Separating Challah When the Owner Is Not Observant

Since the contemporary household no longer bakes its daily bread, every sizable Jewish community requires the availability of a local kosher bakery. As a result, one of the innumerable responsibilities of the local rabbinate is to arrange proper supervision of such a bakery. Although in larger communities the rabbonim may insist that they provide hechsherim only to bakeries that meet the highest standards on all levels, in smaller communities there are many challenges that local rabbonim must deal with when deciding whether and how they will provide kashrus supervision. Many of these issues were discussed in an essay I published years ago, which I am in the progress of rewriting and hope to send out in the near future. The current essay will deal specifically with the problems of separating challah in such a bakery. Note that throughout this essay, challah will refer to the portion separated from dough to fulfill the mitzvah of the Torah, and does not refer to the special bread that we eat on Shabbos.

Separating Challah

The Torah describes the mitzvah of challah in the following passage:

When you enter the land to which I am bringing you, and it will be that when you eat from the bread of the land — you shall separate a terumah offering for G-d. The first dough of your kneading troughs shall be separated as challah, like the terumah of your grain shall you separate it.[1]

According to Torah Law, dough kneaded from the five grains (wheat, rye, oats, barley, and spelt)[2] in Israel (“the land to which I am bringing you”), in an era when most Jews reside there, must have the challah portion removed and given to the kohein, which he or his family eats when they are tehorim. Since the ashes of the parah adumah are necessary to achieve complete taharah, nowadays a kohein cannot eat the challah portion, so, instead, it is destroyed. Most authorities prefer that the challah portion be burned.

If the dough mixed has less than an omer of flour, equal to the amount of manna each Jew received as his daily portion in the desert, there is no requirement to take challah. There are many opinions as to exactly how much flour constitutes an “omer.” Accepted practice is that a dough made with over five pounds of flour is definitely obligated in challah, and that a dough of between three and five pounds is treated as a safek, an unresolved question as to its being obligated in challah.[3] As a result, when mixing a dough of five or more pounds of flour, one usually[4] separates challah with a beracha, whereas when mixing a dough of between three and five points of flour, one separates challah without reciting a beracha on the mitzvah.

Although the Torah did not establish a minimum-sized portion to be set aside as the challah portion, the Mishnah records a rabbinically-introduced minimum — 1/48 of a dough kneaded for commercial sale and 1/24 of a dough intended for private consumption.[5] Many opinions state that the Sages established a minimum portion only in an era when the challah would be eaten by the kohein and his family.[6] Since today the challah portion is not eaten, a larger challah portion does not benefit the kohein, and therefore the law reverts back to the Torah requirements and challah no longer requires a minimum-sized portion. The Rema adds that the custom is to separate at least a kezayis, the size of an olive.[7]

Halachic authorities are explicit that the mitzvah of challah is dependent on whether the dough is owned by a Jew or a non-Jew.[8] Therefore, if a Jewish-owned business has non-Jewish employees handling production, there is still a responsibility to take challah. Conversely, if a non-Jewish-owned business has Jewish employees handling production, there is no requirement to take challah.

While the mitzvah min hatorah is only on dough mixed in Eretz Yisrael, Chazal required separating challah from dough kneaded outside of Israel, when the dough is owned by a Jew.[9] Some leniencies apply when the dough is mixed in chutz la’aretz, but the details of these laws are beyond the scope of this essay.

The Jewish owners of the bakery are responsible to make sure that challah is separated from every batch. If the bakery is a large enterprise, the owner usually does not work in the baking part of the business. This does not absolve the owner from making sure that challah is taken. If he does not want to be in the bakery all day and all night while the product is being mixed, he must delegate to a shomer Shabbos employee the responsibility of taking challah. However, a bakery that has no shomer Shabbos individuals on the premises presents a difficulty. Granted that any Jew can actually separate the challah portion, the halacha stipulates that a shomer Shabbos must ascertain that challah was in fact taken.[10]

This problem is compounded when the bakery is owned by a Jew who is, himself, not shomer mitzvos. Although there is a halachic requirement to take challah, who can be made responsible to make sure that it happens?

