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Why Is Rosh Hashanah Challah Round?

Why Is Rosh Hashanah Challah Round?

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Many have the custom to begin the Rosh Hashanah meals with round challahs. Some extend this custom and continue using round challahs for all Shabbat and holiday meals through Hoshanah Rabbah, the final day of judgment. These challahs are often filled with raisins and are sweeter than usual.

Here are five classic reasons for this custom:

1. Goodness Without an End

Our fate for the coming year is inscribed on Rosh Hashanah, sealed on Yom Kippur, and finalized on Hoshanah Rabbah.

Rabbi Moshe Sofer (known as the Chatam Sofer, 1762–1839) says that the round challahs, the apple dipped in honey, and all the other symbolic foods of this time of year actually help to concretize and give physical form to the positive decrees Heaven has in store for the new year. Similarly, prophets used to perform a physical action to symbolize their prophecy. (You can read more on this at Why All the Symbolic Rosh Hashanah Foods?)

The round challahs have no end, symbolizing (and actualizing) our wish for a year in which life and blessings continue without end.1

2. The Wheel of Fortune

On Rosh Hashanah we are allocated our income for the upcoming year. Try as we might, we cannot earn a penny more than G‑d decrees. Some may convince themselves that their wealth is dependent on their own prowess and ingenuity. In truth, however, our fortune is similar to a wheel. Just as a wheel turns, one’s fortune may go up or down, for everything is in the hands of G‑d.

The Rosh Hashanah bread—symbolizing all our sustenance for the coming year—is shaped like a wheel to remind us that who rises and who falls on the wheel of fortune is decided by G‑d alone.2

3. Sustainin’ Raisin

It is customary for Rosh Hashanah challahs to be studded with sweet raisins, which are made from grapes. The Jewish people are compared to grapes,3 and the round challah is reminiscent of the globe. Thus, the round raisin challah gives form to our wish that G‑d—who sustains the entire world—grant life and prosperity to His nation, the Jewish people.4

4. A Crown for G‑d

As reflected in the liturgy of the day, a key theme of Rosh Hashanah is coronating G‑d (read more about that at Coronation of G‑d). Some say that the round challahs resemble a crown, reminding us of the overarching theme of this sacred time.5

5. There Is One

Unlike the pagans, who believe in multiple gods with various forms, the Jewish people taught the world to believe in one G‑d, who has no beginning or end and no form. To showcase this belief, we use a round challah, which has no beginning or end, as it is all uniform.6

(Read this article for an interesting twist on why we don’t use braided challah at this time of year.)

May you be inscribed in the book of life for a sweet new year!

Footnotes
1.
Rabbi Moshe Sofer in Torat Moshe, Mahadura Revia, Rosh Hashanah, p. 129.
2.
Shemen Hatov, Rosh Hashanah, p. 100.
3.
Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 8:5.
4.
Tefilah Lemoshe—Orot Yehoshua, Leil Rosh Hashana, p 19.
5.
Zemirot Divrei Yoel 408:1.
6.
Responsum Mahari Asad, Orech Chaim 157.
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david harel jerusalem September 19, 2017

it also symbolizes the round tummy we get after all the bread and higher blood sugar!! Reply

Wendy Boca Raton September 27, 2017
in response to david harel:

It's nice to see humor although I wasn't expecting it. Laughter is always a good thing and what I would expect from Jewish ppl of all types and colors. Reply

jeanette pocono mtns. September 18, 2017

And if you are a baker, you know that the orders for challah for Rosh Hashana are about quadruple the normal Shabbos order, and there is just so much time to bake so many extra challahs, and NO TIME TO BRAID THEM OR THE BAKER WOULD NEVER MAKE IT HOME ON TIME FOR SHKIYAH. Reply

lawrence marks September 18, 2017

based on at least 3,4,5 ,then why don't we use a round challah all year round? Reply

Anonymous Georgia September 21, 2017
in response to lawrence :

Absolutely! I bake the Challah for a local congregation's services a) and I almost always make round Challah with a honey glaze. During the High Holidays I make Challah sweeter with extra honey and fill it with multicolored raisins. I glaze it with honey and fresh squeezed orange juice. I also use extra eggs and rich buttermilk to make it even tastier and to symbolize the fertile Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. :) Reply

Anonymous Anon September 27, 2017
in response to lawrence :

Great question Lawrence. Why didn't we think that sooner?? )) Reply

jeanette friedman Paradise Valley September 24, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Do you tell them it's milichig? Reply

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