The mitzvah of separating challah has been popularized in recent times. Challah parties for women, at which separating challah is the highlight, are often held on special occasions. Sometimes, the separation of challah is dedicated for the merit of a sick person or another need. Certainly, awareness of the mitzvah to take challah has grown considerably.
However, while we certainly applaud the widespread performance of the mitzvah, sometimes even by individuals distant from observant Judaism, the complexities of its halachos are easily overlooked. On account of its popularity, it is especially important to outline the basic laws of separating challah, so that the mitzvah will be performed in the correct manner.
We seek to do so in the present article.
What is the correct amount of dough required to separate for challah? How is the challah separated? What differences are there between challah in Israel and outside of Israel? What must be done if one forgets to separate challah? And what if dough from several sources are combined? These questions, and others, are discussed below.
The Basic Mitzvah
The Pasuk in this week’s parsha states: “When you come into the land… From the first of your kneading you shall give a portion to Hashem, for your generations” (Bamidbar 15:19).
As the Pasuk implies, and as the Rambam notes in his Book of Mitzvos (Aseh 133), the Torah obligation applies only in the Land of Israel. Moreover, according to many, the Torah obligation applies at a time when the majority of the Jewish people is settled in the Holy Land (Rambam, Laws of Bikkurim 5:5). This means that today, the mitzvah may still be rabbinic even in Israel—though this might change in the near future or may have already changed.
Outside of Israel, there always was only a rabbinic obligation to separate challah, which the Rambam (Bikkurim 5:7) explains is done “so that the Torah should not be forgotten.” The level of the rabbinic obligation outside of Israel is less than that of the obligation in the Land of Israel even when the latter is rabbinic.
Thus, products kneaded from the five species of grain (chameshes minei dagan)—wheat, spelt, barley, oats, and rye—require separation of challah, while baked goods from other grains are exempt. The obligation applies to dough that belongs to a Jew at the time of kneading. The dough of a non-Jew has no requirement, so there is no duty to separate challah from cookies and other baked products manufactured by non-Jews.
On the other hand, if one purchases dough or baked products that were kneaded under Jewish ownership, challah must be separated.
As the Mishnah Berurah (242:6) notes, there is a special virtue for women to perform the mitzvah of separating challah, and it is specially worthy to do this when baking challos on Friday for the honor of Shabbos (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 242:1).
Amounts and Measures
The amount of flour that one must knead to require taking challah is referred to by the Torah as asiris ha’eifa, which comes to 43.2 beitzim or eggs (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 324:1)
There is a difference of opinion concerning how much this is in contemporary terms. The most accepted opinion is that of Rav Chaim Na’eh (see Sefer Shi’urei Torah page 158), according to which the obligation applies to an amount of 1.66 Kg (over 3 pounds) or more. For this amount, many separate challah and recite the appropriate beracha before the separation.
However, according to the Chazon Ish the amount is greater, and the obligation to separate challah only applies if the dough is made from 1.9 Kg of flour (about 4 pounds). Some have the custom of separating challah even for the smaller amount yet refrain from reciting the attendant beracha unless the larger amount of flour is used. It is proper to separate challah without a beracha even for less than 1.6 Kg of flour, but there is no need for less than 1.2 Kg.
Note that the obligation of challah applies to both thick and pourable dough. However, the obligation to take challah from pourable dough (bellilo rakko) applies only after the dough was baked (Shulchan Aruch 329, 2). Even if the dough is thick (bellilo koshe), if it was kneaded with the intention to cook or to fry the dough (e.g. pasta dough) and was not baked, there is a major dispute among the rishonim if the obligation applies. Therefore, in such cases it is correct to separate challah without a beracha (See Shulchan Aruch 329:3 and Shach 329:4).
How to Separate
When baking bread, or cake with a thick dough, challah is separated after kneading the dough, before it is baked. (Yoreh De’ah 327:2). However, if cake is made with a pourable batter, challah is separated only after the cake is baked (see Leket Ha’Omer 4).
When separating challah one should begin separating a small piece (the minhag is that it should be a kezayis) from the dough, but not separate it completely. At this stage one recites (if the quantity of flour is sufficient) the beracha of taking challah (lehafrish challah or lehafrish terumo), while holding the piece in one’s right hand (or left hand for a left-handed person). After this the verbal declaration should be made: harei zu challah (this is challah), and the small piece is separated.
