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 we begin the Shabbos meals with lechem mishneh, two loaves of bread. The Gemara states: “Rabbi Ami taught: On Shabbos a person must take two loaves of bread. What is the reason? Because the verse writes ‘lechem mishneh.'”

We have already discussed the different laws and customs of lechem mishneh at the Shabbos table. In the present article we will investigate the way in which the Shabbos challos must be cut, and the implications for the basic concept of lechem mishneh.

In addition, we will discuss the matter of lechem mishneh on Yom Tov, and the obligation of women in lechem mishneh.

Torah or Rabbinic Obligation

Based on the Talmudic source mentioned above, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 274:1) and Rema,(Orach Chaim 291:4) rule that there is an obligation to begin the Shabbos meals with two loaves of bread.

Authorities dispute whether the practice of lechem mishneh is a Torah or rabbinic obligation. The Aruch HaShulchan (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, as the Eliyahu Rabba (291:1) cites the Maharil (see also Magen Avraham 254:23). The Peri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav 291) writes that the entire obligation to eat Shabbos meals is rabbinic, and this implies 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 lechem mishneh is an obligation, and not merely a hiddur or proper practice.

How to Slice the Challos

The Gemara (Shabbos 117b) mentions a number of customs and opinions concerning lechem mishneh, and in particular concerning the way in which the breads are sliced or broken (betziah).

According to Rabbi Abba, “On Shabbat one must break bread over two loaves, for it says lechem mishneh.” The apparent implication is that there is an obligation to slice both loaves of bread. However, Rashi explains that the word botzei’a means (in this case) to recite the hamotzi blessing, and not necessarily to slice the loaves.

Another opinion mentioned by the Gemara is Rav Kahana, who used to make the blessing over two loaves and then only slice one of them. This is based on the fact that the Torah mentions the gathering, rather than the actual eating of the lechem mishneh.

We are therefore charged to gather the two loaves in our hands while making the blessing over them, but not to actually eat both of the loaves. According to Rashi’s interpretation, this opinion does not necessarily argue with that of Rabbi Abba.

A third statement cited by the Gemara is attributed to Rabbi Zeira, who would recite the blessing and then break off enough bread for the entire “sheirusa.” According to Rashi, this means that he would slice off a large piece of bread, sufficient for the entire meal.

According to Rashi, the Gemara does not teach any dispute concerning how to cut the bread. However, the Rashba (commentary to Shabbos 117) explains that “sheirusa” refers not to the whole meal (a piece of bread large enough for the meal) but rather to all of the breads. According to the Rashba, Rabbi Zeira maintains that both breads must be sliced, whereas Rav Kahana used to slice only one of them.

Halachic Rulings

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 274:1) rules in accordance with Rashi, meaning that there is an obligation to recite the blessing over two breads, but it is sufficient to eat one of them.

However, the Vilna Gaon rules in accordance with the Rashba’s interpretation (Biur HaGra, Orach Chaim 274), so that both of the challos over which the blessing was recited must be sliced.

The Mishna Berura (274:4) notes that common practice follows the Shulchan Aruch, whereas the Aruch HaShulchan (274:3) records that many Jews in Lithuania followed the opinion of the Vilna Gaon. One should follow his family custom in this regard.

In fact, we find in Ma’aseh Rav (no. 123) that twelve challos were once placed in front of the Gra on Friday night, in accordance with the custom of the Arizal. The Gra sliced all of them, understanding that according to the Rashba all the challos that the blessing is recited over must be broken.

Yet, a responsum of the Rashba himself (Vol. 7, no. 530) indicates that according to Rabbi Zeira only two breads, and not all the breads present, must be sliced. The Rashba explains that (according to Rabbi Zeira) not only must the blessing be doubled on Shabbos, but even the slicing of the bread must be doubled – just like all matters of Shabbos are doubled (based on Mechilta).

The Rashba rules in his teshuvah according to the opinion that only one of the challos must be sliced. This is parallel to the custom in the wilderness, where although each person had two breads, only one was eaten at the first meal and the others were left for subsequent meals.

