Covering the Challah

January 23, 2015

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, January 23, 2015. 

Covering the Challah

On Shabbat the order of blessings is as follows:

1) Blessing the Candles before the sun sets

2) At the Shabbat Dinner table, the KIDDUSH (The blessing over wine)

3) At the dinner table, the MOTZI (the blessing over the bread) follows the KIDDUSH

There’s an interesting legal discussion about the order of blessings at the table. Technically, before a full meal, the only requirement is the blessing over bread, which is said for bread and collectively any other foods that are eaten at the meal. However, on Shabbat, there are two blessings: The blessing over the wine, and one over Challah (the Sabbath loaf). Since the Kiddush makes specific references to the Sabbath, it comes first since it actually marks the festive Shabbat meal. The blessing over bread, however, is a more important blessing! It’s said at every full meal in which bread is served. How could it be “shamed” by coming second? The rabbis decided that the solution is to cover the Chalah so it wouldn’t be shamed. Thus, the tradition of “Challah Covers” was born. A Challah Cover can be anything from a paper napkin to an elaborately embroidered work of fabric art (see below).


A story is told about the famous Rabbi Yisroel Salanter (1810 – 1883). Rabbi Yisroel was once stranded in Kovno, Poland, for Shabbat. Everyone wanted to host him, but he chose to spend the Shabbat at the home of a baker who had no children to feed, so he would not take away anyone's portion of food. The baker was an observant Jew but hardly a man of intelligence. As he ushered his esteemed guest into his house, he shouted at his wife, "Why are the challahs not covered? How many times must I remind you to cover the challahs?" The poor woman, recognizing her distinguished guest, hurried to cover the challahs with tears in her eyes. When the baker asked Rabbi Yisroel to do the honors by reciting the Kiddush, the Rabbi first asked him, "Can you tell me why we cover the challahs?" "Of course," replied the baker. "Every child knows the answer. When there are many different foods on the table, the first blessing is always made over the bread, after which no other blessing need be made. On Friday night, however, the first blessing has to be made over the wine. In order not to shame the challah, who expects the blessing to be made over her, we must cover her over until after the sanctification of the wine." Rabbi Yisroel looked at the baker incredulously. "Why do your ears not hear what your mouth is saying?" he asked. "Do you think that our Jewish tradition does not understand that a piece of dough has no feelings and would never become embarrassed? Understand that our laws are trying to sensitize us to the feelings of human beings, our friends, our neighbors, and especially our wives!"

Shabbat Shalom