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Lechem Mishneh: The Two Shabbat Loaves

Lechem Mishneh: The Two Shabbat Loaves

Parshat Beshalach

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When the Israelites wandered in the desert following the Exodus and until they entered the Promised Land, G‑d provided them daily with heavenly manna.1 In order to enable the Jews to observe Shabbat (and not have to carry and prepare2 the manna on the Day of Rest), G‑d provided them with a double portion on Friday.3 To commemorate this miracle, the Sages instituted that we break bread over two complete loaves at the start of every Shabbat meal. These two loaves are known as Lechem Mishneh.

(The Arizal would use twelve loaves for the Lechem Mishneh of his three Shabbat meals, corresponding to the twelve showbreads that were consumed by the priests every Shabbat in the Holy Temple.4)

Bread is man's staple food, so the Sages instituted that significant meals should include breadThis rabbinic enactment applies to the Friday night meal and the meal eaten on the day of Shabbat.5 According to most opinions, one should also have two loaves at the third meal (as well as at any other [optional] meal that one may enjoy during the course of Shabbat).6 Others say that since in the desert the Israelites would have only one portion of manna left for the third and final meal of the day, we need not commemorate the additional portion at that meal.7

Holiday Meals

The obligation to take Lechem Mishneh applies to holidays as well,8 since the manna did not fall on the holidays.9 No Lechem Mishneh is required on Chol Hamoed, Rosh Chodesh, Purim, the eve of Yom Kippur or on any other (semi) holiday when work is not proscribed.

What Type of Loaves?

The loaves must each be at least the size of an olive,10 and made of grain flour (wheat, barley, spelt, rye or oat) so that the blessing recited is Hamotzie (the blessing on bread)11—because the Torah refers to manna as bread. In addition, bread is man's staple food, so the Sages instituted that significant meals should include bread.12 Another reason for the bread requirement is to enable the mentioning of Shabbat in the Grace after Meals.13

If a majority of the liquid ingredients is not water (e.g., eggs, oil, juice, honey or liquefied sugar), then the bread is considered "cake," and the appropriate blessing is Mezonot.14 One should not use such a loaf for Lechem Mishneh unless he plans on eating a significant amount of this bread during the meal (approximately eight ounces), and intends to be satiated by the bread and the other dishes served during the meal.15

Ashkenazim can use regular (not egg) matzahs for Lechem Mishneh.16 According to Sephardic custom, the blessing on matzah (aside for on Passover) is Mezonot.17 Those following this tradition should not use matzah unless they intend to eat the amount detailed above.

How Complete is Complete?

If a loaf is missing a small amount, some say that it is still considered completeThe two loaves must be complete and unsliced.18 If a loaf is missing a small amount (up to 1/48th), some say that it is still considered complete,19 others disagree.20 If a loaf breaks apart, some say it may still be used if it can be held together internally (e.g., by a stick) in a manner that makes it appear complete.21

If two loaves bake together in an oven and become attached, they may be broken apart and still count as two loaves.22 In such a case, one should cut the loaf from the side where it appears complete (i.e., where it wasn't stuck together).23

A broken loaf can be "repaired" if it is put back into the oven (before Shabbat) and re-baked.24 (On a similar note, I heard in the name of Rabbi Avraham Hirsh Cohen, of blessed memory, from Jerusalem that if a part of a matzah breaks off, the matzah can be rendered complete simply by passing a match along the broken edge. This may be done on a holiday as well—if the match is lit from a preexisting flame and is not extinguished afterwards, but allowed to go out by itself.25)

The Covering

The loaves should be covered during kiddush. This is reminiscent of the manna, which was covered, for protection, by a layer of dew. (The tablecloth beneath is reminiscent of the layer of dew that was beneath the manna.)26

In addition, the blessing on bread usually precedes the blessing on wine, and here, for the sake of kiddush, this order is reversed. So we cover the bread during the kiddush, as if the challah wasn't present.27 Also, the covering delivers the message that the meal only begins after, and because of, the (the sanctity of Shabbat expressed in the) kiddush.28

Some say that the challahs should remain covered until after the Hamotzie blessing.29

The Proper Way to Hold the Loaves

There are various opinions and customs with regards to the proper way to hold the Lechem Mishneh during the Hamotzie blessing.

