Why Are the Challahs Round?

by Rabbi Sholom Avtzon

Have you ever wondered why the challahs we eat during the month of Tishrei are round? Yes I know it is much easier for the bakery to make round challahs than braided ones. However this is a minhag in Jewish communities for hundreds of years, and people didn’t just do it out of convenience.

The Chasam Sofer (in Toras Moshe, mahadura tilisa, on Rosh Hashanah) explains there is a tremendous and indeed essential and fundamental difference between the braided ones to the round ones. The braided ones have a top and bottom or in other words a beginning and end. Yet the round ones don’t have a beginning or an end.

Just like many of the other things we eat on Rosh Hashanah are a sign or to symbolize something, so too, a round challah symbolizes that the brochos that Hashem bless each and every one of us amongst and together with the entire Jewish people, should be unlimited, without an end.

This teaches us an important lesson: The Alter Rebbe explains the preciousness of a minhag (a mere custom). While there is a biblical commandment to rejoice on Sukkos, that rejoicing doesn’t come close to the level of rejoicing by Simchas Beis Ha’shoei’va.

At the same token, the rejoicing by Simchas Beis Ha’Shoei’va which is rabbinic in nature pales in comparison to the level of rejoicing that is demonstrated by Simchas Torah, which is only a custom.

Yet it is the adherence to these customs that keeps the Jewish Nation strong.

Based on this I felt it is appropriate to mention a different but similar custom that we Chabad had in Russia, when it came to the challahs.

On Rosh Hashanah, the challah wasn’t exactly round. The two ends had small cuts in them to form fingers. Than the right end was placed over the left end, to symbolize that kindness should cover up the strictness of judgment. Additionally, some challahs were made then or for Yom Kippur and /or Hoshana Rabba in the form of a ladder, symbolizing that our tefillos should ascend to the heavens,

So the next time you consider changing a custom, remember, there is deeper meaning to each of them.

26 Comments

  • 2. A Gantz Yohr Azoi wrote:

    What then is the significance of braided challos?
    Why not make them round the whole year, since it is easier?
    Something to ponder while we enjoy our honey-dipped challah…

    • 3. Milhouse wrote:

      Braided chalos are prettier, but they’re more work. I have it from a professional baker that to braid a normal challa takes about 50 seconds, while a round challah takes about 10. You can imagine how busy bakers are at this season; if they did normal challos there just would not be enough time to get all their work done.

    • 4. K wrote:

      Braiding is a melacha. It is one form if human contribution to creation. The six work-days are “la’asos”, while shabbos makes us stop melacha. Hence the braiding. (Note: Issur of braiding hair on shabbos).

    • 5. A Gantz Yohr Azoi wrote:

      I’ll just go with Rabbi Avtzon’s answer of the braids adding up to the 12 loaves of the Lechem Hapanim, and the round challah symbolizing that the brochos that Hashem bless each and every one of us should be unlimited, without an end.
      If the bakers want their blessings to be without end, they will follow the minhag, and hire more workers to meet the demand of the customers.

  • 6. Milhouse wrote:

    However this is a minhag in Jewish communities for hundreds of years, and people didn’t just do it out of convenience.

    How do you know? Seeking convenience is not a modern fad; people have been doing it ever since creation. And for almost as long people have been retroactively reading spurious meanings into practises that arose for purely practical reasons.

    Thanks for the reminder about “hands” and “ladders”. Those, of course, are more work than ordinary braided challos, let alone the round ones, and therefore they were only ever made at home, not by commercial bakers. Bakers made round challos for yomtov because they lacked time to make straight ones; housewives made fancy shapes for yomtov because they had time, and wanted to make something pretty and meaningful to enhance the occasion.

  • 7. Sholom Avtzon wrote:

    I should add the reason why challahs throughout the year have three, four or six braids is as follows:

    In the beis hamikdash there were twelve loaves of bread which was divided amongst the cohanim on Shabbos. To remind us of this we also have 12 challahs. You can have two challahs of six braids each at every meal. Or you can make four challahs of three braids or three of four braids.

    My mother a”h would make challahs and then place five small balls of dough across the top (similar to the breakaway challahs) so at each meal there were twelve.

  • 8. K wrote:

    Huh?

    The “real” question is why all year we braid challah?! A round challah is the “original”, in fact, it is called “challah” = round bread, from the Hebrew word for circle and hollow (chalal).

