The Shabbos Bachur
The students at the yeshiva studied in pairs, and Avigdor chose Anshel for a partner. He helped her with the lessons. He was also an expert swimmer and offered to teach Anshel the breast stroke and how to tread water, but she always found excuses for not going down to the river. Avigdor suggested that they share lodgings, but Anshel found a place to sleep at the house of an elderly widow who was half blind. Tuesdays, Anshel ate at Alter Vishkower’s and Hadass waited on her. Avigdor always asked many questions: “How does Hadass look? Is she sad? Is she gay? Are they trying to marry her off? Does she ever mention my name?”
From Yentl, by Isaac Basheves Singer
Challah on Shabbat
In Numbers, “challah” actually refers to “a portion of the dough”—about the size of a large olive—produced in the preparation of bread. After the Israelites entered the Land of Israel, God commanded them to take this portion and give it to the priests, a practice unrelated to the tabernacle. After the destruction of the Second Temple, when one could no longer bring a portion of the dough to the priests, Jews instead burned a small piece of their challah to maintain the holy ritual. But in either case, there was no connection to Shabbat. The same is true of the word’s etymology: The Hebrew root, chet-lamed-lamed, or hallal, means “hollow,” “space” or “pierced.”
So when did the term “challah” become the symbol-laden braided loaf of the Shabbat table? The first known connection appears in the 15th century, when Rabbi Joseph bar Moshe recorded the practice of the leading German sage of that time, Rabbi Israel Isserlein, of welcoming Shabbat with “three fine challot kneaded with eggs, oil, and a little water.” During this time, German and Austrian Jews’ Shabbat loaves copied the braided look from a German bread called berchisbrod or Holle—which sounded a lot like “challah,” according to the late Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. In a rite dating back to pre-Christian times, the Germans braided their bread to resemble the matted hair of a Teutonic demon named Holle. The bread was then thrown into the fire to escape the fury of the demon.
Whatever its origins, braided Shabbat challah soon evolved into an expressive art among Ashkenazi Jews. Families invented unique shapes and embellished their challahs with symbolic flourishes, initially, according to Marks, to help them recognize their loaves as they emerged from their towns’ communal ovens. Other symbolic ornamentation, still practiced today, included two challahs with six braids for the Shabbat table, evoking the Temple’s 12 display breads. Adding eggs or saffron suggested the double portion of yellow manna that the Israelites in the desert watched fall from the sky on Friday, enough to last them through the Sabbath. Claudia Roden writes in The Book of Jewish Foods that some Jews sprinkled their challah with poppy or sesame seeds, an allusion to the falling manna. Sephardi Jews typically omitted eggs and sugar, preferring spices, honey, seeds and oil, among other ingredients. And Shabbat loaves made by Middle Eastern Jews took an altogether different approach: They were generally simple and sometimes even flat so they could be dipped into a rich array of stews.
Only in the 17th century did challah become a Shabbat staple for Jews throughout Europe. But what it was called still varied by region: Among German Jews it was berches or barches, while Eastern European Jews used the Yiddish term khale. Lithuanian and Latvian Jews used kitke (which may have meant “weave”), the word South African Jews, many of whom came from Lithuania, would adopt much later.
See: Jewish Word | Challah I can't believe it's not (just) bread! April 17, 2022, BY GEORGE E. JOHNSON, Jewish Word, Jewish World, Spring Issue 2020