According to Torah law, the challah is given to the Kohen (Bamidbar 15:21). Today, since Kohanim are all ritually impure and may not eat challah, and the challah itself is also ritually impure, the challah must be burnt (see Rema, Orach Chayim 457:2) as soon as possible after separation, until completely charred.
Since challah is forbidden to be eaten, it should not be placed directly on an oven rack or broiler (where other foods are baked, roasted or broiled), but on a specially dedicated tray or wrapped in a piece of aluminum foil, where it is left until completely burnt.
If the challah is uncovered, one must avoid baking anything else in the oven while the challah is being burned (this involves a dispute between the Shach, Yoreh De’ah 108:1, who is lenient, and the Aruch Hashulchan 108:9 who is stringent). If one accidentally used the oven while the challah was burning, one may eat the food (see Rema, Yoreh De’ah 108:1).
The Chazon Ish writes that under extenuating circumstances it is permitted to bury the challah (Chazon Ish, Zeraim—Demai 15:1). However, most opine that it must be burned.
Forgot to Separate Challah
If one forgot to separate challah until after baking, it may be separated from fully baked goods and a beracha is recited (if enough flour was originally used) before pulling off a piece of bread from the loaf. The piece is subsequently burnt.
If one remembers on Shabbos that challah was not separated, if it was kneaded in Israel it is forbidden to separate challah until Shabbos is over, and the bread or cake may not be eaten (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 339:4). The reason for the prohibition to separate challah on Shabbos is that separating challah is similar to fixing something, since the goods may not be eaten until challah has been taken.
If the dough was kneaded outside of the Land of Israel and challah was not separated before Shabbos, it is permitted to eat the bread or cake, but a piece must be left over until after Shabbos. at which time challah must be separated from the remaining piece (a beracha is recited if enough flour was used). This separation is effective for all products that were prepared from the original kneaded dough, even if the other baked goods have already been eaten.
Sometimes, dough from a number of sources is combined while baking a given product. This leads to some complications in separating challah.
Combining Small Doughs
If two or more doughs of the same type of grain do not each have a large enough amount of flour to require separating challah, yet together they add of up a full shiur (this often happens when women bake a variety of cakes for a simcha.), there are certain conditions under which they join together for challah separation, as follows:
- ==If the doughs are put into a single vessel and are just touching (See Mishna Berura 557:7), they join together for challah. If either dough extends above the top of the vessel, they must both be covered to combine. If the doughs do not touch, one needs to separate challah but cannot say a brocho (Ruling of Rav Eliashev zatsal-see Derech Emuno Bikkurim Chapter 6).
- ==If the doughs are wrapped together on the bottom and top, such as in a single sheet of plastic.
- ==If the doughs are stuck together, meaning they have bonded
Note that if the doughs are in separate vessels, the fact that a towel is placed above the vessels is not sufficient to join them together (see Leket Haomer 6:14, 16).
Joining together can happen after baking, too. If someone baked several batches that add up to an amount obligated in challah, and stores them in a single bag or container, the container will join the batches together and render them obligated in challah.
When doughs (or baked products) halachically combine to reach the obligatory amount, challah is separated as explained above.
Combining Large Doughs
When one or more of the doughs has a large shiur on its own, the doughs join together for purposes of separating challah if they are merely in the same vicinity (min hamukaf). It is sufficient for them to both simply be in front of the person separating challah, or even anywhere in the same room, or in open containers that are next to each other. Under these conditions separating from one dough will apply to all the doughs (see Yoreh De’ah 325:2). Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa Chap. 42, note 38 writes that under these circumstances one can even separate from a dough and have in mind a product that was already baked.
If one bakes using an obligatory amount, but with intention to divide the finished products into smaller amounts for distribution to different people and locations (such as for mishloach manos, or at a school to distribute to the children), one should separate challah without a beracha. (Yoreh Deoh 326, 2) To recite a beracha there must be a shiur obligated in challah used for one family (see Shut Minchas Yitzchak 10:102).
This halacha only applies to private individuals, and not to bakeries, which must separate with a beracha for every batch.