Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Contact Us

Why Do We Dip the Challah Bread in Salt?

Why Do We Dip the Challah Bread in Salt?


Every time I’m invited for a Shabbat meal, I notice that the host dips the bread into salt before serving it. At first I thought it was just a flavor thing, but then I saw it done in multiple homes. What’s the reason for this?


Your initial assumption was actually (partially) right. Bread can be bland. We want to make a blessing over the tastiest bread, so we add salt before partaking. Based on this, from a purely halachic perspective, if you are eating bread that is made of fine flour or is otherwise tasty (and modern challah certainly qualifies), you don’t need to dip it into salt.1

Nevertheless, the custom is to always dip bread into salt—not only on Shabbat.2 Why?

Your Table Is an Altar

In describing his vision of the altar to be placed in the Third Temple, Ezekiel says, “The altar was wood, three cubits high and two cubits long . . . and he spoke to me, ‘This is the table that is before the L‑rd.’”3 Note that the verse starts off calling it an altar, but then refers to it as a table.

The Talmud explains: When the Temple stood, the sacrifices brought on the altar would atone for Israel. But now, when there is no Temple, a person’s table—upon which he feeds the poor—atones for him.4

If the table is like the altar, the food eaten upon it is like the offerings. With regard to the offerings, the verse states, “You shall not omit the salt of your G‑d’s covenant from [being placed] upon your meal offerings. You shall offer salt on all your sacrifices.”5 Hence, we add salt to our staple food, bread—even the most delicious varieties.6

How Is the Dipping Done? A Mystical Perspective

According to Kabbalah, salt, which is bitter, represents divine severity, and bread, the staff of life, represents divine kindness. Both the Hebrew word for bread, lechem (לחם), and the word for salt, melach (מלח), contain the same letters. However, we wish to overpower the severity of the salt with the kindness of the bread. Therefore, the common custom is not to sprinkle the salt (severity) atop the bread (kindness), but instead to dip the bread into the salt—kindness atop severity.7

Additionally, many have the custom to dip the bread into the salt three times. One reason for this is that the gematria (numerical value) of lechem is 78. We dip the bread three times, dividing the energy of 78 into 3, which equals 26, the numerical value of G‑d’s name (the Tetragrammaton). This reminds us of the verse8 “Man does not live by bread alone, but rather by whatever comes forth from the mouth of the L‑rd does man live.”9

The Satan and the Salt Covenant

Dipping aside, it is important to have salt on the table. Why? At the start of a meal we wash our hands and then sit down to wait for everyone else to do the same. The Midrash explains that while we wait silently—one may not talk between washing and the blessing over the bread—we are “bereft” of mitzvahs. At that point, the prosecuting angel (a.k.a. the Satan) tries to draw attention to this shortcoming. However, the “covenant of salt” mentioned above protects us. 10

Why is it a “covenant of salt”? What has salt got to do with our bond with G‑d? Salt is a preservative that neither spoils nor decays. These unique properties make salt the perfect metaphor for G‑d’s eternal covenant with the Jewish people.11

So next time you wash for bread and are waiting to eat, take a look at your salt shaker and remind yourself of G‑d’s eternal covenant with the Jewish people. Even as you sit momentarily bereft of mitzvahs, the salt brings attention to the fact that G‑d’s pact with Israel will last forever.

Talmud, Berachot 40a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 167:5; Shulchan Aruch HaRav 167:8.
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 167:5.
Talmud, Berachot 55a.
Shulchan Aruch and Shulchan Aruch HaRav loc. cit.
Arizal in Shaar HaMitzvot, Parshat Eikev; Kaf HaChaim, Orach Chaim 167:37.
Arizal in Shaar HaMitzvot loc. cit.; Shulchan Aruch HaRav and Kaf HaChaim loc. cit; Ba’er Heitev on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 167:5. See also Likkutei Torah, Parshat Vayikra, discourse entitled Lo Tashbis, and Sefer HaMinhagim Chabad.
Midrash, cited in Tosafot, Berachot 40a; Beit Yosef on Tur, Orach Chaim 167; Magen Avraham on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 167:14; Shulchan Aruch HaRav 167:8. According to this custom, it is important to place salt on the table, even if no one will partake.
See Sefer HaSichot 5749, vol. 1, pp. 337–338. Additionally, another characteristic of salt is that it corrodes. In this context, that would refer to the destruction of negativity. See Sefer HaSichot, loc. cit.; Isaiah 51:6 and commentaries there. See also The Kabbalah of Salt.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for's Ask the Rabbi service.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
Anonymous September 22, 2016

