In this week’s parashah, Parashas Beshalach, we encounter the double portion of manna that descended on Friday, in honor of the coming Shabbos: “It came to pass on Friday, that the people gathered a double portion of bread” (Shemos 16:25).
In commemoration of the double portion of manna that fell in honor of Shabbos, Chazal write that there is an obligation of beginning the Shabbos meals with lechem mishneh, two loaves of bread. The Gemara thus states: “Rabbi Ami taught: On Shabbos a person must take two loaves of bread. What is the reason? Because the verse writes ‘lechem mishneh.'”
In this article we will discuss the laws and customs of lechem mishneh at the Shabbos table. Though superficially simple, the mitzvah includes more details and issues than meets the eye.
Torah of Rabbinic Obligation
Based on the Talmudic sources mentioned above, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 274:1, and Rema, Orach Chaim 291:4) rule that there is an obligation of lechem mishneh, beginning the Shabbos meals with two loaves of bread.
Authorities dispute whether the practice of lechem mishneh is a Torah obligation, or a rabbinic obligation. The Aruch Ha-Shulchan (274:1) writes that the Talmudic derivation from the verse is a true derashah, and the obligation is therefore Torah-mandated. This is also the opinion of the Taz (Orach Chaim 678:2), and some other poskim (see Chasam Sofer, Orach Chaim no. 46).
However, other authorities write that the obligation is rabbinic in nature, as the Eliyahu Rabba (291:1) cites from the Maharil (see also Magen Avraham 254:23). The Peri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav 291) writes that the entire obligation of eating the Shabbos meals is rabbinic, and this will seemingly imply that the obligation of lechem mishneh, which is part of the meal, is also rabbinic.
One way or the other, it is important to realize that the concept of lechem mishneh is a full obligation, and not only a hiddur or ‘proper practice.’
Obligation of Women
The Mishnah Berurah (274:1) writes that even women are obligated in the mitzvah of lechem mishneh, explaining that even they participated in the miracle of the manna in the wilderness. The use of this rationale suggests that the mitzvah is only of rabbinic nature, for Tosafos (Pesachim 108b) and others state that the rationale does not apply to Torah mitzvos.
The source for the rationale of women having partaken of the miraculous manna is Rabbeinu Tam (Shabbos 117b), who explains that this is the reason why women are obligated in the mitzvah.
The Ran (ibid.) questions the use of this rationale, and explains that there is a simpler reason why women are obligated in lechem mishneh: With regard to the laws of Shabbos, women have the same halachic status as men for all intents and purposes, including lechem mishneh. This rationale is mentioned by the Aruch Ha-Shulchan (274:4).
In contrast with these opinions, Shut Ha-Elef Lecha Shlomo actually writes that women are not obligated in lechem mishneh, explaining that both of the rationales mentioned above do not apply.
The fact that women participated in the miracle of the manna is not significant, he explains, because lechem mishneh does not commemorate the miracle per se, but only the double portion that fell on Friday. As for the equivalence between men and women for purposes of Shabbos, for positive mitzvos this equivalence is limited to Kiddush, and does not apply to other aspects of Shabbos.
By means of his explanations, Shut Ha-Elef Lecha Shlomo wishes to justify the custom whereby women are not particular about this mitzvah. The principle halachah, however, follows the rishonim and acharonim who write that women are fully obligated.
How a Household Fulfills the Mitzvah
The ordinary custom is that only the ba’al ha-bayis has two loaves of bread in front of him. How do others members of the household (or guests) fulfill the mitzvah?
The Aruch Ha-Shulchan (274:4) writes that “those who are particular” ensure that all members of the household are present at the time that the ba’al ha-bayis recites the berachah over the challos, thereby ensuring that all fulfill the mitzvah (he makes special mention of the need to wait for women to be present). By being yotzei with the ba’al ha-bayis, the household also fulfill the obligation of lechem mishneh.
The Mishnah Berurah (274:3) likewise writes that it is “proper conduct” to follow this method.
Yet, the expressions “those who are particular” and “proper conduct” possibly indicate that even if members of the household are not present at the time the berachah is made, they still fulfill the mitzvah of lechem mishneh.
A possible explanation for this is that the mitzvah of lechem mishneh is not a personal obligation, but rather defines the form of the Shabbos meal: The Shabbos meal must begin with lechem mishneh. Those who participate in the meal, even if they are absent at the time the berachah is made, fulfill the mitzvah.
A similar approach is mentioned by Shut Divrei Yatziv (Orach Chaim no. 126), who wishes to justify the common custom among Hassidic Admorim, who do not wait for their wives before beginning the meal.
He explains that the ba’al ha-bayis does not act as a halachic ‘envoy’ of others, and there is no need for him to fulfill the obligation on their behalf. Rather, the mitzvah is that the meal should be ‘founded’ on lechem mishneh, and the beginning of the meal with two loaves fulfills the obligation for all participants.
