Pidyon Kaparot Now

Who is Authorized to Separate Challah

This week’s article will take a closer view at the mitzva of Hafrashas Challah – separating challah. Who is obligated to perform this mitzva – is it incumbent only upon the owner of the dough, or can any person pass by and perform it? Does one need to be a designated agent (shliach) for the mitzva to be valid? When shopping for rolls at a bakery, the owner invited into the baking area and honored me with the mitzva of Hafrashas Challah from his large commercial dough. Was the mitzva valid? Halachically, household items belong to the husband of the household, while traditionally, the mitzva of separating challah belongs to the wife. How can a woman affect change on something that technically does not belong to her? Are other household members also authorized to separate challah even without explicit permission? Can household help also perform the mitzva when baking for the family?

Furthermore, age is an issue. From what age can one begin separating challah, and how can an 11-year-old girl separate challah? Of this and more, in this article.

Ability to Separate Challah

In this week’s parasha the Torah writes the mitzva of Hafrashas Challah – separating challah. This week’s article will discuss who may perform it.

The Mishna (Terumos 1:1) writes: “Five may not separate terumah, and if they do so, their terumah is invalid: A heresh (deaf-mute); an imbecile, a minor, and one who gives terumah from that which he does not own…”. Only the owner of the dough or fruits can separate the tithes. One who is not the owner or the owner’s emissary and separates terumah has performed an invalid action and the food remains forbidden. As challah is a form of terumah, if the challah was separated by someone who is not the owner of the dough or his emissary, the dough remains forbidden for consumption. This ruling appears in the Rambam (Bikkurim 4:14) and Shulchan Aruch (Yore Deah 328:3).

In the following article we will discuss various scenarios in light of the halachos of shlichus – a designated agent.

Shlichus in Halacha

What is involved in setting up a designated agent (shaliach), and when is it necessary?

Some halachic actions must be performed specifically by their owners, while others can be done via an agent. Do agents need special appointment? While some things are known to be permitted by their owners, others must be done by the owner or his directly assigned agent. When the agent is specifically assigned, his actions carry the power of the sender – one’s agent become an extension of himself, and anything done under this authority occurs under his name. (According to Kiddushin 41a.)

Civil law has a similar concept – power of attorney. While some things can be done for another without POA, others require signed and notarized POAs.

There are three ways of appointing an agent in halacha:

  1. Designating an agent: one who was specifically designated as another’s agent to act on his behalf gains full halachic status as an agent. The Chazon Ish (Maasros 7:15) proves that this can be affected even non-verbally: e.g. one who notifies his friend that he wishes to separate tithes or challah from the friend’s produce and the owner merely nods his head, gains full halachic status as an agent (a shliach).
  2. Acting for the good of another (zechiya)– in certain cases one would definitely like another person to act on his behalf (to save him money, time, or loss). An action done in this situation is halachically credited to the person for whom the action is done even though he did not appoint anyone to act.

In those situations when one can act for another even without appointment, his actions are as effective as those of an agent who was appointed. The person who is acting must qualify as an agent e.g. a minor may not act on behalf of another.

  1. Proclamation of uncaring: here too, there is no direct agent designated. The only permission to act for another is his clear statement that he doesn’t care who performs the mitzva in his name. The classic example is where one announced: “Whoever wishes to separate challah for me, may do so.” The issue here is if this kind of proclamation suffices to enable anyone to perform the designated action on behalf of the owner.

An Agent for Separating Challah

The Tosefos (Gittin 66a) and Ran (Gittin 32b) write that a designated agent is necessary for separating trumah (including challah) and a general proclamation (3) is insufficient. The Ramban (mentioned in the Ran) however is of the opinion that no designation is necessary, and even a general proclamation suffices (2 or 3).

The poskim disagree about the Rambam’s ruling. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Ma’adanei Eretz, Trumos 4:5) understands that the Rambam views a proclamation as sufficient to allow another to separate challah in his name. He does, however, mention that other Achronim do not understand the Rambam in this manner.

In addition, we find a dispute as to what is considered appointment of an agent. According to one opinion mentioned in the Tosefos, a general agent can be appointed (announcing “whoever would like to separate challah is invited to do so”). Then, whoever steps up and performs the mitzva has performed a valid action. However, according to the second opinion in the Tosefos, a specific agent must be designated. Therefore, while one who announces “whoever hears my voice is invited to separate challah” is considered to have designated an agent (or a select few), a general proclamation – “whoever wants to separate challah can do so” – is not.


There is a major dispute who may separate challah on behalf of the owner. The following are the opinions found in the Rishonim: 1. A specific agent (or a selected group) must be designated. 2.  An agent must be designated, but a general announcement for “whoever wants” suffices. 3. A specific agent must be designated but when it is clear that the owner will be happy if someone else will perform the act on his behalf a self-designated agent suffices.  4. There is no need for designating agents and a general proclamation allowing people to perform the action suffices.

