Making a Beracha before Separating Challah

Question #1: Separate but Equal

Mrs. Planahead* calls with the following question:

"If I knead a large batch of dough and then freeze some of it for future weeks, do I recite a beracha when I separate the challah portion?"

Question #2: Challah or Cokosh?

Rebbitzen Shoko* asks:

"I use about 12-15 cups of flour for my weekly challos. If I make a bigger dough, intending to use the extra to make cokosh, do I now recite a beracha upon separating the challah?"

Question #3: Some Good Guests

Tovah Orachas* calls with the following shaylah:

"We are a group of girls who each has been invited to a different household for Shabbos. We are baking challah together, each intending to bring some to our respective hosts. Do we recite a beracha when we separate challah?"


Before we begin, it is important to note that the word challah was used above to mean two completely different things – the bread we serve on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and the consecrated portion that we separate from dough. To avoid confusion, whenever I use the term "challah" for the rest of the article, I will use it only to mean the consecrated portion.

Dividing the Dough

The three questions I quoted above all involve the following issue: One is required to separate challah only when one makes dough from a certain minimum quantity of flour. Even when one mixes this amount of flour, one may not be required to separate challah because of a halachic concept called daato lechalka, literally, his intent is to divide the dough. Exactly what this concept means is somewhat uncertain. In order to answer the questions that were asked above, we will need to understand and define the concept of daato lechalka. But first, let us review the basics.

Separating challah fulfills a mitzvah, and we recite a beracha prior to separating challah just as we do before performing most mitzvos (see Pesachim 7b). However, we only recite a beracha when it is certain that we are required to fulfill a mitzvah. When it is uncertain that we are fulfilling a mitzvah, we carry out the mitzvah without reciting a beracha. Therefore, it becomes important to know whether one is definitely required to perform a mitzvah, in which case we recite a beracha, or whether we perform the mitzvah because it is uncertain (safek) whether it is required, in which case we refrain from reciting a beracha.

The Mitzvah

This week’s reading, Parshas Shlach, teaches the mitzvah of separating challah.

The first of your kneading bowls is challah; you should make it holy just as you consecrate part of your grain (Bamidbar 15:20).

Small Dough

The halacha is derived from this verse that there is no mitzvah to separate challah if one is kneading only a small amount of dough. This is based on the following: When the Torah required separating challah from “your kneading bowls,” to whom was the Torah speaking? Obviously, the generation living in the Desert, who were eating man. The Torah (Shemos 16:32) teaches that each individual gathered one omer of man every day. Since the kneading bowl used by the Jews in the Desert contained one omer, we know that this is the quantity of dough that the Torah is describing. This amount is called the shiur challah, literally, the smallest quantity of dough from which one is obligated to separate challah.

How much "Dough" do you Bring Home?

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 324:1) rules that an omer contains the volume of 43.2 eggs. However, today we are uncertain how much dough this means since eggs vary tremendously in size. For our purposes, I am suggesting a ballpark figure. We will assume that less than eight cups of flour does not require separating challah, because the batch is too small to fulfill the mitzvah. On the other hand, one recites the beracha only when one is certain that the dough is large enough to fulfill the mitzvah. Therefore, one should not recite a beracha unless one uses at least five pounds of flour. Concerning an amount in between eight cups and five pounds, it is uncertain whether one is required to separate challah or not, and, therefore, we separate challah because it might be required, but without a beracha, because if it is not required, the beracha would be levatalah, in vain.

Cups or Pounds?

Of course, anyone with a scientific background will immediately note that I made a serious error! I gave the first measurement in cups, which is a measure of volume, and the second measurement in pounds, which is a measure of weight! Surely, Kaganoff knows that comparing measures of volume to those of weight is worse than comparing apples to oranges!

The answer is very simple. In factories and bakeries, where accuracy is very important, ingredients are usually weighed. Although cups are a less accurate measure than pounds, they are more commonly used in a household setting. There is a much better chance that a woman who is told to separate challah when she uses eight cups of flour will remember what to do. On the other hand, a beracha requires a more accurate measure, and most poskim require a beracha over dough made from five pounds of flour, although many poskim rule that one should recite a beracha even if using less. Therefore, each individual should ask his or her posek the exact amount for both of these laws, that is, for what minimum amount of dough should one separate challah, and for what minimum amount of dough should one recite a beracha on the separating of the challah.

