AskDefine | Define challah

Dictionary Definition

challah n : (Judaism) a loaf of white bread containing eggs and leavened with yeast; often formed into braided loaves and glazed with eggs before baking [syn: hallah]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A traditional braided bread eaten by Ashkenazi Jews on the Sabbath

Extensive Definition

Challah, hallah (חלה), also known in different parts of the Jewish world as barches (German and western Yiddish), berches (Swabian), barkis (Gothenburg), bergis (Stockholm), khale (eastern Yiddish), and kitke (South Africa), is a special braided bread eaten by Jews on the Sabbath and holidays.
The word challah does not mean bread or dough. The root of the word is chol which means ordinary or secular. It is customary to begin the Friday night meal and the two meals eaten during the Sabbath day with a blessing over two loaves of bread. Challah (plural: challot), an enriched, braided bread is usually used.
The blessing, "Hamotzi," is the same blessing recited over all bread: "Baruch atah hashem, elokeinu melech ha'olam, hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz" (translation: "Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth".

Ingredients and preparation

Traditional challah recipes call for a large number of eggs, white flour, and sugar. Modern recipes may use fewer eggs (there are also "eggless" versions) and replace white flour with whole wheat, oat, or spelt flour. Sometimes honey or molasses is substituted as a sweetener. The dough is rolled into rope-shaped pieces which are braided before baking. Poppy, nigella, or sesame seeds may be sprinkled on the bread before baking; the seeds are said to symbolize the manna eaten by the Israelites during their 40-year sojourn in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. The dough is brushed with egg yolk before baking to add a golden sheen. Sometimes raisins are added. On Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, the challah may be rolled into a circular shape, symbolizing the cycle of the year. Sometimes raisins are added to symbolize having a sweet new year.
Traditionally, halacha prohibits the baking of dairy bread, so challah is always parev. This distinguishes it from brioche and other enriched European breads, which often contain butter or milk. Use of dairy is common in challah recipes created by those who are not kosher-observant.

Cultural and religious aspects

Hafrashat Challah

The term challah also refers to a small piece of dough — about the size of an egg — that is traditionally separated from the rest of the dough before braiding. In biblical times, this portion of dough was set aside as a tithe for the Jewish priesthood (see Numbers 15:17-21). In Hebrew, the ritual is called "hafrashat challah."
Today, this commandment applies more to professional bakers than the home cook, as it involves batches of challah using more than 2 kilos of flour.
The Bible does not specify how much dough is required for challah, but this issue is discussed in the Talmud. The rabbis said that 1 part in 24 was allocated to the priest in the case of private individuals, and 1 part in 48 in the case of a baker . If the baker forgets to set aside challah, it is permissible to set aside the same portion of bread.. Thus the instruction concerning challah is believed to be a later development, perhaps reflecting the emergence of a full-time professional priesthood.
Many deeper insights are cited for challah in the Midrashic and Kabbalistic literature. The mitzvah of separating challah is traditionally regarded as one of the three mitzvot performed especially by women (the others are lighting the Shabbat candles and family purity).

Shlissel Challah

For the Shabbos after Pesach there is a tradition to bake "shlissel challah," which either has an impression of key made on top of it or an actual key baked inside of it. It is supposed to be a segula for one's livelihood.

Citations and notes

challah in German: Challa
challah in Spanish: Jalá
challah in French: Hallah
challah in Italian: Challah
challah in Hebrew: חלה
challah in Hungarian: Barhesz
challah in Malay (macrolanguage): Challah
challah in Dutch: Galle (brood)
challah in Japanese: ハッラー
challah in Polish: Chałka
challah in Portuguese: Chalá
challah in Swedish: Barkis
challah in Yiddish: חלה
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