The Rama’s ruling follows option 3 (Yore Deah 328:3).


In light of the above discussion, a housewife separating challah requires clarification: since household items generally belong to the husband, all dough she kneads belongs to the husband. How is this traditionally feminine mitzva technically possible?

The Gemara (Yevamos 86a) derives from a pasuk that a married woman can give others permission to separate terumah (including challah). The Achronim are divided in understanding this Gemara: The Chalat Lechem (7:7 footnote 15) understands that the Torah granted the husband and his wife equal authority to separate challah or other tithes from all foods in the house, and the wife does not need specific designation as her husband’s agent. Therefore, she too, can delegate this mitzvah to another. However, the Chazon Ish (Maasros 7:15) understands that the Torah is under the general assumption that a husband certainly allows his wife to separate tithes and challah. The chiddush here is that even where the husband’s desire is unknown, the wife is nevertheless permitted to separate challah, and even designate another agent for it. If, however, the husband specifically does not allow his wife to separate challah (for whatever reason), she cannot do so, and if she does her action is invalid.

Other Household Members

According to the Chalat Lechem, the Gemara derives from a pasuk that the housewife has special authority to separate challah. He explains that this is because separating challah is specifically a woman’s mitzva. Other household members however require specific designation as agents or at least knowledge that the head of the household allows them to separate challah. The Chazon Ish (Derech Emunah, Trumos 4:12, footnote 124) disagrees and rules that this authority is granted to every member of the household who is accustomed to preparing food and not limited to the wife. Therefore, a child or relative who lives at home and regularly prepares food for the household is also considered an agent of the household master and does not required specific permission to sperate challah. This also seems to be the Rambam’s approach.

A Woman’s Mitzva

The Rambam rules that the wife and other household members who live at home have general permission to separate challah and other tithes from their own food, but not from other foods in the house. The Chazon Ish understands (Maasros 7:15) that this authority is limited to foods they prepare for the household. Food items that are not their job to prepare require specific permission.

The Or Zaruah (1:225) disagrees and is of the opinion that when it comes to the mitzva of separating challah the wife has special authority because the mitzva is incumbent upon her. Therefore, she can also designate another agent to do so on her behalf. And even more so – in his opinion a man should not designate another agent to separate challah without his wife’s knowledge. The Or Zaruah sees the woman as being responsible for all food that is prepared in the house whether it is for household consumption or not (His opinion may, though, be restricted only to separating challah and not the other ma’asros mentioned in the Gemara and Rambam).

Who Separates?

Although the mitzvah of separating challah is incumbent on every Jew, the Rishonim write (Or Zaruah 1:225; Hagahos Mimonios, Zra’im 30) that it is primarily a woman’s mitzva which should preferably be reserved for her. The Or Zaruah writes that whenever the halachos of separating challah are mentioned in the Mishna or Shas they refer to women. He mentions the Midrsh that lists the three mitzvos that are specifically a woman’s mitzva – challah, niddah and kindling the Shabbos lights, as repenting for Chava’s primordial sin. Therefore, the Rishonim write that a husband should preferably reserve the mitzva of separating challah for his wife and not do so himself, unless his wife cannot perform it.

Hagahos Maimonios adds that Chana the Prophetess’s name was an acronym for the three mitzvos that belong primarily to women – challah, niddah, and hadlakas ha’ner (kindling the Shabbos lights). It was in merit of those mitzvos that she bore her son, Shmuel the Prophet. In addition, the numerical value of the words זו היא מצות החלה amounts to 613 to indicate that one who is careful to perform this mitzva is considered having fulfilled all 613 mitzvos.

Separating Challah in Honor of the 11th Birthday

An underage person cannot sperate challah (Terumos 1:1) and if he does so, his act is invalid and the dough remains forbidden until challah is separated again. However, if an 11-year-old girl or 12-year-old boy who understands the meaning of the mitzva separates challah their action is valid. However, if they do not understand the meaning of the mitzva they cannot perform it just like any other child.

In light of the above, can an intelligent 11-year-old girl be honored on her 11th birthday with separating challah for the first time in her life? Or, perhaps, since the dough belongs to her parents, she cannot be honored with the mitzva because even if she can, technically, separate challah, she cannot serve as an agent to perform the mitzva on her parents’ dough because she is still underage?

According to those Rishonim who do not require designation of an agent, this is not a question because the owner’s general proclamation suffices. Therefore, a knowledgeable 11-year-old girl can separate challah herself. However, the opinions that rule that only one who qualifies as an agent can perform this act would seem to invalidate her action since one who is under bat mitzva cannot serve as a shaliach. However, perhaps separating challah is different because perhaps an underage who is ableto perform a mitzva for himself could be permitted to perform that same mitzva as an agent of others?