Jewish communal leaders have sought a variety of solutions to this problem. I have found many communities in which the local hechsher assumes responsibility only that the ingredients of the local bakery are kosher, but does not assume responsibility that challah is separated. Instead, they advise the consumers to take challah themselves after purchasing baked goods under their “supervision.” Although this practice is very widespread, the stumbling block for people who do not realize that challah must be taken is a serious concern. Often, people relying on the supervision do not remember to take challah every time they make a purchase.

Another approach is for the non-shomer Shabbos staff to separate challah from every batch of dough. These challah portions are set aside and periodically checked by the mashgiach. Here, there is much room for error, as it is impossible to ascertain that challah has indeed always been taken. In addition, there is concern that the challah portion might be mixed back into the dough being processed.

Still another recommendation is to arrange a “sale” whereby a non-Jew would, in effect, own the flour, and the Jewish-owned company would act as a contractor to process the flour into bread. The method for such a contract would be similar to the selling of chametz for Pesach. However, many do not approve this. Granted that usage of such a sale has become accepted to avoid the prohibition of owning chametz on Pesach and for a few other halachic issues, it is difficult to extend this leniency into an area that poskim have never recommended or advised.

Another solution that might come to mind is to take challah once, from each shipment of flour. The reason why one would be interested in this approach is because a middle-sized bakery may receive flour only a few times a week, and a small bakery even less frequently, making the taking of challah much easier to control than taking it from batches of dough that are being mixed frequently and throughout the day and night.

However, this approach does not seem to work. The Mishnah in Challah[11] states, “If one attempts to separate his challah portion while it is still flour, the challah does not take effect, and it would be considered stolen property in the hands of the kohein.” The Mishnah, written in the era when the challah portion was still given to the kohein, teaches that, since there is no requirement to separate challah before the flour is made into dough, it is meaningless to take challah at this stage. As a result, if someone separated challah from flour and gave the portion to a kohein, it is not legally the property of the kohein, and it must, therefore, be returned.

A different suggestion

For the rest of this article, I am going to explain a method whereby one can separate challah to take effect when the bakery’s flour is mixed into dough. Since this method is very complicated and can be easily misapplied, I do not recommend using this approach, unless none of the other suggestions for taking challah can be utilized; furthermore, one would need to review the specific details with a competent posek. Let me explain how this works and how this suggestion may be used to resolve the problem of taking challah at a Jewish-owned bakery.

The Tur[12] and the Smag[13] quote the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer of Metz that, although challah cannot take effect on flour, one may set in motion a procedure that takes effect automatically when the flour becomes dough.

The Gemara that serves as the basis for Rabbi Eliezer’s ruling discusses not the separating of challah, but the separating of terumah. The Torah requires that we separate terumah and maasros from grain that grows in Eretz Yisrael. The chiyuv, requirement, to separate terumah and maasros begins only when the produce is harvested, and therefore, one cannot separate terumah and maasros before this point.[14] This idea is identical to the concept that one cannot separate challah from flour, since the chiyuv has as yet not arrived.

Although one cannot separate terumah and maasros prior to harvest, the Gemara concludes that, when the grain is ripe enough for harvest, one may declare that the produce of one furrow of grain should, upon its harvest, become terumah on another furrow of grain when the latter is harvested.[15] The rationale here is that, although it is too early to actually separate the terumah, since one could harvest the grain and thereby create the chiyuv, one can already set in motion a procedure that will happen automatically when the grains are harvested and have become chayovim in terumah and maasros.

Rabbi Eliezer of Metz explains that the same principle can be applied to the mitzvah of separating challah. Although one may not separate challah from flour, once one owns the flour and can therefore mix it into dough, one may set in motion a procedure whereby challah is separated automatically from flour, as it is mixed into dough.

This concept of R Eliezer is codified in the Shulchan Aruch as follows:

If one attempts to separate his challah portion while it is still flour, the challah does not take effect… All this is true when he wants the challah to take effect immediately. However, if he separated flour and said that challah should take effect when the flour is mixed into dough, then the challah does take effect.[16]

The principle of Rabbi Eliezer of Metz can now he applied to a moderately different set of circumstances. If one were to remove a kezayis from dough that is chayov in challah and specify that this kezayis will become challah for a different, as yet unmixed, dough, when the second dough is kneaded, the challah-taking will become valid. Since one could knead the second dough immediately and create the requirement to take challah, one can set in motion a procedure that will cause the challah-separating to happen automatically.