It is best to have all ten fingers touching the loaves while reciting the blessingHalachically it is preferable to hold the loaf that one is planning to break and eat above the other loaf.30 This follows the principle that one may not pass over one mitzvah (object) in favor of another mitzvah (object). For kabbalistic reasons, however, on Friday night one should break the loaf that is the lower of the two.31 One who wishes to satisfy both opinions should hold the lower loaf a bit closer to himself while reciting the blessing.32

This all applies to the Friday night meal. On Shabbat day (as well as on holiday nights that are not also Friday night), one simply uses the upper loaf.

The Chabad custom is to hold the two loaves side by side on Friday night while saying the blessing, then to break and eat from the one on the right. On Shabbat day one holds them side by side with the right one tilted slightly over the left one while saying the blessing, and then breaks and eats from the one on the right.33

It is best to have all ten fingers touching the loaves while reciting the blessing.34

Marking the Bread

Normally we cut the bread before reciting the blessing so we shouldn't have to interrupt between the blessing and the eating.35 On Shabbat, however, we cannot cut the bread before the blessing because there is a mitzvah to make a blessing on two complete loaves.36

So instead we make a mark on the loaf with the knife, in the area where one plans to make the first cut37 (somewhere on the middle part of the loaf38). This way we are minimizing the time between the blessing and consumption, for there's no need now to think where to start slicing. After the blessing, one should make the first cut in the general area of the marking, but need not seek out the exact spot.

The Blessing

Usually it's the host who recites the blessing aloud and breaks the bread. However, this honor can be given to someone else.39 It is customary to wait for all the assembled to wash their hands before reciting the blessing.40

All the assembled listen to the blessing and respond "Amen." If they have not talked before they receive their bread, they may eat without saying their own blessing—as they have fulfilled their obligation by hearing the blessing from the host.41 If they did talk in the interim, they must recite their own blessing.42 The Chabad custom is for the assembled to always make their own blessings.43

Cutting and Eating

It is customary to slice large pieces of challah for each of the assembledIt is customary to slice large pieces of challah for each of the assembled,44 to show that the Shabbat meal is very precious to us.45

If the assembled are fulfilling their obligation to recite the blessing by hearing it from the host (see above), the host should take at least a small bite before cutting the bread for the rest.46

Although the common custom is to cut and consume only one of the loaves (unless more is needed), there are opinions that one should cut and eat from both of the loaves.47

When passing bread to another, one should not put it directly in the hands of the other person (as this is a sign of mourning). Rather it should be placed on the table from where the other person takes it.48

One should eat at least an amount of bread the size of an olive (approximately one ounce) within four to seven minutes (known in halachic parlance as "k'dei achilat peras").49 It is preferable to eat an additional olive size piece immediately after the first.50


It is customary – both on Shabbat and during the week – to dip bread in salt after reciting the Hamotzie blessing. This reminds us that the table we eat on is like the holy Altar on which the priests used to salt all sacrifices. The salt also serves as protection, as it "reminds" G‑d of the everlasting "salt covenant" He made with the Jewish people. For kabbalistic reasons, it is customary to dip the bread in salt three times.51

Step By Step

1) Keep the loaves covered until the recitation of the blessing.

2) After all of the assembled have washed their hands and are ready, mark the bread with the knife.

3) Hold the breads side by side and recite the blessing.

4) Cut a piece from the center of the loaf and eat a bit—after dipping it in salt.

5) Cut the bread up for the assembled to eat and pass around for everyone. (Each piece should first be dipped in salt.)


See 16th chapter of Exodus.


See Talmud, Yoma 75a with Maharsha ad loc, that although the manna came as a ready-to-eat food for some people, for others it required preparation.


