The Laws of Challah

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Baking Challah and other baked goods can be a very fun project, but it also involves various halachos, which the Jewish family can partake.

1. Setting aside of challah – a small cake of dough — when baking bread or other grain goods is one of the commandments whose observance is connected with Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisroel:

“And  G-d spoke unto Moses saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them – When you come into the Land to which I am bringing you, then it shall be, that when you eat of the bread of the Land, you shall set apart a portion for a gift to G-d.  Of the first of your dough you shall set apart a cake חלה, for a gift; as that which is set apart of the threshing floor (the gift to the Kohen, known as terumah), so shall you set it apart.  Of the first of your dough, you shall give unto G0d a portion for a gift thorughout your generations”

(B’midbar 15:17-21)

2. The verse instructs that the cake be “a gift to G-d” which means it must be given to the Kohen (as detailed in Yechez’kel 44:30).  {quotes}The requirement of separating challah has the force of Torah law when all Jewry is living on the Land. {/quotes} Therefore, after the dispersion of the Ten Tribes, even before the destruction of the First Holy Temple, the obligation to separate challah as commanded in the Torah was no longer in force. Instead, the prophets and elders reinstituted the pratice in order for the people to remember the original command; it thus has the force of Rabbinical law.

 Today, the cake of challah is burnt rather given to the Kohen and the mitzvah is observed even outside of Eretz Yisroel.

3. Although women are encouraged to perform the mitzvah of challah, the requirement of separation falls on both men and women.  Therefore, is a man is baking bread and no woman is available to separate, he must do so himself.

4.  IF challah was not separated from dough requiring such separation, it is forbidden to eat the baked good.  However in such a case, challah can be taken after baking (see #15).

FROM WHICH DOUGH IS CHALLAH SEPARATED?

5. Challah must be separated from dough made of 5 species of grain

wheat, barley, spelt, rye, oats

Rice, corn, or potato flour is thus exempt from the mitzvah.  Dough made from any combination of these five species is likewise obligated in challah.  If dough of several species were kneaded separately in small quantities and later combined, a rabbi should be consulted as to whether challah must be taken.

6.  Dough for baking (bread or cake) is obligated in challah — that for cooking (water bagels) or fying (doughnuts) is exempt.  Noodles that are baked before cooking are therefore obligated in challah, but those not baked are not.

7. Dough that includes water, milk, honey, olive oil, or wine as its liquid ingredients is obligated in challah.  That made with pure fruit juice (undiluted with water) and eggs and contains none of the five above-listed liquids is exempt.

FROM WHAT SIZE DOUGH IS CHALLAH SEPARATED?

8. The general custom among Ashkenazi communities is to separate challah from dough containing at least 1200 g (2 lbs, 10.3 oz) of flour.  However, between 1200 and 1680 g (3 lbs, 11.2 oz) separation is done without blessing.  More than 1680 g requires the blessing (see #11).  [Those who follow the Chazon Ish (Rabbi Avrohom Yeshayahu Karelitz, d. 5714/1954) do not say a blessing unless the dough is at least 2250 g — 5 lbs less 0.7 oz. ]

According to Sefardic (Oriental) custom the minium for separation is 1664 g (3 lbs. 10.7 oz) of flour and the blessing is recited over at least 2480 g (5 lbs. 7.3 oz).

The basis for the minimum dough requirement is that one aspect of the commandment of Challah is to remind man that his daily bread is a gift of G0d.  We derive the amount of daily susenance from the daily portion of mannah each Jew gathered in the desert, an omer, which is equivalent to 43.2 betzah (each unit is the volume of a medium-size chicken egg).  We are not sure today of the size of a medium-size egg or whether the eggs in talmudic and Biblical times had a different volume than those of modern breeds of chickens.

WHEN TO SEPARATED?

9. Although challah taken as soon as the flour is completely wetted by water is valid, one should separate from kneaded dough that has already consolidated into a single mass.  Separating form the flour is invalid and challah would then have to be taken again after kneading.

QUANTITY TO SEPARATE

10. The general custom is to separate a kezayis (lit. an olive-sized quantity, 27g or 1 oz) of dough. [Some separate less when they do not say the blessing.]

HOW TO SEPARATE

11. Before separating from dough requiring the blessing (see #8) say:

Boruch atah, Ad-noi, El-heinu melech ho’olam asher kideshonu bemitzvosov vitzivonu lehafrish challah

Separate the required amount and say,

Harei zo challah,”

or in English, “This is challah.

Then burn the piece of dough.  The challah declaration is made even when the blessing is not said.

12.  You may not use the piece of challah for any purpose.

SEPARATING AFTER BAKING

13. If you forgot to take challah from dough, separate immediately after realizing your error, with the blessing.

14.  When buying bread, matzo, or cake manufacured by a Jewish firm and you are not sure whether challah was separated, take challah yourself, but without blessing.

15.  Challah may not be taken on Shabbos. Nevertheless, if you realize that challah has not been taken from your bread, you may eat the bread as normal if you live outside of Eretz Yisroel, making sure that a little more than a kezayis is left after the meal.  This is put away and the challah separated with the declaration after havdolah.

16. If you have baked several small cakes from doughs not large enough to be obligated in challah, you may nevertheless perform the mitzvah by combining the cakes after baking in a single vessel with no cake protruding or by binding them together in a cloth.  Recite the blessing.  Thus, if you inadvertently placed small doughs together in the oven or storage bin and their total weight is obligative, challah must be taken with a blessing.

17.  It is customary for women to bake bread on erev Shabbos and Yom Tov so that they may perform the mitzvah of challah each week.  This is why the fluffy bread eaten on the Sabbath is called “challah.” If it is inconvenient to bake on erev Shabbos, you may bake on other days of the week and separate the challah then.


 

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