or even slightly more than three pounds15 – of flour are used.16

It is particularly auspicious for the challot to be baked on Erev Shabbat.17 This is because the mitzvah of hafrashat challah serves to rectify the sin of Chava, which took place on the first Friday of creation.18 It also serves to remind us that the Lechem Hapanim were baked every Erev Shabbat.19 It is completely acceptable, however, to bake the challot earlier in the week if necessary.20 While it is meritorious to prepare elaborate meals in honor of Shabbat, one ultimately fulfills the mitzvah of eating a Shabbat meal by simply eating bread. Therefore, when one bakes challah, one is personally involved in preparing the only truly required component of the Shabbat meal. This is a form of hiddur mitzvah.21

Another reason it is customary for women to bake challah in honor of Shabbat is to ensure that the family eats pat Yisrael, Jewish-baked bread, at least on Shabbat.22 Although it is permissible, even on Shabbat, to eat kosher bread baked by a non-Jew, it is halachically preferable to eat bread baked by a Jew. Eating pat Yisrael on Shabbat is another way in which we honor Shabbat. It is also taught that the term for the two loaves of challah that are used at every Shabbat meal, lechem mishna, can also be read as lechem meshuna – bread that is different. This is why the bread used for Shabbat is distinct from the bread eaten during the week in shape, size, taste, and color.23

One may bake a large number of challot at one time and freeze them for future Shabbatot. One who warms up a freshly frozen challah for the Shabbat meal is considered to have complied with Ezra’s enactment as well.24 When the challot are removed from the oven, they should be placed directly on the table while still hot.25 In fact, it is commendable to recite the blessing upon the challot Friday night while they are still hot from the oven, if possible.26

Challah bread is generally formed into a loaf by braiding together several strips of dough. In this way, the loaves resemble the shape of a canoe, which was the shape of the Lechem Hapanim in the Beit HaMikdash.27 Some have the custom to form each challah out of six such strips. In this way, the two required challot (lechem mishna) at each Shabbat meal consist of twelve braids, which serves to recall the twelve loaves of the Lechem Hapanim.28 Other sources suggest that the two challot represent two Hebrew letter vavs, whose numerical value adds up to twelve, recalling the twelve loaves of the Lechem Hapanim. Some actually prepare twelve challot for the Shabbat meals in commemoration of the Lechem Hapanim.29

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  1. Also known as “Ezra the Scribe,” “Ezra the Priest,” and “Ezra the Prophet.”
  2. Bava Kama 82a. See also Ben Ish Chai, Lech Lecha 6.
  3. OC 529:1; Rema, OC 242:1.
  4. Mishna Berura 242:6.
  5. Yerushalmi Megilla 4:1; Eishel Avraham (Botchatch), OC 260; Otzar Hashabbat 82.
  6. Meiri, Bava Kama 82a; Rambam, Hilchot Ishut 21:5.
  7. Ta’anit 25a.
  8. Biur Halacha 242.
  9. Hilchot Shabbat B’Shabbat 1:13; Or L’Tzion 2:47:1. See Mishne Halachot 15:95 for a dissenting opinion.
  10. Or Yitzchak, OC 65; Chelkat Yaakov 2:81.
  11. Rema, OC 242:1; Shraga Hameir 8:16.
  12. Chullin 135b; Eruvin 83a; YD 324:1.
  13. The view of Rabbi Yosef Henkin.
  14. The view of Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank.
  15. Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 42:9; Challa K’hilchata 5:2.
  16. Teshuvot V’hanhagot 1:672.
  17. Ben Ish Chai, Lech Lecha 2:6.
  18. Magen Avraham 242:4; Chayei Adam, Shabbat 1:4; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 38:8; Mishna Berura 242:6.
  19. Siddur Ya’avetz, Amudei Shamayim.
  20. Avnei Yashfei 5:45. See also Meiri to Bava Kama 82a.
  21. Avnei Yashfei 5:45.
  22. Yad Ephraim 242; Kaf Hachaim, OC 242:22; Or Yitzchak, OC 65.
  23. Mechilta, Beshalach.
  24. Shraga Hameir 8:16.
  25. Taz, YD 178:7.
  26. Minhag Yisrael Torah 242:1.
  27. Menachot 94b.
  28. Elya Rabba 167:2.
  29. Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 274:1.
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Rabbi Ari Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He teaches halacha, including semicha, one-on-one to people all over the world, online. He is also the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (9 volumes), the rabbinic director of United with Israel, and a rebbe at a number of yeshivot and seminaries. Questions and feedback are welcomed: rabbiari@hotmail.com.