    The round challah for Yomim Noroim represents a crown, as we coronate HKB”K as our King..

    In some European communities, the custom was to bake round challah reminiscent of a bird peeking out of a nest (known as “foigel challah,” bird challah, in Yiddish). The reason for the custom: Just as G-d shows mercy to birds, so should He have mercy on us.

    • 9. Milhouse wrote:

      “Challah” does not mean “round”, and is not connected to “chalal”. The Lechem Haponim and the Shtei Halechem were rectangular; the shapes of the other challos used in the beis hamikdosh are not specified and there’s no indication that any of them were round.

    • 10. K wrote:

      Lechem Mishne is zecher l’mon which was round. Logically it should be symbolic to mon in whatever way possible.

    • 11. K wrote:

      The possuk also calls matzos, “challos matzos” because matzos are round (except when made my machine).

    • 12. K wrote:

      Because it is Aseres Yemei Tshuva, and in the past I have exchanged sharp words with Milhouse, I am using this forum to ask mechillah from him.

      I also wish to advise him that I am too am mochel him for whatever pgiyah in my kovod or the kovod of my Torah (which is mine and I have the ability to be mochel on it).

      Wishing him and all a gmar tov and a shnas limud and yeshuah.

    • 13. Crown Heightser wrote:

      K, you are such a snag. Even your “michila” isn’t straight. You must start learning chassidus! I know you wrote that you learned Tanya but that was L’KANTER, just like a galach who learned gemarah. Now before Yom Kippur you fear the fires of gehenom which your sifrei mussar talk about so much. Well, you are gonna burn unless you start learning chassidus.

    • 14. K wrote:

      Challah is not “Lechem”, therefore unrelated to shape of Lechem Haponim or Shnei Halechem.

    • 16. Milhouse wrote:

      K, when the Torah refers to “chalos matzos”, there is no reason to suppose that they were round. Since the only chalos whose shape is specified were rectangular, it’s at least somewhat likely that they were all rectangular, or else that they could be any shape one liked.

    • 17. CH Shaddchan wrote:

      I have followed many of the debates between Milhouse and K. They both seem intelligent, knowledgeable and very opinionated. As a shaddchan, my professional opinion is that they are incompatible. But now that K held out an olive branch of an apology to Milhouse, I strongly suggest accepting it. It may be the beginning of a great alliance between two great people.

  • 18. Year round challahs wrote:

    The long challahs during the year are in the shape of a vov which represents 6. The Lechem Mishnah would reflect 12.

    • 20. A Gantz Yohr Azoi wrote:

      Never saw a braided Vov. However, I like your suggestion, very appealing to fans of Gematria. It is nice to use multi-grain baguetes, which resemble a Vov more than braided loaves, for Lechem Mishnah.

    • 21. K wrote:

      One reason for making a small cut in challah before the brocha is made is to create a Yud, while holding challah in our hands each has five fingers for two hay, and the challah has 6 braids or shaped like a vov = yud, hay, vov, hay.

    • 22. Vov wrote:

      It says in Seforim that the Remez for using two braided Challah’s made of six braids and we make them looking straight like a VOV is found in the Zemiros of Shabbos of Azamer Bishvochin which says שכינתא תתעטר בשית נהמא לסטר בווין תתקטר which talks about the Challa that we eat on Shabbos and the word used is בווין as in VOV

  • 23. CH Shaddchan wrote:

    BTW, Mr. K, you ended with a bracha for a shnas limud and “yeshuah”, does it hurt you to ask for a shnas “geulah”??? It seems to me that “yeshuah” is individual, from private challenges, while “geulah” is communal, the arrival of Mashiach, NOW!.

    • 24. K wrote:

      Does CHabad not say in bentching the Harachaman for Eliyahu who will give us bsuros tovos YESHUOS u’nechomos?!

      (I know that the GRA’s talmidim – plus some others, omitted all the Harachamans, but since when does Chabad follow minhagei HaGra?!)

  • 25. CH Shaddchan wrote:

    It seems to me that braided challah represent achdus/unity (invei hagefen) while round challahs are insular.

    • 26. K wrote:

      Cute reference to invei hagefen and shidduchim, since shabbos is the zivug for bnei yisroel, as per medrash.

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