Challah

The braided Sabbath bread.

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The braided challah, which is made with eggs, is the Jewish Sabbath‑and‑holiday bread. It is surrounded by folklore and tradition and loaded with symbolism. On festive occasions a blessing is said over two loaves, symbolizing the two portions of the manna that was distributed on Fridays to the children of Israel during their Exodus from Egypt. The breads are covered on the table by a decorative challah cover or a white napkin, which represents the dew that collected on the manna in the morning. Poppy and sesame seeds sprinkled on the bread also symbolize the manna that fell from heaven.

Challah is made in various sizes and shapes, all of which have a meaning. Braided ones, which may have three, four, or six strands, are the most common, and because they look like arms intertwined, symbolize love. Three braids symbolize truth, peace, and justice. Twelve humps from two small or one large braided bread recall the miracle of the 12 loaves for the 12 tribes of Israel. Round loaves, where there is no beginning and no end,? are baked for Rosh Hashanah to symbolize continuity. Ladder and hand shapes are served at the meal before the fast of Yom Kippur the ladder signifying that we should ascend to great heights, the hand that we may be inscribed for a good year. On Purim, small triangular loaves symbolize Haman’s ears; at Shavuot, two oblongs side by side represent the Tablets of the Law. The bulkah is a segmented rectangular challah. Sweet challahs with honey or raisins are baked during the festive season to bring joy and happiness.

The name challah is derived from the Hebrew word used for portion in the Biblical commandment of the first of your dough you shall give unto the Lord a portion for a gift throughout your generations. Jews were biblically commanded to separate from their doughs one twenty‑fourth and give it to the kohanim (priests) every Sabbath.

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Claudia Roden is one of England's leading food writers. Her works include the James Beard Award winning The Book of Jewish Food and A Book of Middle Eastern Food.

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