Kneading for Shabbos

The mitzvah of kavod Shabbos includes kneading and baking bread especially for Shabbos. In addition, there is a venerable minhag to knead enough to fulfill the mitzvah of separating challah (Rama, Orach Chayim 242 and Biur Halacha ad loc.). The amount of bread required for a beracha is usually more than the amount of bread baked in the average contemporary household for Shabbos. Therefore, the question is raised: Is it better to bake a large amount one week and freeze half the loaves for the next week, or to bake smaller amounts each week, and not recite a beracha?

The contemporary poskim with whom I have discussed this question all ruled that it is preferable to bake fresh every week for Shabbos rather than baking a double-batch one week and freezing half for the next week.

A Third Approach

In order to have your bread and make a beracha on it, some women decide to do the following: They knead and roll out a large batch of dough, taking challah with a beracha, and then freeze some of the unbaked loaves and bake them the following week. Since the bread tastes freshly baked, this fulfills the mitzvah of kavod Shabbos.

However, this method presents a different question: Does a woman who uses five pounds of flour which she will not bake at one time recite a beracha prior to separating the challah portion? This may have been Mrs. Planahead’s question: "If I knead a large batch of dough and then freeze some of it for future weeks, do I recite a beracha when I separate the challah portion?"

Divide and …. Exempt

I mentioned above the halachic principle called daato lechalka, the intention of the person mixing the dough is to divide it, which exempts the dough from the requirement to separate challah. The source of this principle is a Beraisa (a teaching dating from the era of the Mishnah), quoted by the Talmud Yerushalmi (Challah 1:5). The actual words of the Beraisa are somewhat ambiguous:

One who makes his dough intending to divide it is absolved from the requirement of separating challah.

A simple reading of this passage implies that dividing dough into small parts exempts it from the mitzvah of challah. This interpretation would lead to the following conclusion: The only time one is required to consecrate a challah portion is when preparing a large batch of dough to bake into one huge loaf of bread, such as when one bakes a bris challah. Separating challah when one intends to form a large dough into small loaves is not required, and reciting a beracha prior to doing so is a beracha levatalah.

This interpretation runs contrary to common practice. For centuries, people have made large batches of dough, separated challah with a beracha, and then divided the large batch into appropriately-sized loaves. Are these thousands of Jews in error, and were reciting berachos in vain? (Shenos Eliyahu, Challah 1:7)

There is other proof that this approach cannot be the correct interpretation of the Beraisa. The Mishnah (Challah 1:7) states that a professional baker who kneaded a large dough intending to sell it in small quantities as sourdough is obligated to separate challah. Thus, we see that intending to divide the dough does not absolve the responsibility of separating challah. So what then does the Beraisa mean?

The Yerushalmi itself answers that, although the baker intends to divide the dough, he is dependent on the arrival of customers. How we explain this enigmatic answer is the crux of a dispute among the various halachic opinions. I will provide four approaches to answer this question, and then explain the halachic differences that thereby result.

(1) Does he Plan to Bake it at one Time?

One approach contends that the only time one must separate challah is when one mixes a big batch of dough intending to bake it himself at one time. However, one who plans to divide a large quantity of dough into batches, each smaller than the shiur challah, and distribute the batches to different people to bake separately, has no requirement to separate challah. Similarly, one who bakes all the dough himself but not all at the same time is absolved from separating challah (Divrei Chamudos, Hilchos Challah #20). The baker that the Mishnah requires to separate challah must do so because if no customers show up, he will bake it himself in one batch. Thus, although the baker intends to divide the dough and sell it as small batches, the awareness that he may bake the entire dough at one time obligates him in challah. Since his plan to divide and sell the dough is dependent on factors beyond his control, he is still required to separate challah. This approach accepts that dividing dough into small loaves to bake at one time does not absolve the requirement to separate challah. (Baking one batch after another is still considered "at one time" and would require separating challah.)

Although this approach is a minority opinion, some later authorities rule that one should not recite a beracha when separating challah in this situation. These later authorities conclude that someone kneading a large dough, intending not to bake it at one time, does not recite a beracha upon separating challah. This means that someone who freezes dough for later baking should not recite a beracha upon separating challah unless she expects to bake a five-pound batch at one time.

(2) Who Owns the Dough?

A second approach explains that daato lechalka means that one intends to divide the dough among different owners (Gr’a, Yoreh Deah 326:7; Shenos Eliyahu, Challah 1:7). If several people mix a dough that they then intend to split up, there is no obligation to separate challah, unless one of the individuals keeps enough to be obligated in challah. Following this approach, Tovah Orachas and her friends, who afterwards will divide up the challah among themselves, would not be required to separate challah, since the dough is not owned in common. However, Mrs. Planahead and Rebbitzen Shoko are both obligated in challah, and according to this approach they should recite a beracha before separating it.