The principle halachah, however, follows the rulings of the poskim above, and the ba’al ha-bayis should therefore ensure that all are present before reciting the berachah on the bread.
Whole or Broken Challos
The two loaves of bread or challah should be complete and whole (Orach Chaim 274:1). However, even if there is a deep cut or fissure in the challah, it is still considered whole, providing that when one raises the loaf from its weaker end the loaf does not break into two (Magen Avraham 167:5).
The bread is considered whole even if part of it is burnt (Mishnah Berurah 274:2). Moreover, even if a small part of the loaf (up to less than 1/48 of the entire challah) broke off, some rule that it can still be considered ‘whole,’ though others assert that even such minimal damage is sufficient to deny the loaf of the ‘whole’ status (see Aruch Ha-Shulchan 274:5).
There are several additional halachos concerning the wholeness of the challos (such as: joining together a loaf that was broken in two; the required size of whole challos; making an incision into the challos before reciting the berachah), which are not discussed in this article.
An interesting opinion, however, which is worthy of note in the specific context of lechem mishneh, is the ruling of the Netziv in Shut Meishiv Davar (no. 21). The Netziv was asked to justify the custom of his grandfather, Rav ‘Itzaleh of Volozin, who used to give two pieces of challah to latecomers at the meal, rather than give them whole loaves. How was the mitzvah fulfilled with slices or pieces of bread?
The Netziv explains that the mitzvah can, in fact, be fulfilled with slices of bread, provided that they were not sliced or cut in front of the person making the berachah. ‘Wholeness,’ according to the Netziv, is a relative virtue: If I receive a sliced of bread, the slice is considered ‘whole’ until it is cut further.
Other poskim (see Shut Harerei Kedem Vol. 2, no. 89) have not accepted the chiddush of the Netziv, and it should not generally be relied on. Yet, the Minchas Yitzchak (Vol. 3, no. 13) writes that somebody making Kiddush on cake can rely on this ruling, in reciting the berachah over two slices of cake.
Certainly, where there is no whole loaf available, one may and must fulfill the mitzvah with two broken pieces of challah (Aruch Ha-Shulchan 274:5)
Which Challos are Cut?
The Rema (Orach Chaim 274:1) writes that one should cut the bottom challah on Friday night, whereas on Shabbos day one should cut the top challah. This ruling is in line with the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (ibid.), who writes that only one of the two challos need to be cut, and there is no requirement to cut both.
However, the Mishnah Berurah (174:4) cites from a number of poskim who were careful to cut both challos, and this is also the ruling of the Vilna Gaon. Yet, he adds that the common custom follows the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, and the Aruch Ha-Shulchan writes that this is certainly the principle halachic ruling.
Note that when cutting the bottom challah on Friday night, the Taz writes that one should hold the bottom challah closer to oneself than the top challah, in order to avoid violating the prohibition of ein ma’avirin al ha-mitzvos (circumventing a mitzvah item for an alternative item). This ruling is cited by the Mishnah Berurah (274:5).
Yet, the Aruch Ha-Shulchan (274:6) rules that this practice is unnecessary, because ein ma’avirin al ha-mitzvos only presents a problem when one intends to use both items for the performance of a mitzvah. When the intention is to use only one of them, the issue does not arise.
Lechem Mishneh for Cake
The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (77:17) rules that even somebody who makes Kiddush on cake must fulfill the mitzvah of lechem mishneh, which is achieved by making the berachah on two cakes or crackers.
However, this is not the common custom, and several poskim note that the obligation applies only to bread (see Orchos Chaim 289:5; Da’as Torah 274:1). Shut Minchas Yitzchak (3:13) adds that taking two whole cakes would be considered yuharah (haughty practice), and suggests that one can rely on the above-mentioned ruling of the Netziv, whereby slices can also be considered ‘whole.’
Based on the possibility raised above, whereby lechem mishneh is a halachah in the definition of the meal, and not a personal obligation, it follows that the mitzvah applies only to a full meal, and not to eating cake.
- The mitzvah of lechem mishneh—beginning the Shabbos meals with two loaves of bread (or challah)—means to commemorate the double portion of manna that fell in honor of Shabbos.
- The obligation is incumbent on men and women alike. To ensure that all fulfill the mitzvah, the ba’al ha-bayis, should wait until all members of the household have washed and are ready to eat, before making the berachah of the challos. Some justify the custom, which is found among Hassidic Admorim, of not waiting.
- The two challos must be whole. If whole loaves are not available, two slices should be used, ensuring that the slices are not cut further in front of the person making the berachah.
- According to the principle halachah, and the common custom, only one of the two challos must to be cut. Some are particular to cut both challos, based on the ruling of the Vilna Gaon and others.
- For somebody making Kiddush on cake, there is no obligation of lechem mishneh.