The value of hafrashat challah in a state of impurity in the absence of a Mikdash, and an approach toward public hafrashat challah events - Matan - The Sadie Rennert

The value of hafrashat challah in a state of impurity in the absence of a Mikdash, and an approach toward public hafrashat challah events Rabbanit Dr. Adina Sternberg

Av 5782

Topic : Challa , Shayla , Kashrut ,


Over the last generation, events dedicated to the mitzvah of hafrashat challah have become more and more popular. Women often arrange these events as a protective ritual (a ‘segula’), deliberately baking with large quantities of dough so they can perform the mitzvah. I have been wondering about this custom, since I feel it is strange to deliberately obligate myself in a mitzvah that cannot be performed to its fullest extent: since ritual impurity affects both the people and the dough, the challah cannot be given to a Kohen, and is burnt instead. Is it really a mitzvah to do hafrashat challah and burn or throw out the dough?


The deliberation regarding performing hafrashat challah in a state of impurity is addressed in the Mishnah (Challah 2:3):

If one is not able to make one’s dough in cleanness he should make it [in separate] kavs, rather than make it in impurity. But Rabbi Akiva says: let him make it in impurity rather than make it [in separate] kavs, just as he calls the clean, so too he calls the unclean; this one he calls challah with the Name, and the other he also calls challah with the Name, but [separate] kavs have no portion [devoted] to the Name.

According to the initial opinion in the Mishnah (Tanna Kamma / the Rabbis), it is preferable for one who is impure to prepare the dough in a way that does not obligate one in hafrashat challah, to prevent the challah from becoming impure. This can be achieved by preparing smaller quantities of dough, since there is no obligation to take challah from small amounts. Conversely, R. Akiva preferred to commit to taking challah even while impure, since this still results in a mitzvah devoted to God’s name. According to R. Akiva the act of taking challah for the sake of God’s name is more significant than the question of what will happen to the dough.

The Tosefta also cites the response to the initial opinion to R. Akiva (Challah 1:9):

They said to R. Akiva, we do not say to one: ‘come and perform a sin so you can merit from it,’ or ‘come destroy something so you can fix it.’

While according to R. Akiva, the giving itself is significant, the opposing rabbis assume the giving is only significant if it brings a positive – not negative – outcome.

Another Mishnah relates to the various possibilities of hafrashat challah in different places (Challah 4:8):

Rabban Gamaliel says: there are three territories with regard to [the obligation of] challah: From the land of Israel to Chezib: one challah-portion. From Chezib to the river and to Amanah: two challah-portions: one for the fire and one for the priest. The one for the fire has a minimum measure, and the one for the priest does not have a minimum measure. From the river and from Amanah and inward: two challah-portions: one for the fire and one for the priest. The one for the fire has no minimum measure, and the one for the priest has a minimum measure. And [a priest] who has immersed himself during the day [and has not waited till sunset for his purification to be complete] may eat it. Rabbi Yose says: he does not require immersion. But it is forbidden to zavim and zavot, to menstruants, and to women after childbirth; It may be eaten with a non-priest at the [same] table; And it may be given to any priest.

The premise of the Mishnah is that hafrashat challah is also performed outside of Israel. The Mishnah states that in Israel one challah portion is offered to the Kohen, presumably while ritually pure. Outside of Israel there are two levels: locations on the border of Israel, which have an unclear halakhic status (such as Syria) are obligated in hafrashat challah – but since the challah portion is impure, it is burnt, and another symbolic piece is given to the Kohen. Outside the borders of Israel, there is no obligation at all, although it is customary to give a symbolic portion to the Kohen, and symbolically burn a piece in commemoration of the mitzvah. Rishonim explain that hafrashat challah should be performed outside of Israel to prevent forgetting the mitzvah (Rambam, Bikkurim 5:7; Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 322:3). Hafrashat challah outside of Israel both preserves the memory of giving to the Kohen, and the law of burning the portion of challah when it is impure.

According to this Mishnah, despite the knowledge that the portion of challah taken will be impure, hafrashat challah is still performed – and additionally, another portion is given to the Kohen in commemoration of the mitzvah. In fact, the rabbis were the ones to enact hafrashat challah without concern for impurity; According to the Rambam and others, the controversy in the Mishnah apparently relates to one who has the option of performing hafrashat challah while pure, but is currently impure, and achieving purity would be too great of an effort; in this case, should one perform hafrashat challah while impure, or avoid hafrashat challah altogether?

Both the Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 48b) and the Jerusalem Talmud (2:3) prohibit an act of deceit (הערמה) intended to avoid hafrashat challah. The Babylonian Talmud describes women who make small amounts of dough for Pesach to ensure they did not rise and become chametz; the Jerusalem Talmud described the custom of eating from the dough before baking it, in order to make it smaller. In both cases, the Talmud states that these actions are prohibited for the purpose of avoiding hafrashat challah.

