Jewish law requires that a portion of dough or finished baked product be set aside for what is known as “challah.” While any size portion is adequate for challah, it is customary to separate a portion the size of an olive. After separation, the challah is burned.
Do I need to take “Challah”?
This ritual is obligatory only (a) when the owner of the dough at the time of its preparation is Jewish and (b) the dough is made from flour of any of the Five Principal Species: wheat, oats, rye, spelt and barley. In addition, there is no requirement to separate challah if the batter contains less than 2.5 pounds of flour. If the batter contains at least 5 pounds of flour, a bracha (blessing) is recited before separating challah (“…asher kiddeshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hafrish challah min ha’isa“).
|Amount of Flour Used||Hafrashat Challah Required?|
|> 5 pounds||Yes|
|> 2.5 pounds||Yes, without a bracha|
|< 2.5 pounds||No|
If this mitzva has not been performed in the bakery, it may be performed in the home by placing all the baked goods in one room, breaking open all sealed packaged material, and taking a small piece from any of the baked goods and burning it.
What do I do with the “Challah”?
The Torah says that the Challah is given as a present to a kohain to eat (Numbers 15:21). (A kohain – literally a Jewish “priest” – is a descendant of Aaron, brother of Moses.) However, since we are all ritually unclean nowadays, the kohanim can no longer eat the Challah. The law is that ritually-unclean Challah must be burned.
Preferably, one should put the Challah into an open fire until it is completely burned. Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles, 1520-1572) records the practice of burning the challah in the fire inside the oven before baking bread. Since this is not very practical in modern ovens, one alternative is to place the small piece of dough in the middle of a burner on a gas stovetop for a few minutes until it is burnt to a crisp. It goes without saying that care must be taken to avoid any possibility of starting a fire.
Alternatively, one can place the piece of dough into the oven until it is completely burnt. When doing so, it is important to keep a few important points in mind. It is best to burn the Challah in the oven uncovered in order to make sure that the Challah is completely burnt. However, since the Challah is not permitted to be eaten by a non-kohain (or by a kohain who is ritually-unclean), we can not allow any of the “taste” (taam) of the Challah to come in contact with the food that we eat. As such, one should not place it directly on the broiler where one broils liver or on the oven rack. Rather, one should place the Challah on a dedicated “Challah burning” tray or on piece of aluminum foil and leave it in the oven until it is completely burnt. Some wrap the Challah dough in a piece of aluminum foil. The disadvantage of doing this is that it will take a very long time for the dough to be properly burnt.
May I use my oven while the Challah is burning?
If the Challah is completely wrapped, one may bake other items in the oven while the Challah is burning. However, if the Challah is uncovered, it is best to avoid baking anything else in the oven while the Challah is burning. If one accidentally did use the oven while the Challah was burning, one may eat the food.
Is there any other way to dispose of the Challah?
Most opinions maintain that one is not permitted to destroy the Challah in any other manner. The opinion of the Chazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, 1878-1953) is that if it is too difficult to burn the Challah, and leaving it around the house may lead one to inadvertently eat or mistreat the Challah, then one may bury the Challah. However, many disagree and feel that the Challah should always be burnt.