A select number of Torah commandments are categorized as t’luyos ba’aretz, directly connected with the physical Land of Israel. Challah, the separation of a portion of dough, is among these commandments. The Torah states: “You shall offer up a loaf (challah) from the first of your dough as a gift” (Numbers 15:20). This loaf is among the twenty-four gifts that G‑d awarded to the
kohanim, the priests.
Other commandments that are t’luyos ba’aretz include bikkurim,
terumah, and ma’aser. Bikkurim, the First Fruits, were brought to Jerusalem by the landowner as an offering in the Temple and given to the
kohanim. Terumah and ma’aser, portions of produce, were given respectively to a
kohen and a Levite. These other mitzvos were not applicable until fourteen years after the Israelites entered the land (seven years to conquer it and seven years to divide it among the various tribes). In contrast, the mitzvah to take challah applied the moment that the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Holy Land.
By Biblical law, challah is taken only within the boundaries of the Land of Israel. However, the Sages instituted the taking of challah outside the Holy Land so that people living in the Diaspora would not forget the mitzvah. In order for the mitzvah of challah to have Biblical force, all (or according to the
Sefer HaChinuch, a majority) of Jews must be present in the Holy Land. Ever since the forced dispersion of the Jews at the end of the First Temple era, this criterion has not been met. Therefore, challah today, both in and out of the Land of Israel, is a Rabbinic rather than a Biblical mitzvah.