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

[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.