Commentators on the Mishneh disputed whether the law follows the opinion of the Rabbis (e.g. Meiri and Beit Yosef, who argue that if one cannot perform hafrashat challah while pure, it is best to divide the dough into smaller portions) or the opinion of R. Akiva (as implied by the Rambam). However, according to the Meiri, his position is relevant only when a distinction between pure and impure dough was relevant: “Also today, since impurity is not clear, it is prohibited to act with deceit and divide the dough into small portions to avoid hafrashat challah.” The Meiri also surmises that the Mishnah was referring to one who performs hafrashat challah while niddah, allowing her to perform the mitzvah even while in a state of impurity.

The Beit Yosef (Yoreh De’ah 322) writes in the name of Rashba:

Despite the allowance for one who cannot prepare dough in a state of purity to prepare small amounts of dough in order to avoid impurity, this refers to a time when there was potential to do so while pure. However, since today there is no ability to do so, one should not prepare small amounts of dough, which will result in forgetting the mitzvah of challah altogether.

The consideration that caused the rabbis to enact hafrashat challah outside of Israel is also relevant for hafrashat challah in a state of impurity – despite the knowledge that the challah will be burnt instead of serving its primary purpose. The Shulhan Arukh therefore rules (Yoreh De’ah, Hilkhot Challah 324:14): “One may not make dough that is an insufficient amount [for hafrashat challah] to [deliberately] avoid the obligation of challah.”

It is noteworthy that the discussion above refers to one who wants to make the amount of dough that would have been obligated in hafrashat challah, but deliberately avoids doing so. The question here is not whether one should go to pains to prepare an amount of dough that would obligate one in hafrashat challah in a state of impurity. Achronim (Shakh, Taz, Gra) emphasize that it is clearly permissible to make dough that is insufficient for hafrashat challah if that is the available quantity; the discussion relates to the possibility of deliberately avoiding the mitzvah when one would have otherwise made a large quantity. Therefore, addressing the first part of the question – whether one should avoid making the quantity that obligates one in hafrashat challah – the answer is certainly not; but the latter part of the question – to what extent should one go to pains to perform this mitzvah – still remains unanswered.

The source above indicates that part of the reason to not avoid hafrashat challah in a state of impurity is to ensure that the mitzvah of challah is not forgotten; in other words, there is value to preserving the value of the mitzvah in general.

The question of the effort that should be made to obligate oneself in the mitzvah may be approached in two ways. The first relates to the inherent significance of the mitzvah of challah. Ezekiel references the importance of tributes to the Kohanim (Ezek. 44:30): “The first of all fruits of all kinds and every offering of all kinds from all your offerings shall belong to the priests; you shall also give to the priests the first of your dough, in order that a blessing may rest on your house.” The prophet links giving to the Kohanim with having a blessed home. The simple meaning of the text links the blessing to all the items in the list (Radak, Mezudat David), encouraging one to be a giving person, with the assurance that giving will result in receiving blessings. The prophet Malachi (3:10) also promises blessings as the result of giving tithes to the Temple, and states that God may be ‘tested’ in this promise.

The Gemara in tractate Shabbat (32b) explains that there are two sides to this coin:

Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Yehuda, said: Due to the sin [of failure to separate] challah [from the dough], no blessing takes effect on the [grain] gathered [in the storehouse] and a curse spreads to the prices, and they plant seeds and others eat, as it is stated: “I also will do this unto you: I will appoint terror [behala] over you, even consumption and fever, that shall make the eyes to fail and the soul to languish; and you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it” (Leviticus 26:16). Do not read it behala; rather, bechalla. And if they give [cḥalla,] they are blessed, as it is stated: “And the first of your dough you shall give unto the priest to cause a blessing to rest on your house” (Ezekiel 44:30).

The Gemara contrasts the curses stated as a result of not keeping the mitzvah of challah, with the blessings that follow when the mitzvah is kept. R. Haim Palachi (Ruah Haim, Yoreh De’ah 328) explains that good virtue is highly rewarded, and the extent of the curses for not keeping the mitzvah are an indication of the extent of the blessing for maintaining the mitzvah.

According to the Mishnah (Shabbat 2:6), women die in childbirth as a result of carelessness with regard to three mitzvot; one of these mitzvot is challah. Avot deRabbi Natan (nuscha bet, ch. 9) explains that these are mitzvot that were given to women in particular: In her primal sin, Chava caused Adam’s mortality (the spilling of his blood), and for this she was given the mitzvah of niddah; she was responsible for denying the world of Adam, who was the ‘sustenance of the world,’ and for this she was given the mitzvah of challah; and she was charged with extinguishing Adam’s light, and for this she was given the mitzvah of Shabbat candles.

These responsibilities may be seen as an ongoing punishment to all of womankind for Chava bringing death to humanity. Alternatively, according to the Gemara in Shabbat (31b), a birthing woman requires divine grace to merit bringing life into the world and was therefore provided with tools for atonement through mitzvot that symbolize life – menstrual blood, bread dough,[1] and light.

