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Why Rosh Hashanah Challah Is Round, Not Braided

Why Rosh Hashanah Challah Is Round, Not Braided


I know this doesn’t sound like a profound existential quandary, but during this High Holiday season, I found myself debating the merits of round vs. braided challah.

I know that it is customary and traditional to eat round challahs during this time—dipped in honey, of course—and that the round shape symbolizes the cycle of life and the crown with which we coronate G‑d every year.

What I don’t know is: why don’t we seem to use the old, traditional braided challah this time of year? The one our bubbies used to bake weekly since time immemorial, the ones we savor every Shabbat? Is it the less preferable choice for Rosh Hashanah?

I think this qualifies as a decent question to ask a rabbi, don’t you? So I went online to ask a virtual rabbi, and . . . he didn’t know! He knew only why the round ones are good. But I already knew that. I want to know, what’s wrong with the braided ones?

Silence from the virtual rabbi.

So, what’s a good Jewish mother to do other than put forward an idea of her own? Here goes:

How do you make a braided challah? You take small balls of dough and roll them out into rope-like strands. Then you take as many strands as you can work with—three, four, six, or even eight—and braid them together to form one beautiful challah.

I believe this is the concept of unity, the one prerequisite that G‑d always demands of His children. Play nicely together, include your little sister, and don’t let go of her hand. Unity!

Our sages tell us “kol yisroel areivim zeh lazeh,” all of Israel is responsible for one another. When we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, we were “like one man with one heart.” For that alone, we deserved the gift of the Torah.

The braided challah is the symbol of this unity. Separate strands twist tightly together to form a picture-perfect whole, the ideal shape with which to celebrate Shabbat and Jewish holidays. But not Rosh Hashanah!

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, unity shares center stage with individuality, just for a little while.

The High Holidays are a time of personal introspection and soul-searching. We are enjoined to make up a mental balance sheet listing all of our spiritual shortcomings and accomplishments during the past year.

We take time to contemplate our choices: where did we make the right ones, and where, unfortunately, the wrong ones? How can we do better in the year ahead? In this accounting, we need to take personal responsibility; at some point, we need to do this alone.

The High Holiday liturgy is inclusive: “Forgive us for the sins that we have committed.” We are still united as one during the communal prayers.

But when we make our personal challah, we make it round. We take one long, thick rope of dough and wind it around and around, until it has assumed a perfectly smooth, round shape.

Symbolically, we are doing with the dough what we should be doing with our soul: kneading it over and over, round and round, smoothing out all the imperfections and mistakes of the year before.

If we do this often enough and well enough, we are assured that after the High Holidays, when it comes time to be once again a rope in the braided challah of the Jewish people, our strand will have something meaningful to contribute.

Find out why we:

Eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah

Dip the Apple in honey

Eat a fish head on Rosh Hashanah

Eat interesting foods in general

Fay Kranz Greene was an emissary of the Rebbe for more than 30 years in Oak Park, MI; S. Diego, CA; and Richmond, Virginia. She was the managing editor of The Richmond Jewish News and is a frequent contributor to various Chabad publications and websites. Fay and her husband Joel Greene, currently reside in Boca Raton, FL.
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Marsha Boswell Pittsburgh, PA September 29, 2017

Why R.H. Challah is round, not braided. Very nice! Thank you. I actually wondered about whether the challah needed to be round for Erev Yom Kippur, and you answered the question in such a beautiful way! Reply

Malca Chaviva September 14, 2017

I really liked the explanation about the meaning of braid Challah and round Challah. Thank you for the wonderful explanation. Reply

Chana Devora Solomon Short Hills September 23, 2016

Beautiful lesson thank you Thank you Fay for that meaningful lesson - I look forward to sharing it at my class this coming week Reply

D Los Angeles September 14, 2014

In an article by Aliza Bulow titled "Why Round Challah?" she connects the shape of a braid to man made materials. The Jewish month of Tishrei we use a long strand, you will find long strands and the spiral shape EVERYWHERE in nature!

The other insight I gained from the article was the fact that the Rosh Hashanah challah is a spiral, some have the tradition to make a ladder shape challah to symbolize going up. The spiral has the same idea of going up during this time of self reflection we strive for good changes and a closer relationship with G-d. Reply

Raizy N. September 9, 2013

the inner core of my round challah Delightful reading and yet so insightful at the same time. Thank you. I'm walking away with a lesson. Reply

Anonymous Watervliet, Y September 5, 2013

Challa I am new in learning Jewish celebrations and am blessed in learning the different traditions as well celebrating different feast days.
Rosh Hashanah is one of the Holy Day for everyone to share their love for G-d first and with other. Making challa, I enjoy seeing the braided one. Reply

Bettino Mexico September 3, 2013

Tradition really Nice explanation but it all comes to tradition, my grandparents were from Syria so every Shabbat we eat pita bread and the difference in rosh hashana is that we use sugar instead of salt when we eat it. Reply

Shulamis Tenenbaum miami September 2, 2013

beautiful explanation That was a very nice explanation.As we know all the foods we eat on rosh hashanah are very symbolic and have deep meanings behind them .I always thought the round challah had something more to it. Thank you Fay Kranz Greene for that insight, Reply

Mori Goldlist Richmond Hill Ont. September 2, 2013

the Chulla and the Khallah So a distinguished looking Englishman comes into this haimeshe' bakery and is greeted by the alte' bube behind the counter. The gentleman asks " can I please have a chulla?" To which the alte bube confirms a "Khallah?'

The gentleman nods his head and the bube asks "plain or geflokhteneh? Reply

Anonymous New york September 22, 2017
in response to Mori Goldlist:

beautiful Yiddish words - I miss my bube and zeyda, and their colourful, humorous mother tongue. Reply

Anonymous jerusalem September 1, 2013

braided circles I always braid the challah as I do every week, then I form the braid into a circle and place it in a round bundt pan or any round pie pan. it's gorgeous! One one or two of the six in a batch, I will put on a streusel topping. But each week I always top with ketzach, chia and black sesame seeds. Sometimes oats too. Here's to unity! Shana Tova! Reply

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