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Why Challah. . . and not Pumpernickel or Rye?

Renee Eder on Monday, June 12, 2017

At a Friday night Shabbat dinner, the blessing over the challah is typically done. Sometimes, I look at the bread and wonder, “(w)hy can’t we be doing this prayer over pumpernickel, cinnamon raisin bread, a New York bagel, or even a loaf of Wonder bread?” Why does it have to be challah? I also wonder if there will be any left for French toast the next morning!

Is it the delicious aroma and scrumptious sweet taste of the freshly baked special Jewish bread that makes it the first choice at our Friday night dinners? Not exactly!  Challah is eaten rather than any other bread, because Challah is both sweeter and richer, being made with egg as well as wheat. A sweeter, tastier “rich man’s food” is a more fitting a symbol of the Manna which G-d provided.

Challah is also a braided bread, and the braids have meaning. We braid each one with three strands, together; the two Challah’s it's customary to eat have six strands total. This signifies the six days of the week preceding the Shabbat. When we braid the Challah, we signify bringing those six days together creating unity and harmony in our lives by celebrating Shabbat.    

The braiding of the challah may also symbolize:

  • A symbol of the intertwining of the holy days with the secular days of the week, as Friday passes into the Sabbath.
  • A symbol of the connectedness the Sabbath brings, with its purpose of allowing time for family, friends and relationship strengthening. Like the segments of the braid coming together, Shabbat brings unity.

According to My Jewish Learning, “(c)hallah, however you bake it, continues to play a central, delicious role in the rhythm of Jewish life. Through migration, diaspora, and agriculture, it became something just as diverse as the people who bake it every Friday.”

Here are some recipes for different types of challah that you and your family can make:

Classic Challah

Honey Whole Wheat Challah

Savory Za’atar Challah

The Ultimate Gluten-Free Challah

Vegan Challah

Rainbow Challah

Hope you are able to spend many Shabbat meals with your loved ones enjoying challah, however you like to make it!

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