The midrash in Bereishit Rabbah expresses the blessing in Sarah’s tent through a lit candle, plentiful dough, and a cloud representing the Shechinah (divine presence). The image of the three elements that invite the Shechinah into one’s home is mirrored in the tasks of the Kohen, which are intended to invite the Shechinah – lighting the menorah, the showbread, and the sprinkling of sacrificial blood / the cloud of incense. These midrashim emphasize the value of hafrashat challah by linking it with other mitzvot that intend to promote peace in one’s home and invite the Shechinah to reside therein, while providing an opportunity to atone for sins and enable tikkun olam. In light of the multiple positive sources regarding hafrashat challah and the blessing it provides, the desire to engage in this mitzvah is understandable, even if today it primarily expresses the giving side, and not the receiving side (since Kohanim cannot receive the challah in the current state of impurity).

Another facet to consider is minhag Yisrael (the custom that evolved in Jewish communities over the centuries). The Shulhan Arukh (Orah Haim, Hilkhot Shabbat 244:1) states:

Even regarding someone who depends on others for his livelihood, if he has [even just] some [food] of his own, he must make an effort to honor the Shabbat. The saying, “make your Shabbat as a weekday and do not rely on others,” was only said regarding one in a time of dire need. Therefore [a person who has a bit of their own food, i.e. the initial situation discussed,] must practice restraint during the week so that he can honor the Shabbat. This is based on the decree of Ezra, that people should wash clothes on Thursday (i.e. prepare during the week) in honor of Shabbat.

REMA: We customarily knead a quantity of dough that is sufficient to become obligated in the mitzvah of challah, in the home. With these we bake breads that we will then eat on Shabbat and holidays. This is one of the [many ways] in which we honor Shabbat and holidays, and one must not deviate from this custom.

The Shulhan Arukh relates to preparations in honor of Shabbat, particularly the preparation of food and laundering clothes. Rema also adds baking, and states that it is customary to “knead a quantity of dough that is sufficient to become obligated in the mitzvah of challah, in the home.” The Rema’s comment, which is based on the Mordechai, refers to the value of preparing bread in one’s home to ensure that the bread is kosher (and not pat akum – bread prepared by non-Jews). According to the source, it is unclear whether these demands are relevant every Shabbat – or specifically relate to Jewish holidays and the Days of Awe. The Darkei Moshe (Orah Haim 443) explicitly notes the custom to prepare challah every Shabbat. Achronim support this statement with additional Talmudic sources about women who wake up early on Friday to prepare challot for Shabbat. The Rema’s innovation is that the custom also includes the effort of kneading enough dough to perform hafrashat challah. This position seems to value both the effort to prepare challah for Shabbat, and the importance of eating ‘kosher bread’ (i.e. bread prepared by Jews), which involves performing the mitzvah of hafrashat challah. According to the Rema, this custom should not be changed.

Today, many people purchase challah from a kosher bakery in which hafrashat challah has been performed, since the challah was baked by Jews. Although this requires less effort with regard to preparing for Shabbat, one may prepare for Shabbat in other ways. Regardless, baking challah in one’s home continues to constitute an important custom (especially among Ashkenazi Jews). While this custom includes the value of hafrashat challah, the focus is on the physical and spiritual preparations for Shabbat. Achronim (Magen Avraham, Mishna Berura) also emphasize the independent value of hafrashat challah as an atonement and tikkun.

In conclusion, there is a unique value to performing hafrashat challah on erev Shabbat – as a preservation of the mitzvah; as part of the preparations for Shabbat; out of concern for ‘kosher bread’; as an atonement and meriting a blessing; and to preserve minhag Yisrael.

Regarding public hafrashat challah events, it is important to note that the amount of dough taken home for baking by each participant is really an amount that is obligated in hafrashat challah, to justify engaging in the mitzvah. According to the Mishnah, if the dough is divided among different women, it is not obligated in hafrashat challah (Mishnah Challah 4:1; Yoreh De’ah 326:2, 4). Therefore, it is important to ensure the individual amount warrants the obligation of hafrashat challah.

Public hafrashat challah events may be understood both from the background of the desire for tikkun and a blessing, and as a preservation of the mitzvah (especially in places where people generally purchase their challah in a bakery instead of making it at home). However, these contexts lack the additional values mentioned above, and this might deter some women from wanting to obligate themselves in hafrashat challah in this situation.


[1] The Torah Temima commented that Adam’s creation was similar to the preparation of dough: the earth was stirred and kneaded, and man was created. Sanctifying part of the dough parallels the divine creation of humankind, by creating matter and sanctifying it with a soul.

Rabbanit Dr. Adina Sternberg was in the first cohort of the Matan Kitvuni Fellowship program and her book is in the publication process. She has a B.A. in Bible from Hebrew University and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Talmud from Bar Ilan University. Adina studied in Midreshet Lindenbaum, Migdal Oz, Havruta and the Advanced Talmud Institute in Matan. She currently teaches Bible and Talmud at Matan, and at Efrata and Orot colleges. Adina lives in Adam (Geva Binyamin) with her family.

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