Our challah is not to be fooled with. We Jews are masters at imbuing ordinary acts
with symbolism. For thousands of years challah has been our Shabbat and holiday bread, and as for meanings, challah
alone needs a thesaurus.
The first appearance of the word “challah”
appears in the Bible (Numbers 15:18-21) as follows:
...When you enter
the land where I bring you, it shall be that when you eat of the bread of the land, you shall set aside a portion for God.
Of the first of your dough you shall set aside a loaf as an offering; as the offering of the threshing-floor, so you shall
set it aside. From the first of your dough you shall give to God an offering throughout your generations.
The word “cake” is a translation of the Hebrew word “challah.” The offering or portion
of challah that was given to the priests (kohanim) was called the mitzvah
of “hafrashat challah” – separating the challah.
the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, Jews were told to separate 1/24th of the doughs and give it to the kohanim
every Shabbat. I’m the daughter of kohanim, but I’ve yet to receive a morsel.)
On Shabbat, the two challahs placed on our festive tables represent the double-portion of manna that fell on Friday,
the heavenly bread that fed Jewish people during their 40 years in the desert.
strands, arms intertwined, symbolize love, truth, peace, creation, freedom, harmony, family connection, unity and justice
– following the simultaneous commandments to remember, observe and guard Shabbat (“Shamor” and “Zachor”).
Twelve humps recall the miracle of the 12 loaves for the 12 tribes of Israel.
Round loaves on Rosh Hashanah symbolize continuity.
Ladder shapes, before
the Yom Kippur fast, represents ascending to great heights.
On Purim, small triangular
loaves represent Haman’s ears.
On Shavuot, two oblongs side by side resemble
the Tablets of the Law.
Next to matzah (and chicken), challah is what makes our
world go round.
word challah (ḥallah plural: challot/ḥalloth/khallos) (Hebrew: חלה) is also called
khale (eastern Yiddish, German and western Yiddish), berches (Swabian), barkis (Gothenburg), bergis (Stockholm), birkata in
Judeo-Amharic, chałka (Polish), colaci (Romanian),and kitke (South Africa). Yet the origin Etymology of the word “challah” is as mysterious to me as me trying to bake one – from
The term challah comes from the Biblical commandment of “hafrashat
challah,” separating the challah for the cohen or priest. The word cChallah itself may come from the root
word “Chalal” which means space. The term comes from the Biblical commandment of “hafrashat challah,”
or burning a bit to commemorate the destruction of the Temple.
Challah may come
from “Gal” referring to a circle in Hebrew.
Others suggest “challah”
may be derived from the amalgamation of: Hilu or hala, the Arabic root for “sweet.” Nah.
The name “challah” was given applied to the bread in South Germany in the Middle Ages when it was adopted
by Jews for Shabbat and holidays. John Cooper (Eat and Be Satisfied) notes that the first mention was in the 15th
century. The term was coined in Austria. Before, the bread was called “berches,” a name still used by Jews in
some places today.
Every Friday evening, it's challah that heralds the Sabbath.
Likewise on Jewish holidays.
The prayers and customs that accompany the mitzvah
of making challah for the Sabbath are the same the world over, linking the present to the Book of Leviticus, when God instructed
Moses to place two rows of six challot. For more than 4,000 years since, Jews have been delighting in challah for Shabbat.
On Friday night and holidays, this special, oh so delicious bread is also a reminder of the purity of the day of
rest, as well as a remembrance of the deprivation of Eastern European Jews who lived on black bread during the week.
Wait! There’s more …
Tearing vs. Slicing: On “Chopped” I saw them slicing the challah instead of tearing!
(I ran for the Slivovitz.) Oy vey. Abraham is rolling.
Whether a key of dough is baked inside or adorns the top, some still engage in this controversial practice. The key is a form
of prayer to open up the gates of livelihood. Other interpretations see the key as understanding the basic necessities in
life as stored for us in shamayim (heaven) behind locked gates. All we have to do is ask God to unlock the gates
and fill our homes with blessings. Just as He unlocked the gates of sustenance to provide for us in those days in Israel,
may He provide us with our needs now.
Salvation: A recent custom, 40
women devote their prayers while separating challah to those in need of salvation (illness, a worthy mate, the birth of a
child). Separating challah is a segulah (good omen) for an easy, safe birth and some separate challah at least once
in the ninth month of pregnancy.
Special enough yet?!
So, with this history in mind I watched what they did to OUR challah on “Chopped.” Oy, what they made!
I don’t want to see (or understand) challah béchameled, cassoletted, chiffonaded, moled, rouladed, confited,
aiolied, rouxed, coulisdied, ceviched, sabayoned into a pate, or encrouted in something. I don’t want to see white
chocolate (which should be an extra Jewish sin) using our challah! (Never mind the recipes for Challah and
Apple Stuffed Pork Loin? Mit bacon or ham? QUICK! THE SLIVOVITZ!)
may be a sign of genius in today’s world, let them play with goat’s feet, dragonfruit, and yes, even Halvah with
fried pickles. But there are just some things you don’t futz with.
ratings, and yes, even “geniuses” should be required to “repurpose” that which has had a purpose to
We Jews for millennia.
Just as we don’t need to “transform”
Judaism, even for ratings, our challah stands alone (except for maybe some raisins, and French toast) – and like Judaism,
should be dosed straight, with love, and respect for this ever-lasting mitzvah!