Exodus, ibid., verses 22-27.


See Sha'arei Teshuva 174:1.


Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 274.


It would seem that this opinion's rationale is that since the day, as a whole, was blessed with a double portion, we commemorate this specialness at all the meals (see also Da'at Z'keinim on Exodus 16:22).


Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Orach Chaim 291:7.


Code of Jewish Law, ibid., 529:1.


Mishnah Berurah, ibid. 10.


Shemirat Shabbat K'hilchato vol. II 55:5.


Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., 274:5.




Ibid., 188:10.


Ibid., 168:11.


Ibid., 188:10; see Seder Birkat Hanehenin 2:2.
According to the opinion of the Bet Yosef – whose opinion is followed by the Sephardim – if bread has a significantly sweet taste, even if it contains more water than other liquids, its blessing is Mezonot (Orach Chaim 168:7). Those who follow this opinion should not use sweet challahs unless they eat the required amount to say the Hamotzie blessing.


See Mishnah Berurah 188:36 and Piskei Teshuvot 188:13.


Chida in Machazik Beracha 158:5; see Piskei Teshuvot ibid.


Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., 274:2.


See Sha'arei Teshuvah 274:1; Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., 366:10.


Shmirat Shabbat KeHilchato, ibid., note 24*.


Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., 168:3.


Shmirat Shabbat KeHilchato, ibid., 6.


Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., 4.


Shmirat Shabbat KeHilchato, ibid., 10.


See Code of Jewish Law, ibid., 502.


Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., 271:17.


Taz, ibid. 12.


Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid.


Mishnah Berurah 271:141 in the name of the Chayei Adam. I have heard that this was also the custom of many elder Chabad chassidim as well as the custom of the Rebbe himself.


Bach, Orach Chaim 174.


Rama, Orach Chaim 174:1.


Taz, quoted in Mishnah Berurah, ibid., 5.


Cited in the new print of Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Orach Chaim 274 fn. 20. (See Torah Ohr pg. 66d for the Kabbalistic reason for this practice.)


Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., 167:7.


During the week, one should cut approximately halfway through the loaf – in such way that one could pick up either half of the loaf without it breaking in two – before reciting the blessing. This way one has made a blessing on an almost complete loaf while minimizing the time between the blessing and the eating.


Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., 167:3.


Ibid., 274 note 6.


Ibid., 167:2.


Ibid., 19.


One who wishes to fulfill his obligation of reciting the Hamotzie by hearing it from the host should be seated at the time of the blessing (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., 15). One who has not washed yet, but heard the blessing, has fulfilled his obligation (based on Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., 10, and see Shmirat Shabbat KeHilchato, ibid., 19).


See Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid.


Ibid., 10.


Sha'arei Halachah U'Minhag vol. 1 pg. 275.


Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., 274:3. Rabbi Sholom Ber Gansburg, one of the Rebbe's attendants, recounts that the Rebbe was particular in this regard.


During the week, by contrast, one who cuts bread for a group should not cut slices larger than the size of an egg (approx. two ounces) (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., 167:4).


This because they may not eat before he eats. So if he cuts for them first it is considered an unnecessary interruption between the blessing and the eating (ibid., 167:20).


Biur HaGra O.C. 174, 1.


Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., 21.


Seder Birkat Hanehenin 8:2.


This because there is an opinion that one must eat this amount (two olives worth) in order to fulfill the mitzvah of the Shabbat meals (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., 274:6).
In addition, after washing one's hands (and reciting the blessing) one should eat the size of two olives of bread even during the week (Seder Netilat Yadayim of the Alter Rebbe 18 This is on pg. 634 in the new print of vol. 1 of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav).


Ibid., 8.

Rabbi Aryeh Citron was educated in Chabad yeshivahs in Los Angeles, New York, Israel and Australia. He was the Rosh Kollel of The Shul of Bal Harbour, Florida, and is now an adult Torah teacher in Surfside, Florida. He teaches classes on Talmud, Chassidism, Jewish history and contemporary Jewish law.
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