For this to work, one additional requirement must be met. The dough from which challah is taken must still exist and still be chayov in challah when all the later batches of flour are mixed into dough. This is because challah must be taken min hachiyuv, from dough that requires challah to be taken from it. Challah cannot be taken min hapatur, from dough that does not (or no longer) require challah to be taken from it. Thus, the dough from which the challah-portion is taken must originally contain at least five pounds of flour — sufficient flour for it to be definitely chayov in challah. For the same reason, challah may not have been taken yet for the dough being used to take the challah-portion. If challah had been taken, then the dough now has the status of patur.

All dough whose challah requirements are being met by this challah-portion must be kneaded before the challah-portion is burned. Since the challah-taking takes effect when the dough is mixed, the portion must still be extent for the challah to take effect.

This challah-taking will be valid only for flour already owned by the bakery at the time that the challah-portion is separated, since the owner cannot create the chiyuv of challah on that which he does not own.

The challah-portion should preferably contain a kezayis of dough for each dough to be kneaded later. Each mixing of dough creates another automatic challah-taking, and each challah-taking requires another kezayis, according to the Rema mentioned above.

There are three other halachic issues that need to be mentioned, but whose details will be left for a different essay. One is that, if the bakery makes specialty bread or pastry that is made mostly or completely from rye, barley, spelt or oat flour, this will probably necessitate separating challah from the non-wheat dough, also. A second rule is that the person taking challah must be properly authorized to do so by the owner of the bakery. The last rule that we need to discuss is the rule of mukaf, literally, adjacency, which requires that one should not lechatchilah separate challah from dough that is not next to the dough that is now becoming exempted from the mitzvah of challah.

Conclusions for challah taking

According to what we have explained above, I can now propose a solution for the following situation. Your town has a kosher, Jewish-owned bakery, but the logistics do not allow for someone shomer Shabbos to be available to separate the challah portion as it is mixed. I have proposed a method whereby challah can be taken by having a mashgiach or shomer Shabbos employee take challah about once a day or perhaps even only a few times a week. A batch of dough containing at least five pounds of flour is mixed. This dough needs to be placed somewhere where it will not be tampered with, until it is no longer needed for challah taking. The mashgiach declares that a kezayis of this portion should become challah on every dough that becomes mixed. For this approach to work, the following conditions must exist:

1. Both the dough used for the challah portion and the flour which is having its challah requirement fulfilled must already be in the possession of the owner of the bakery. In addition, the mashgiach must be properly appointed by the owner of the bakery to separate challah.

2. The challah taken must not be burned until the last dough that it is exempting is mixed.

There is a method whereby this approach can be modified even further to allow separating challah by someone who is not even in the bakery, but I am not going to discuss that option in this essay. A study of the halachic source material indicates that methods do exist whereby challah can be taken in a practical and effective manner. Hopefully, this research will be of practical use to those faced with these circumstances.


[1] Bamidbar 15:18-20.

[2] Mishnah, Challah 1:1.

[3] Edus Leyisrael page 138; Shearim Hametzuyanim Bahalacha 35:2. There are other opinions also. According to Leket Ha’omer of Rav Yaakov Bleu (5:2), the custom is to take challah even from a dough of only 1.25 kilograms, which is 2.75 pounds.

[4]  I use the word usually because if the dough is intended to be divided among different owners or purposes, then we do not recite a beracha prior to separating the challah. I discussed this topic at length in my article Making a Beracha before Separating Challah, which is available on the website RabbiKaganoff.com.

[5] Challah 2:7.

[6] Quoted by Tur, Yoreh Deah 322.

[7] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 322:5.

[8] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 330:1.

[9] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 322:5

[10] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 119:7.

[11] 2:5.

[12] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 327.

[13] Mitzvas Aseh #141.

[14] Terumos 1:5.

[15] Kiddushin 62b.

[16] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 327:1.

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?"

Introduction:

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.

This is the Way We Bake Our Bread! – Some Practical Questions about Hilchos Challah

clip_image002Shaylah #1: Mrs. Ginsburg calls me with the following question:

“I like to separate challah with a bracha, but I do not have a bowl big enough to hold the minimum amount of dough necessary. Instead, I have been mixing the dough in two bowls, and draping a cloth over them. Someone told me that this is not a satisfactory method of combining the doughs and that I have been reciting invalid brachos as a result. What is the correct way to separate challah?”

