Baruch ata Adonoy,
Eloheinu melech ha-olam,
Ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.
Blessed are you God, King of the Universe,
Who brings forth bread from the earth.
Bread. Lechem. I love bread! Who doesn’t? And that smell flooding a room when a loaf is baking…*sigh* ‘tis a wonderful thing! Mennonites make wonderful bread…
But bread also plays an essential and symbolic role in Jewish life and practice. In The Second Jewish Book of Why, Alfred J. Kolatch says that,
“In Jewish tradition, no food is more important than bread. Proof of this is usually adduced from the verse in the Bible (Deuteronomy 8:8) in which bread (or, to be more specific, wheat from which most bread is made) is mentioned before all other foods. It is for this reason that when the blessing over bread (Hamotzi) is recited at the beginning of a meal, it covers all foods to be eaten during the course of the meal.”
Today I want to introduce my non-Jewish readers to a type of bread that I have come to love! Challah bread!
This is a special braided bread that is a staple of every Shabbat meal. Like so many things in Jewish life it is steeped in symbolism and tradition. I was determined to learn how to make it when I lived in Israel, and, while I have had a few failed attempts, I’ve added it to the list of things I am relatively competent at making. ????
I will not post a picture of a failed attempt, but this is one of mine that turned out looking pretty good…
And here is a picture of a shabbat meal I had with friends in Israel complete with candles and the two loaves…
Generally on Shabbat there should be two loaves which symbolize the two portions of manna the Israelites were commanded to gather on Friday so they would have enough for the following day of rest. The most common Challah has three braids which are said to symbolize truth, peace, and justice.
However, some braids can be very elaborate with more than just three strands.
Different holidays might also call for different shapes and number of braids which symbolize different things. At Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, they make round challah.
On Yom Kippur they might make it in a ladder shape, and on Purim you might see triangular loaves.
And some people just get really creative with their challah…
“There is also the tradition of dipping the challah in salt. The rabbi at www.aish.com says
The reason for this custom is because the table that we eat on is compared to the Altar that once stood in the Holy Temple. The home is likened to a miniature Temple. Just as all offerings on the Altar were salted, the bread that we eat is salted, too.
Also we place salt on the bread because salt is a preserver, symbolizing that this meal is no longer merely a transitory experience, but a moment that will last for eternity.
Further, Genesis 3:19 says that we should eat our bread with the sweat of our brow (sweat contains salt).
The Torah (Leviticus 2:13) speaks of a “Covenant of Salt,” where God instructs us to use salt on all the offerings as if to say that His covenant with us is eternal, sealed with salt. Since salt never spoils, it is a symbol of indestructibility.”
It is all very interesting, not to mention tasty! 🙂 But not all challah is created equal and some bakery’s can’t do it justice.
Here is a link to more interesting facts and a video of challah-making