Must All Partake of the Lechem Mishneh?

According to one opinion, a possible ramification of the dispute Rashi and the Rashba (over how to interpret the concept of betziah, “breaking” the bread) is the question of whether all the participants in the Shabbos meal must partake of the lechem mishneh.

Based on Rashi’s interpretation, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk writes that if one person at the meal makes the blessing over lechem mishneh, the others need not partake of it, and they may eat any bread that they want.

According to Rav Chaim this is similar to the idea of drinking wine at Kiddush. Just as those present at the table are not obligated to drink the Kiddush wine, so the mitzvah of lechem mishneh is fulfilled even without eating it (see Shut Teshuvos VeHanhagos 1:259; Masora Vol. 4).

Based on the Rashba, however, it is obligatory for all to partake of the lechem mishneh challos. Since the concept of betziah refers not to the blessing over the bread, but to actually breaking it, it stands to reason that all must participate in breaking the lechem mishneh by eating of the bread (“breaking” involves “breaking and eating”).

This is the ruling of the Mishnah Berurah (167:83), who distinguishes between lechem mishneh and wine of Kiddush. This indicates that he does not agree with Rav Chaim since he rules that one must only slice one challa in accordance with the opinion of Rashi.

Lechem Mishneh on Yom Tov

A number of authorities (Ritva, Shabbos 117b; Orchot Chayim, Yom Tov 2; Rif; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 529:1) rule that there is a requirement of lechem mishneh on Yom Tov.  This ruling is based (as the Mishna Berurah 629:10 explains) on the opinion that the manna did not fall on Yom Tov, just as it did not fall on Shabbos.

Tosafos (Beitzah 2b) questions the assumption that the manna did not fall on Yom Tov, and writes that this matter is disputed in the Midrash. According to one opinion, the manna did not fall on Yom Tov, whereas according to the other the manna fell on Yom Tov.

According to Tosafos that the obligation of lechem mishneh on Yom Tov will be contingent on this dispute. However, the halachic ruling is that lechem mishneh is required on Yom Tov just as on Shabbos.

Obligation of Women

The Mishnah Berurah (274:1), based on the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam, writes that even women are obligated in the mitzvah of lechem mishneh, explaining that they participated in the miracle of the manna in the wilderness. The use of this rationale suggests that the mitzvah is only rabbinic, for Tosafos (Pesachim 108b) and others state that the rationale does not apply to Torah mitzvos.

The Ran (ibid.) explains that there is a simpler reason why women are obligated in lechem mishneh, and that there is no need for the principle of women being part of the original miracle. This simple reason is that generally 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).

Shut Ha-Elef Lecha Shlomo (114) wishes to justify the custom of some women who were not particular about this mitzvah. He suggests that perhaps, both of the rationales mentioned above do not apply.

The fact that women participated in the miracle of the manna is not significant, he suggests, 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 laws of Shabbos, with regard to positive mitzvos this equivalence is limited to Kiddush, and it does not apply to other aspects of Shabbos.

The principle halachah, however, follows the rishonim and acharonim who write that women are fully obligated, and the common custom today is certainly that women do participate in the mitzvah.

Lechem Mishneh for Seudah Shelishis

The Rambam (Shabbos 30:9) and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 291:4) state that we should have lechem mishneh even for the third Shabbos meal.

However, the Rema (Orach Chaim 291:4) notes the common Ashkenazi custom to bless on only one challah during the third Shabbos meal (seudah shelishis). The Daas Zekeinim explains that this corresponds to the practice of the Jews in the wilderness. Just as they had only one bread for Seudah Shelishis (this is all that was left of the four loaves that fell on Friday morning), so too we only have one bread for seudah shelishis.

The Rema concludes that it is best to have lechem mishneh even for the third Shabbos meal. This might reflect the idea that all matters of Shabbos must be doubled (as the Rashba mentions) – even if there is no precise correspondence with lechem mishneh of the manna.

Today, the common custom even among Ashkenazi communities is to take lechem mishneh even for the third Shabbos meal, as ruled by the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch.

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