Shaylah #2: Mrs. Bracha, Mrs. Ginsburg’s friend, was curious why Mrs. Ginsburg was trying to combine her two doughs. “After all, let her just ‘take challah’ on each bowl separately. Why all this hassle?” Which of the two good ladies is correct?

Shaylah #3: In preparation for Shalach Manos, Mrs. Lowenstein is baking her challahs in small batches and placing them in her freezer. Should she separate challah from them?

AM I BAKING CHALLAH OR “TAKING” CHALLAH?

In the last question, I used the word challah to mean two completely different things – our special Shabbos bread, and the consecrated portion that we separate from dough. Indeed a very strange misnomer has occurred in both Yiddish and English that often creates confusion. Whenever someone mixes a large dough or batter intending to bake it, he or she is required to separate a special portion called challah. In the time of the Beis HaMikdash, a generous portion was separated from each dough and given to a kohen. Only a kohen or his family and only when they were tahor could eat the challah, which had special sanctity. Today, since we are all tamei and cannot rid ourselves of this tumah, no one may eat the challah; therefore we separate a small piece, which we burn or dispose of respectfully.

On the other hand, the word challah also came to refer to our special Shabbos bread . To avoid confusion, I will refer to the special Shabbos bread as “bread,” rather than challah, and the word “challah” will refer to the consecrated portion separated from dough or bread to fulfill the mitzvah.

Indeed, it is a very important mitzvah for a woman to bake bread for Shabbos, rather than purchase it from a bakery (Bi’ur Halacha, Orach Chayim 242 s.v. vehu), and it is an even bigger mitzvah to bake enough to separate challah with a bracha (Rama, Orach Chayim 242). However, as we will see in discussing the questions raised above, these mitzvos can sometimes become complicated.

The Torah teaches us the mitzvah of challah in Parshas Shlach (Bamidbar 15:18-21). I quote some of the pasukim:

(18) Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, upon your entry to the land that I am bringing you there.

(19) And it will be when you eat from the bread of the land, that you should consecrate a special portion for Hashem’s sake.

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

Note that Pasuk 19 refers to separating challah when you eat bread, whereas Pasuk 20 mentions taking challah from your kneading bowls. This leads us to a question: Why does the Torah tell us to separate challah from bread if we already separated challah when we were kneading it? The two references imply that sometimes we must separate challah when kneading dough, whereas at other times we are not obligated to do so until it is already bread. Stay tuned to find out how this applies.

HOW TO SEPARATE

Before answering Mrs. Ginsburg’s question, we need to explain the basic method of challah taking.

The simplest method of separating challah is as follows:

1. Separate a piece of the dough that will become the challah portion, but do not intend that it should become challah yet. The custom is that the piece should be at least as large as a small olive (Rama, Yoreh Deah 322:5).

2. Touch the piece to the rest of the dough.

3. Recite the bracha Asher kidishanu bimitzvosav vitzivanu lihafrish challah. Many people have the custom of adding the words min ha’isah to the end of the bracha. (Others end the bracha with the words lihafrish terumah, lihafrish terumah challah, or lihafrish terumas challah instead of lihafrish challah.)

4. Declare that the piece is challah. If saying this part in Hebrew, simply say “Harei zu challah.” One can just as easily say in English: “This is Challah.” Technically, one does not need to declare the portion challah verbally; it is sufficient to simply think which piece becomes challah. (This last case is useful when someone serves you bread or cake and you are uncertain whether challah was separated. Simply have in mind now to designate part of the bread as challah and leave that part uneaten.)

5. One should treat the separated portion, which is now challah, as non-kosher and destroy it. One may wrap it up carefully in two layers of aluminum foil and burn it in one’s oven or on top of the stove. In our ovens, one may burn the challah while using the oven for cooking or baking, so long as one is careful that it does not unwrap. Even if it does unwrap, it will not prohibit anything baked in the oven at the same time; however if it touches the oven itself, that part of the oven will require kashering. Because of the latter concern, some people prefer to wrap it carefully and respectfully place it in the garbage.