Well said! Thanks for posting! Reply

Meira Netherlands August 18, 2015

Salt is a precious gift Salt originates (geneses) from all elements seawater-sun-earth-wind. It is also the first and most precious gift that was given to men to use well for all purposes. To heal or harm. Reply

Judy (Judith) Margaret (Frank) Moken Albrightsville August 17, 2015

Thank you for your explanation of the dinner and customs. I don't think I will ever forget the scene you portray of the washing of the hands and waiting for the blessing. I learned from my mother but never knew why it was so important. Thank you for beautiful memories. Reply

MLK brockton ma August 15, 2015

Salt My Zedie always dipped salt onto bread . There were meals put onto the table salt was put onto the food . When cooking or baking salt is included as an main ingredient . Now a days doctors tell you salt not good for you and all food contains . Advising you not to add any salt . Reply

Anonymous NYC, NY August 13, 2015

salt, Pesach matzoh and Shalom I was told that we do not need to dip challah in salt because salt was already added before baking, and that Pesach matzoh will not have had it added before baking so we need to be careful to dip during Peach. Not having to dip challah because it is already tasty is a different perspective.

I was told that the purpose of dipping was to express Shalom among those sitting down to eat, and refusing to dip was refusing to wish or extend Shalom to others.

Is dipping into salt halakha or custom? And if a custom, has it become a required custom among certain groups? Reply

Esther Sarah Evans 91240 Jerusalem, ISRAEL August 12, 2015

b"H and if we don't have a salt-shaker with salt, we always have our tears; that's probably why they're salty... Reply

Craig Newnes France August 12, 2015

This is interesting. Salt is a dietary disaster and the root of much ill-health. Processed foods and sweet drinks are full of it as are McDonalds, etc, etc. And yet there is a religious basis for its use? Or, perhaps, the religious justification is an invention of salt lovers. Reply

mki Israel August 12, 2015

I no longer dip my Challah in salt, but do respect tradions when at others homes. Salt of the earth yet I add salt to all my dishes but dessert and there is always enough for a guest. I like the bit it never spoils or decays. I often forget what was used before refrigerators. Great post Joe Bekhore! Reply

Hersh Goldman Swampscott, Mass 01907 August 11, 2015

Why do we dip the Challah bread in salt? I heard that the reason why we customarily DIP the chalah in salt instead of sprinkling it with salt is because salt shakers hadn't been invented and for that reason dipping bread in salt was more common then and later became regarded as more traditional than using a salt shaker.. Reply

Donna August 11, 2015

Temple sacrifice It is said here that the table is now the place of atonement since the Temple is no more. How can man make that decision? I have heard that right now there is no place for atonement for the Jew. Please explain Reply

UncleRemus July 8, 2017
in response to Donna:

Prayer Now Replaces Temple Sacrifices No place for atonement for the Jew? You have been sold a bill of goods. Of course there is, the Jews have Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The prophet Hosea negates your errant learning with the following, "God says that your words [meaning, prayers] are more precious to me than the blood [the blood that was sprinkled during some parts of the sacrificail ceremonies]." That means that since the Temple was destroyed and the Jews can no longer bring sacrifices, the prayers are quite the substitute, Hosea said that God said so. If it's good enough for God, whoever taught you either was blatantly wrong or they lied to you. Reply

agpimou lisbon August 11, 2015

Thank you for this lesson! It's such a shame modern life is forgeting rituals, and their meaning! This is precious enlightment.
Toda chabah! Reply

Izzy Laz August 11, 2015

Very nice article! Thank you! Reply

Adiv Abramson Minnesota August 11, 2015

Food For Thought While the efficacy of animal sacrifices for the expiation of transgressions is a fascinating topic in an of itself, I'd like to know how far the analogy between the altar and one's table extends. If both structures are used to achieve atonement, are they equally effective? What if one does not have an impoverished guest join him for the meal? What if the guest is a close friend or really isn't impoverished? If one's table is effective in achieving atonement, what need then is there for an altar? If one is sitting silently while waiting for the others, can he or she not review Jewish laws or try to come up with a new Torah thought or at very least contemplate the Oneness of Hashem? It would seem to me that if one chooses to engage his mind in the realm of Torah, he or she is not technically bereft of mitzvos. And can we not say that by observing the laws of handwashing he or she is in fact fulfilling mitzvos? Why does dipping thrice divide, instead of multiply the salt? Todah rabah! Reply

Related Topics