This is again the subject of a dispute. The Maharsha (Gittin 65a) explains that Tosefos maintain that whatever an underage is authorized to do he can also serve as an agent to do for others. Therefore, an intelligent 11-year-old can be honored to separate challah without misgivings. The Maharit Elgazi (Bechoros 4:50 footnote 1) agrees that this is the Tosefos’ approach, but proves that Rashi disagrees– according to Rashi, assigning such a person as an agent is impossible and he can only separate truma or challah from food that is his own. This opinion is shared also by the Minchas Chinuch (mitzvah 507) and Chalat Lechem (7:4). Har Tzvi (Orech Chaim II 1:1) and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Ma’adnei Eretz, Trumos 4:5) write that where the mitzva is a rabbinic mitzva (which separating challah is today, until all the Jewish people will return to their homeland) one can be lenient and allow an intelligent underage perform the mitzva.

Parents who wish to allow their intelligent 11-year-old daughter to perform the mitzva of separating challah and avoid all controversy, can simply give the dough to the girl as a gift.

Practically, it is advisable to give her the dough only immediately before she separates the challah, because should she fail to do so, as an underage she cannot designate another to act in her place.

Household Help

The Terumas Hadeshen (188) writes that in Chazal’s times designating a specific agent for separating challah and truma was necessary because the separated portion was given to the kohen and eaten. The amount one gave depended upon the owner and his generosity, and only people who knew him and his idiosyncrasies would know the amount he would have wanted to give. However, today, whereas we all separate only an olive-size piece for challah and the dough is burned and not eaten, there are no particulars involved in this aspect of the mitzva. Therefore, where we can safely assume that the owner permits separating for him right now (the dough is about to sour or overrise and the lady of the house is unavailable) the maid may separate challah for the owner and bake the bread.

The Rama (Yore Deah 328:3) adds that if the housewife regularly allows the maid to separate challah, she can do so even without receiving specific permission. The Shach (5) however disagrees, opining that even in this situation the maid has not authority to separate challah unless she received explicit ongoing permission.

The Rama adds that if the wife is usually careful to separate challah herself, the maid certainly has no right to do so. Only if she sees the dough is about to go bad or if for any other reason she can assume the owner permits her to separate challah, can she do so and bake the bread immediately.

Honoring Another

Requests for 40 women to separate challah in merit of the ill or public challah bakes are very common today. Many women customarily separate challah before giving birth or when in need of salvation and the question of a woman honoring her friend with the mitzva arises: may a woman offer the mitzva to her friend although the dough technically belongs to her husband?

The Gemara speaks of the woman of the house and writes explicitly that she is permitted to give another person permission to separate challah instead of her. For other household members to honor someone from outside the family with the mitzva depends upon the reason a woman is permitted to designate a agent: if one follows the opinion of the Chalat Lechem and Or Zaruah that the mitzva rests primarily upon the wife, and therefore the Torah allows her to designate another for it because food preparation is her domain — a daughter, who is the father’s agent for separating challah, has no authority to designate another person to perform the mitzvah.

However, according to the Chazon Ish, since everyone involved in food preparation may separate challah and appoint another to do so, even other family members baking at home can honor an outsider with the mitzva.


The mitzva of separating challah belongs primarily to the wife and it is preferable that she perform it herself.

In order to allow another to separate someone’s challah, the owner of the dough must designate the agent who will do so for him. Designating this agent can be communicated either verbally, with body language, in writing, or otherwise.

A wife and children who eat at home may separate challah without receiving explicit permission. However, a wife needs explicit permission to separate challah from dough intended for others (such as commercial use).

A wife has authority to honor others with the mitzva although the dough is technically her husband’s. A man who makes a dough should preferably not designate another agent for separating challah, reserving the mitzva for his wife. A girl who wishes to honor her friend with the mitzva should preferably receive her parents’ permission to do so.

A housemaid who regularly bakes at her workplace needs prior permission to separate challah if the woman of the house is used to doing so herself. If, however, she sees the dough is about to sour and the housewife is away she may go ahead, separate challah, and bake the bread. A housemaid who usually has permission to separate challah can do so. If she is only given permission to do so occasionally, the issue is debatable, and it is preferrable to be stringent and receive explicit permission every time.

Children who do not live at home need to receive their parent’s permission before separating challah.

Designating an agent to separate challah should preferably be done by the woman of the house, not the man (Or Zaruah).

An 11-year-old girl and 12-year-old boy can separate challah if they are knowledgeable enough to understand the meaning of this action. In this case, making them agents to do so is questionable. Therefore, one who wishes to allow his 11 or 12-year-old perform the mitzva should give them the dough as a gift. This should be done only right before separating the challah to ensure no mishaps occur at the last minute.

After Bar or Bas Mitzva, girls and boys can be designated as agents, just like any other Jew.

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