Challah is a Jewish bread served on the Sabbath and other holidays. The loaves are often served in pairs with a cloth draping over them (Etz Hayim, 852). The dough is usually made into three separate ropes that are braided together giving it a unique appearance. The dough is made from eggs, flour, water, sugar, yeast, and salt. The flour can be made from either wheat, emmer, barley, oats, or rye; all other varieties of flour, including rice and potatoes, are not permitted (Etz Hayim, 852). The use of egg wash gives the outer crust a shiny appearance in light. Challah is eaten by pulling off pieces of the bread. It is light, airy, and sweet to taste.
This specific loaf was baked at Rolings Bakery in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Rolings is a small family bakery with standing space for about five customers at a time. Closed only on the Sabbath, Rolings serves traditional Jewish baked goods, which are both non-dairy and kosher. They serve fourteen different varieties of challah, including: plain, wheat, wheat raisin, and many others. This loaf is “plain” and costs only $3.50. The bakery is certified kosher by the Community Kashrus of Greater Philadelphia.
The history of challah stems from the Torah. Numbers 15:17-21 explains:
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land to which I am taking you and you eat the food of the land, present a portion as an offering to the Lord. Present a loaf from the first of your ground meal and present it as an offering from the threshing floor. Throughout the generations to come you are to give this offering to the Lord from the first of your ground meal.’”
This passage in the Torah has been interpreted as a commandment for Jews to break off a piece from the challah dough, and give it to the priest as a payment, contributing to his salary. The tradition of making and separating bread has been maintained for centuries by Jews in order to remember the commandments given to God’s people (Wigoder, 335). When challah is made today, an olive-sized portion is still taken out as an offering, but instead of giving it to a priest, it is thrown into a fire and burned (Eisenberg, 140).
Challah is traditionally served during the Sabbath. The Sabbath is the period of time from Friday at sundown through Saturday at sundown. It is meant as a time to refrain from work, in order to foster religious introspection and remembrance. Challah is served on the Sabbath table in two loaves to represent the abundance of manna, or bread, that God gave the Israelites during their forty year period of wandering (Fishbein, 10-11). Others claim that the reason that two loaves are served is because with every cooked meal a single loaf is traditionally served, but during the Sabbath two meals are served, requiring an additional loaf of bread (Eisenberg, 141). The ambiguity of the origin of serving two loaves shows that the Jewish community has variety in its beliefs. Some serve challah with a cloth over the loaves. This is done to make sure the bread is not tainted by the Kiddush, or the blessing of the wine (Eisenberg, 141). Others also believe it represents the condensation that covered the manna to protect it from nature during the Exodus (Eisenberg, 141). Despite the many approaches to challah, it remains an important code and cultus to those in the Jewish community.