Talmidav Shel Aharon
23-5767: Mitzvah 57
May 21, 2007
Mitzvah 57 – It is a positive commandment to separate a dough-cake from a batch of dough and give it to the Kohen
Hafetz Hayim: As Scripture says: “of the first of your dough you shall set apart Hallah (a cake)” (Num. 15:20) If it is one of the five species of grain (see #23) and in his dough there is a bulk of 43 and 1/5 eggs, one has the duty of separating Hallah, a portion of the dough. In countries other than Israel, Hallah has to be separated by the law of the Sages, so that the procedure should not be forgotten; and it is burned. By the law of the Torah there is no set amount for it, but any piece of dough whatever frees one of the obligation.
Hallah, or Challah, is not a twisted loaf of bread, it is a small pinch of dough that is separated from the main batch before it is baked and burned up in the fire. It is the last remnant of a dough sacrifice that is mentioned in the Torah (Numbers 15:20). It only applies to certain types of dough and only dough that is made in the land of Israel. It is only a later Rabbinic enactment that we, in the Diaspora, are told to separate the dough of Hallah and burn it in the fire. As the Hafetz Hayyim says, they enacted it so that the requirement would not be forgotten in our exile.
The dough has to be made of one of the four types of grain that are mentioned in the Torah. These are the same five grains that can be used on Pesach to make Matzah and which are forbidden if they are allowed to ferment for more than 18 minutes. These grains are wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye. Hallah does not have to be “taken” from the dough from any other grain. In fact, you may notice on boxes of Matzah for Passover the notation that “Hallah has been taken” to let you know that the pinch of dough was separated and burned according to the law. Technically, a private home, making dough for the family, is making too small a batch to be required to “take Hallah” but in fact, many women still take a small pinch from the batch of dough before they bake it, and burn it in the bottom of the oven. As noted above, there is no set amount that needs to be burned. It only has to be a “pinch”.
The size requirement above, 43 1/5 eggs is not the amount of egg put into the dough, but a mass of dough that is the size of 43 and 1/5 eggs. An “egg” is a unit of measurement used by the Rabbis. An “egg” equals 91.6 cubic centimeters so the amount of dough by today’s measurements would be 3957.12 cc. or 241.5 cubic inches.
How did the braided bread that we use for Shabbat come to be called Hallah? I suspect that just as we make a special effort to use kosher wine when we want to say a blessing, so too we make a special effort to use “kosher” bread when we want to say a blessing. Not only does the bread need to be made with kosher ingredients, but, unless “hallah as been taken” it is still not ready for a blessing. Eventually the only bread that was made with the pinch taken and burned was the bread for Shabbat and Holidays, and it took the name of the pinch that was taken. As if the question would be asked, “Was it Hallah’ed?” and eventually the bread took on the name.
As far as I know, all kosher bakeries still remove and burn some dough from every batch of bread that is baked.