MINIMUM AMOUNTS

To answer Mrs. Ginsburg’s question how she should separate challah, we must first appreciate that there is no mitzvah to take challah if one is baking only a small amount of dough. Referring back to our Pasuk, we will see why this is true.

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) tells us that each individual gathered one omer of man each day in the Desert. Since the “bowl” used by the Jews in the Desert contained one omer, we know that this is the size bowl that the Torah is describing.

How big is an omer? The Torah (Shemos 16:36) teaches that this was one-tenth the size of an eifah, but that does not help us if we do not know the size of an eifah. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 324:1) rules that an omer contains 43.2 eggs. By the way, the gematria of the word challah is 43, and the last letter of challah is a hei, whose gematria is five. This is a good way to remember that the minimum size of separating challah is a dough the size of 43 and 1/5 eggs (Shach 324:2).

However, today we are uncertain how much dough this means since eggs vary tremendously in size. For our purposes, I am suggesting an estimate. We will assume that less than eight cups of flour does not require separating challah, and that one should not recite a bracha before separating challah unless one uses at least five pounds of flour. Any amount in between requires separating challah but without reciting a bracha. These figures are estimates and your Rav may give you different amounts.

If you ask me why I gave the first measurement in cups and the second in pounds, the answer is very simple. Cups are a less accurate measure than pounds, but more commonly used. If a woman knows that every time she uses eight cups of flour she should take challah without a bracha she is unlikely to miss taking challah when necessary. On the other hand, a bracha requires a more accurate measure, and most poskim require a bracha over dough made from five pounds of flour, although many poskim rule that one should recite a bracha even if using less.

WHY SEPARATE CHALLAH WITHOUT A BRACHA?

One recites the bracha only when certain that the dough is large enough to fulfill the mitzvah. If the batch is too small to fulfill the mitzvah, then a bracha would be levatalah, in vain. On the other hand, if one is required to separate challah, then one may not eat the bread without separating challah. Since it is uncertain exactly how much flour requires challah, we separate challah on any dough without a bracha when it is questionable whether one is required.

Preferably, one should try to recite a bracha before performing a mitzvah. Therefore, it is preferred to make a batch large enough to separate challah with a bracha. However, if one does not need such a large amount and it will go to waste, one should make a smaller dough and separate challah without a bracha (assuming that the batch contains at least eight cups of flour). It is preferable to bake fresh bread for every Shabbos rather than bake a double-batch one week and freeze half for the next week, unless the frozen bread tastes as good as the fresh variety.

We have now answered Shaylah #2, the dispute between Mrs. Bracha and Mrs. Ginsburg whether one should try to combine doughs to recite a bracha on the mitzvah. Indeed, one should.

Furthermore, one may not deliberately make small doughs to avoid taking challah altogether (Gemara Pesachim 48b; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 324:14). Therefore, someone making small batches should combine them into one larger batch in order to fulfill the mitzvah.

BATCHING TOGETHER

How does one combine different batches of dough or bread?

There are two general ways to combine different doughs into one “batch” in order to perform the mitzvah of separating challah. The first is by actually combining two doughs together; the second is by using a vessel to combine doughs or breads into what is now considered to be one batch.

HOW DO WE COMBINE DOUGHS?

One can combine two doughs by touching them together sufficiently that parts of one dough will join the other dough when separating them (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 325:1 and Taz). This sticking together is enough to make the different batches considered as one.

Thus, Mrs. Ginsburg could combine her two doughs by touching them until the doughs stick together. Although this is often a simple way to combine two doughs, Mrs. Ginsburg pointed out that this approach is impractical when her doughs are mixed in two separate bowls. However, a simple solution is to wait until after the doughs rise and then to place them both on the board or tray for braiding. At this point, she should touch the doughs together until they stick to one another and become considered one dough.

“Does this mean that I can never take challah until my dough is removed from the bowls?” asked Mrs. Ginsburg. “I would prefer to separate challah while the dough is still in the bowl.”

Indeed, there are two possible ways she could take challah from the dough while it is still in the bowl, although each approach has its potential drawbacks.

A. If the dough rises in the bowls until it is high enough that one can touch the two doughs together, one may separate challah from one dough for both of them after sticking the two together. Of course, this is only possible if both doughs rise until they are higher than the top of the bowl.