Nevertheless, this approach should cause us to raise the following question: If daato lechalka means that one intends to divide the dough among different owners, why is a Jewish-owned bakery ever responsible to separate challah? After all, all the bread is baked to be sold to its customers?

The answer is that although the owner intends to sell all the bread, since the possibility exists that no customers will show, the bakery could end up keeping all the bread itself, and this potential requires it to separate challah. According to this approach, this is exactly what the Yerushalmi means.

(3) Will I be Unable Later to Combine the Different Doughs?

A third approach, that of the Chazon Ish, understands that daato lechalka means that one intends to add ingredients to the different parts of the dough or somehow prepare them for different purposes in a way that one will afterwards not want to combine them (Chazon Ish, Likutim at end of Zeraim, 2:3). For example, one intends to add a spice to one batch and not to another, and one would be careful afterwards to keep the two types of bread separate. In these cases, even though the dough started as one batch, the intention to divide it for different uses that one would subsequently be careful not to combine makes the dough into separate batches that are each small enough to be exempt from challah.

Rebbitzen Shoko’s case above is a classic example. She is making a big batch of dough, intending to use some of it for bread and part of it for cokosh. Once the chocolate is added to the cokosh dough, one will be careful to keep the two types of dough separate. Therefore, these doughs do not combine to create a requirement to separate challah.

However, according to this opinion, dividing a dough to bake at different times does not remove the obligation to separate challah.

How do we paskin?

Do we follow this last opinion? Many late authorities conclude that in this circumstance one should separate challah without reciting a beracha.

(4) Pasta and Partners

A fourth approach to explaining the above-quoted Beraisa requires some introduction. An early halachic source, Tosafos (Berachos 37b s.v. lechem), reports the following:

"Rabbeinu Yechiel was uncertain whether one is required to separate challah from noodles. This is because one who makes dough intending to divide it (daato lechalka) is patur from challah since it does not have the shiur. Here, also, after shaping the dough into noodles one divides the batch into pots, and each pot does not hold enough to be obligated in challah. Therefore, he (Rabbeinu Yechiel) required separating challah without a beracha because of this uncertainty."

Pasta is made by making dough of flour and water and, if desired, some additional ingredients, slicing the dough to the desired size and shape, and then cooking it. Whether or not one must separate challah from a pasta dough which will not be baked is a topic for a different article, but it is obvious that Rabbeinu Yechiel held that cooking dough does not exempt it from challah. He exempts pasta from challah not because the dough will be cooked, but because each pot is not large enough to require the separating of challah. According to Rabbeinu Yechiel, large quantities of pasta cooked in industrial-sized pots would require separating challah.

Later authorities find difficulty with Rabbeinu Yechiel’s position, contending that someone kneading a large dough intending to bake it as small loaves or rolls should certainly be required to separate challah. Why then is pasta dough exempt from challah only because one intends to cook it in small pots?

The Beis Efrayim explains that the reason is because one will be unable to combine the dough afterwards into large units (Shu’t Beis Efrayim, Yoreh Deah #69). Since household pots are not large enough to prepare the full shiur of challah at one time, mixing a large dough for pasta usually means that I will be dividing the dough into small quantities when I cook it, and the doughs will not be combined again after they are cooked. Similarly, when several people pool their flour together to make one batch of dough, we know that they are going to separate the dough and each take his/her part with them. Therefore, this latter situation is exempt from separating challah according to this opinion, as it is according to some, if not all, of the previously mentioned approaches.

However, when kneading bread dough owned by one person, dividing it into small batches does not exempt them from challah, since the owner could decide later to combine the dough into one large batch or to place all the baked breads into one basket or other vessel, which combines them together to create a shiur challah. The Beis Efrayim would rule that one is required to separate challah (with a beracha) if one mixes a large batch of dough intending to freeze some of it for future use, since one could easily decide to prepare it all at one time.

In Conclusion

We now know that when mixing a large batch of dough that one intends to divide, one may end up separating challah without reciting a beracha. However, when someone owns the entire dough and is dividing the dough into small loaves that one intends to bake at one time, according to all opinions one may recite a beracha prior to separating challah.

The Merit of Challah

Having discussed the halachic details of this mitzvah, it is worthwhile to take a glimpse at the following Medrash that underscores its vast spiritual significance: “In the merit of the following three mitzvos the world was created – in the merit of challah, in the merit of maasros, and in the merit of bikkurim” (Bereishis Rabbah 1:4). Thus, besides gaining us eternal reward, this easily kept mitzvah helps keep our planet turning.

*All these questions are actual shaylos I have been asked. The names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.


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