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Why Is Challah Braided?

Why Is Challah Braided?

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Question:

Why do we braid the challah bread baked for the Shabbat meals?

Answer:

Good question. Most challahs are braided either with three or six strands of dough. I recently heard an interesting explanation for the six-braided loaves.

Shabbat represents the idea of unity. The six days of the week are the paradigm of diversity. They are like the six directions in our three-dimensional world—north, south, west, east, up and down. During these days we are in a search outward, full of action and initiative, trying to master our environment.

Shabbat, on the other hand, represents the inner point. Shabbat points inward, and is full of the unity and the peace that comes with unity. That is why we greet one another with “Shabbat Shalom,” Shabbat of peace and unity. Shabbat also represents the innerness of absorbing the blessing from the six workdays and directing them to our homes and our lives.

Perhaps the braiding of the challah, which is eaten at the Shabbat table, also represents this idea of unity: how we tie everything together, bringing all the diversity in our lives together for a peaceful harmony and unity that only the Shabbat can achieve.

The two challahs together are thus also symbolic of the twelve showbreads which were placed every Shabbat on the Table in the Holy Temple sanctuary.

This is just one possibly reason, and it is certainly not mandatory to use six-strand challahs.

This video demonstrates the art of the six-strand challah braid.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
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Discussion (18)
December 24, 2012
I am so thankful for your Chabad website! I learn a lot of things I didn't know about in reference to Judaism! I am also thankful to the two young Chabad boys who come to my apartment every Friday afternoon, before Shabbat, to leave with me L'Chaim The weekly publication for Every Jew. Thank you again,
Kenneth R. Pritz
November 30, 2012
The braid itself is a lesson
the Baal Shem Tov says that "from everything we see or hear we should learn a lesson to serve Hashem", yes there is perhaps in this article, but the truth is that you could see how there is a whole knowledge behind this way of seeing it. It takes time and work to be able to see such a lesson only from the shape of the challah. is not so simple to just see something and make it meaningful in our lives and in our service to Hashem. Thank you for such a lesson
Esther P
November 30, 2012
Klal Yisrael
I also think that the two challahs, each with their six braids, is representative of the 12 Tribes, the Klal Yisrael. The challahs then are supportive of the belief that despite our diversity, there is a shared community and destiny among all Jews. When the unity of Klal Yisrael is realized, we can look forward to advent of Moshiach. With respect to Jewish diversity, I think that Mizrachi Jews do not have the custom of braided challahs.
Moshe Jaron
Nahariya, Israel
November 30, 2012
Thanks, for bring small details to the far reaches of the world.
On behalf of all of us living in Pakistan and Kashmir, we would like to thank you and especially the Team Chabad, for spreading the light of Torah throughout the world. Trust me the condition of Jewish people here is worse than that in the former USSR. It is HaShem, who gives us strength to survive. This is a nice point you have made in this article.
May HaShem Bless you and Team Chabad.

Shabath Shalom, to all.
K. Khan
November 29, 2012
Beautiful words.
You should do more food articles; your writing is lovely. There's so much in our dietary materials, the subtle parts, not the obvious ones.
Mitchell Wachtel
Lubbock, Texas
November 29, 2012
Try THIS explanation
I think the challah braid is reminiscent of the DNA molecule, the shape of life itself. The spiral shows up a few times in the Torah: the tzitzit, the shofar, and the bronze serpent coiled around a staff that Moshe carried thru the camp when plague broke out that healed the sick, and was probably copied by the Greeks for their caduceus. At weddings two challahs are baked for the couple, with blessing of health, wealth and fertility!
Shmuel
Crown Hts
November 29, 2012
Another reason for the braid
I remember learning before that the seventh day, since it had no partner based off the days of creation (1 was with 4, 2 with 5, 3 with 6), had the Jewish people as its partner. Lecha Dodi is also sung on Shabbat to welcome the Sabbath Queen, so Shabbat is akin to this marriage. Regarding the braiding, it is similar to the braiding of a bride's hair.
Anonymous
NJ
November 28, 2012
I was taught to use 4 strands, and most Israeli bakeries use one long strand. I have seen recipes that recommend anything from a simple three strand braid to seven strands. I have also read that some Jewish communities didn't use braided bread at all for Shabbat, but rather some other form of bread. so I can only conclude that the shape of the Shabbat Challah bread is a (largely European/ American) custom. It's possibe that the use of the braided loaves started as an elegant way to make a bread that could be easily aportioned without the need of a knife. Challah actually refers to the part that is burned, and it can be separated either before or after the bread is baked. Challa is also separated from cookies and cakes. The requirement is dependent on the quantity of flour used, not it's proportion to the other ingredients. I knew a woman who made a point of baking a kilo(of flour) worth of cakes every week before Shabbat. She separated challah from each type of cake.
Judy Freed
Beer Sheva
November 26, 2012
Chalah
What do those strands represent? Two, four or six.
Adam
Thornhill
January 20, 2009
braided challah
very beutafully written
kitten
Langley, Canada
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