by Patti Breitman

While most of us cannot envision a Shabbat dinner without challah, each Jewish community around the world has its own special bread for Shabbat. The Ashkenazic Jews from Eastern Europe were the first people to bake the challah we know today. (Rye, pumpernickel, bagels and other breads also came from the Ashkenazim, but for this short article, we will stick with the challah story.) Braiding the challah probably began in Germany during the early Middle Ages. חַלָּה Challah means a round loaf or cake in biblical Hebrew.

In honor of the double portion of manna that God provided for the wandering Israelites, on Shabbat it is customary to place two loaves of challah on the table.

In traditional Judaism, when baking challah, a small piece of dough is removed —about the size of an olive— and burned before shaping the loaves. This piece is thrown into the hot oven and a blessing is recited in memory of the offerings in the days of the Temple. This ritual is known as ‘taking challah,’ and along with lighting the Shabbat candles and immersion in the mikveh, it is one of the three mitzvot associated with Shabbat. (Unlike the candle-lighting and the mikveh, however, which only women perform, either a man or a woman can perform the taking challah.)

Anyone concerned about eating eggs can replace the eggs in any challah recipe with flaxseeds and water, blended in a blender.

I recommend the recipe for two loaves of eggless challah from The Jewish Vegetarian Year Cookbook by Roberta Kalechofsky and Rosa Rasiel (Micah Publications, 1997).

—from our July-August 2005 Newsletter

Copyright © 2005 Patti Breitman