The Mitzvah is to take off a section of dough from all our bread doughs and to give it to a Kohen.
There are a number of reasons for this Mitzvah. The main reason is to further our connection to the Creator through fostering a sense of appreciation for what He has given us.
A second reason is to sanctify even our mundane actions, such as the preparation of food, and to imbue them with an aspect of holiness.
A third reason is to develop a relationship with the Kohanim, those who dedicate their lives to study Torah. The Mitzvah of Challah thus serves as a reminder to develop our relationship with Torah scholars.
A dough that is made using one of the five grains, wheat, barley, spelt, rye, or oats is subject to the requirement of taking Challah.
SIZE OF THE DOUGH
The requirement to take Challah is if the dough is the size of a measurement in the Torah called “an omer.” This is equivalent to the volume of forty-three and one-fifth medium size eggs. There is a disagreement concerning the exact dimensions of an omer.
There are three dough sizes that one must keep in mind:
Type A: A dough size that does not require Challah taken because it is too small
Type B: A dough size that Challah should be taken but no bracha is made
Type C: A dough size that Challah should be taken with a bracha.
The common custom is that a dough with more than 5 pounds of flour is considered Type C, less than 2.5 pounds is Type A and Type B is anything between 2.5 pounds and 5 pounds.
It is forbidden to purposely make a Type A dough in order to avoid the Mitzvah of taking Challah. If one has no need for a large amount of Challah then there is no prohibition.
If the idea was not to bake the dough but to fry it or cook it, then there is a debate as to whether there is an obligation to take Challah. In order to take Challah with a blessing, the dough should also contain water or one of the other liquids (wine, honey, wilk, or olive oil). If it only contains pure fruit juice a blessing is not recited when taking off Challah.
If the dough is liquidy, such as when baking a cake,the custom is to take off the Challah after the baking and without a blessing. It cannot be taken when the dough is liquidy.
Ideally, the portion taken as Challah should be the size of a K’zayis. Ideally, it should be burnt. However, where this is not feasible the portion taken off as Challah should be wrapped carefully and respectfully disposed of.
WHO PERFORMS THE MITZVAH
Most authorities are of the opinion that the Mitzvah of Challah belongs to the woman of the house. Some, however, write that the wife must be the appointed messenger but that the main Mitzvah belongs to the husband. Rabbi Yaakov Emden writes in his work, Mishne Lechem (2:3), that if the husband went ahead and stole his wife’s Mitzvah he must pay her ten golden pieces in accordance with the Gemorah in Bava Kamma 91b. Since Rabban Gamliel lived during the reign of Nero, it can be assumed that the smaller Aureus was the gold coin under discussion (7.3 grams.) The total amount would be $4083 – equivalent now to 2.577 ounces of gold. Other authorities argue on this, however.
There are two customs regarding the exact wording of the blessing. Some say Boruch Atta Hashem Elokainu Melech HaOlam asher kid’shanu b’Mitzvosav vetzivanu lehafrish Challah min haIssa. Others leave out the words, “Min HaIssa.” Most people follow the first custom.
There are two customs in which the procedure is conducted. Both of them are based upon the halachic principle called “Over L’Asiyasan” that a blessing should be recited not just before the Mitzvah is performed – but immediately before it is performed. Because of this principle, both customs involve a three- step process. The first method has the declaration of what is Challah as the Mitzvah and is as follows:
1] Separate the Challah portion completely and keep it in close proximity to the original dough. [When performing this Mitzvah in Eretz Yisroel, the hand that holds onto the Challah must still be inside the mixing bowl of the main piece of dough.]
2] Recite the blessing
3] Say “Harei zeh Challah” on the portion taken off.
The second custom has the actual physical removal as the Mitzvah and not the declaration.
1] Bunch up the Challah to be taken
2] Recite the blessing
3] Take off the Challah immediately after the blessing.
In either method used one should not speak between step two and step three.
The prohibition to taste of the dough applies as soon as the kneading begins, however, one should not take the Challah portion until the kneading is completed. As soon as the kneading process is finished – one initiates the procedure of removing the Challah.
If one had forgotten to take Challah before it was baked – then Challah should be taken after it is baked. When taking off the Challah after it was baked, one should also have in mind the absorbed taste of the Challah in the pan or tray.
If one forgot to take Challah and it is already Shabbos, there is a difference whether one is living outside of Eretz Yisroel or in Eretz Yisroel. Outside of Eretz Yisroel one may eat of the Challah by leaving over a portion from which to separate Challah from on Motzei Shabbos. One should make sure that the section left over is more than just the Challah amount.
DIVIDING THE CHALLAH
The Halacha is that if someone wishes to split his dough into different sections, where each section is smaller than the minimal amount where Challah must be taken, then the dough is exempt from Challah. In Hebrew this is called the exemption of “Al menas lechalaik” – on condition of Dividing the Challah. There is much debate as to the exact parameters of “Dividing the Challah.” What if it is being divided for one’s own use, such as freezing a section for later? What if one is dividing it for one’s children’s use? Does it make a difference if the child is no longer being supported by you?
There is great debate regarding all of these issues. It is therefore best to take off the Challah without a Bracha whenever the dough is to be divided and is not baked immediately, or one right after the other . The Chazon Ish (YD 198:3) is of the opinion that the issue of dividing the Challah is only if one cares whether or not they touch each other afterwards. If not, then a blessing is still recited. The world seems to be reciting a blessing even when the dough is divided. Although in general the Poskim do not seem to be in agreement with the Chazon Ish, it seems that they have not instructed the women to stop reciting a blessing when it is split. Perhaps this is because they are relying on the minority opinion of the Chazon Ish.
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