B. A second approach involves placing the two bowls in a sheet or tablecloth in a way that the two bowls are touching while inside the sheet or cloth (Mishnah Berurah 457:7). Then fold the sheet or cloth over the bowls until it covers the doughs, even partially. I will explain shortly why this combines the doughs together. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, I prefer method “A” to method “B.”

HOW DO WE BATCH BREADS?

Another method of combining either dough or bread from small batches into one large batch to fulfill the mitzvah of challah is to place them together in a basket or other vessel (Mishnah Challah 2:4; Gemara Pesachim 48b).

Why does a basket make two or more different batches into one batch? Refer back to the Pasukim that I quoted earlier:

Pasuk 19: And it will be when you eat from the bread of the land, that you should consecrate a special portion for Hashem’s sake.

Pasuk 20: The first of your kneading bowls is challah; you should consecrate it just as you consecrate part of your grain.

I noted above that Pasuk 19 refers to separating challah when you eat bread, whereas Pasuk 20 mentions taking challah from your kneading bowls, which implies that we already separated challah when it was dough. Why does the Torah teach us to separate challah from bread when we already separated challah when it was being kneaded? The answer is that sometimes a dough is too small to require separating challah, but placing the baked bread (from two or more such doughs) in a basket will create a batch large enough to perform the mitzvah!

AN EXCEPTION — A MIX THAT DOES NOT WORK

If one does not want to combine two doughs, for example, if one dough is whole wheat flour and the other is white, or one is bread dough and the other pastry, then combining the two batches does not work (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 326:1). These batches remain separate unless one actually mixes the two doughs together. Thus, even if one touched together hamantashen dough with bread dough and the two combined have the requisite amount to separate challah, they do not combine.

At this point, we can answer Mrs. Ginsburg’s shaylah, about combining two batches of dough mixed in separate bowls. I have suggested two methods whereby one can combine the two batches into a five-pound batch and recite a bracha before the separating:

1. Take the different doughs and touch them together until the edges stick to one another. Do this either while the dough is in bowls or any time afterwards before the bread is baked.

2. Place the doughs or breads together inside one basket, cloth, or vessel. Since they are all inside one container, this combines them into one batch. Preferably, the dough or breads should all touch one another (Mishnah Berurah 457:7).

We can now analyze Mrs. Lowenstein’s question whether her freezer combines the breads into one batch that requires her to separate challah?

DOES ANY VESSEL COMBINE BREAD INTO ONE BATCH?

Previously, we discussed how one can combine to batches together for mitzvas challah by placing them into one basket. Does putting breads or hamantashen from many small batches into the freezer together create a mitzvah of separating challah?

The Gemara (Pesachim 48b) teaches that a table with a rim around it combines small batches of bread together to create a mitzvah of challah. Thus, it seems that a basket is simply an example. However, many Rishonim imply that the mitzvah of challah is created by a vessel only while in the process of baking bread, but not afterwards (Rashi, Pesachim 48b; She’iltos #73; Eimek Shei’lah who explains these opinions meticulously). However, the Rosh (Beitzah 1:13) implies that if a large quantity of bread is mistakenly placed into one vessel later, it will become obligated in challah at this point, and therefore he recommends combining all the doughs together earlier and separating challah. Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 457:1) implies that he rules like the first opinion, unlike the Rosh.

Although some poskim suggest that a freezer will combine just as a basket combines, most contemporary poskim rule that this is not a concern for a variety of reasons. These reasons include: 1) This takes place long after you finished making the bread. 2) You have no intent to combine the doughs together. 3) A freezer may not be considered a vessel at all because of its size and weight. 4) The doughs are all bagged before they are placed inside the freezer (see Machazeh Eliyahu #l11; Shu’t Nimla Tal).

We can now answer questions 1 and 3 that we posed at the beginning. 1) One should indeed try to combine different batches of dough or bread in order to separate challah from them, and in order to be able to recite the bracha. 3) Although a vessel or tablecloth will combine different doughs into challah, a freezer does not create a concern that requires separating challah, nor does it combine batches for challah taking.

Having discussed the halachic details of this mitzvah, it is worthwhile taking 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” (Breishis Rabbah 1:4). Thus, besides gaining us eternal reward, this easily kept mitzvah helps keep our planet turning.