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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.

1. Talmud, Berachot 40a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 167:5; Shulchan Aruch HaRav 167:8.
2. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 167:5.
3. Ezekiel 41:22.
4. Talmud, Berachot 55a.
5. Leviticus 2:13.
6. Shulchan Aruch and Shulchan Aruch HaRav loc. cit.
7. Arizal in Shaar HaMitzvot, Parshat Eikev; Kaf HaChaim, Orach Chaim 167:37.
8. Deuteronomy 8:3.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
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Discussion (12)
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.
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.
Judy (Judith) Margaret (Frank) Moken
August 15, 2015
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 .
brockton ma
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?
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...
Esther Sarah Evans
91240 Jerusalem, ISRAEL
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.
Craig Newnes
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!
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..
Hersh Goldman
Swampscott, Mass 01907
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
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!