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Salt and Challah

 

Pouring salt on challah is a widely observed part of the Shabbos meal. The reason for it, however, reveals a puzzling inconsistency between weekday and Sabbath behavior.

The Gemara (Berakhos 40a) states that someone reciting the ha-motzi blessing on bread must wait until salt is brought to him. However, Rava once broke bread without salt and, on being questioned, responded: “leis dein tzarikh boshesh.” The Arukh (sv. b-sh-sh) offers three translations/explanations of this answer, with practical ramifications.

  1. Boshesh is a dip with which bread is often eaten. Rava’s answer is that only bread with dip requires salt but he was eating plain bread, and therefore did not need salt. The Rosh quotes an opinion that accepts this translation.
  2. Boshesh means to wait. Someone who lacks salt need not hesitate but may proceed because the bread contains salt.
  3. Without directly translating the phrase, high quality bread does not need salt. (Possibly following the first translation.)

According to all of these explanations, our bread and challah today do not need to be salted. Our bread and challah are high quality, contain salt and are (generally) eaten without dip. The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 167:5) rules like all three of these explanations leniently. Meaning, if any one of these three conditions are satisfied, you do not need to add salt.

However, the Rema (ad loc.) adds mystical considerations from Ashkenazic authorities (Shibolei Ha-Leket and Hagahos Ashri). First, we bring salt to the table because our tables are compared to the Temple’s altar and our food to sacrifices, which were salted. Additionally, salt protects from punishment.

The widespread practice of salting challah implies acceptance of the Rema’s mystical customs. However, neither of his reasons apply specifically to Shabbos. To the contrary, some have the custom to refrain from adding salt on Friday night because no sacrifices were burned in the Temple at that time (see Divrei Ha-Rav, p. 169; Piskei Teshuvos, vol. 2. 167:5). Why do many people only salt their bread on Shabbos but not during the week?

The only answer I can think of is social. Nowadays, people tend to eat bread during the week as part of a sandwich. Often, a sandwich is already salty. Therefore, people are not used to eating plain bread during the week and, when they do, they do not think to salt it. However, this explanation is insufficient because according to the Rema, even a sandwich requires salt. Perhaps only our Shabbos tables are compared to an altar. Or maybe the Rema’s custom is just to have salt on the tables and not necessarily to put it on bread. But then why do we salt challah?

The inconsistency is difficult to explain. I look forward to commenters’ suggestions.

 

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Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

27 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    The mystical based reasons involve dipping the bread three times into salt because the word lechem is 3 times hashems name: Lechem=78; (3)(Hashem’s name) = 78.

    Finally, the word melach(salt) is also 78.(see Ben ish chai Emor Yud)

    Leaving one knowledgeable in the hidden holy aspects of judaism to achieve something spiritually… While everyone else is being social!

    Please note the salt on the table is not connected at this point as you mentioned salt must always be on a table that any food is being eaten.

  2. Nachum says:

    Because the Shabbat meal is more formalized and thus we do the formal actions more punctiliously there? It’s the same reason we wash before karpas and bentch on a cup usually only at the seder (the latter many people do on Shabbat as well, and of course at a seudat mitzva), even though we should all the time.

  3. Baruch says:

    I know some Lubavitchers who dip their bread in salt during the week as well. As far as the minhag ha’olam, I don’t know.

  4. IH says:

    To help you with your research, try Sefer Ta’amai ha’Mihagim, Siman קפ”ב.

  5. Former YU says:

    I know many people who salt their bread during the week. That has always been my family’s minhag.

  6. Jerry says:

    I grew up – like many others – with the custom to actually put salt on the challah (on Shabbos). But what always puzzled me was that all the sources on it seemed to indicate that the salt just needs to be present, not actually eaten with the bread. Glad to see I’m not crazy (at least in this respect)!

  7. Daniel Renna says:

    The actual salting of the bread is interesting, as well, and seems to have a cultural significance. I have seen many Ashkenazim who actually sprinkle salt on the bread, while many chassidim put the salt on the challah board or table and make sure to dip the bread into it. Here in Congo, there are many Sfardim (from Rhodes, plus francophone Moroccans, Libyans, Algerians and Tunisians) who, despite not being makpid on too many things, are very “frum” when it comes to pouring salt into their own plates to dip their already-dipped challah into salt before eating it.

    That could be from the quality of bread based on culture. Ashkenazim typically have “nice” bread on Shabbos: braided, with eggs, almost like a brioche. Sfardim traditionally used pita, laffa or flat bread, akin to the types of breads you see the Arabs selling throughout Israel. These breads are typically dipped into hummus, tehina, babaghanoush or something else when eaten alone (without filling with felafel or shwarma). Rava, living in 3rd century Babylonia, probably was more familiar with the “Sfardi” kind of bread than the “Ashkenazi,” perhaps leading to his distinction between qualities of bread.

  8. Moshe Shoshan says:

    Anon makes an important point in distinguishing between placing salt on the table, which is brought down by the Rama and salting the bread for mystical reasons which is brought down by the bear heteiv in the name of the Ari.

    Nevertheless,I think the formulation that “salt *must* always be on the table” is too strong a reading of the Rama. The Rama uses the term “mitzvah” but my sense is that term in this context does not mean “chayav” rather more like “its a very good thing to do.” It would be worth checking the Rama’s use of the word mitzva when speraking about practices that clearly are not among the 613 nor even clear takkanot d’rabban.

  9. @Jerry, Tosfos in Brachos 40a brings a Midrash which says that salt being on the table is a protection for the period of time between washing our hands and making hamotzi when we are waiting and cannot speak. During this time we are sitting without the protection of mitzvos. The salt representing bris melach protects us.

    In my family we dip in salt during the week as well (if we remember :-)

    Gil, slightly off topic but more confusing (at least to me) than salt is the issue of mayim acharonim. You may have written about it in the past.

  10. Jonathan says:

    If I recall correctly, Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon, in his sefer on Hilchot Shabbat says on Shabbos there is a special din of having not just plain bread, but something extra added. Thus, whereas the din of salt is fullfilled during the regular weekday, on Shabbos one need not just have salt, but could suffice with sugar coated challah, for example (yum!).

  11. Shlomo says:

    Shabbat meals are seen as a religious observance, weekday meals are not. I have family members who wash and say birkat hamazon only on Shabbat. Obviously their behavior is lacking halachically, but their psychological reason for not washing would seem to be similar to ours for not using salt.

    R’ Rimon explains the difference thus, after saying how all eating can be seen as holy because it gives you strength to serve God:
    באוירת הקדושה המיוחדת של השבת קל יותר לחוש את המשמעות והקדושה שיש באכילה, ואולי בשל כך רגילים כולם לשים בארוחות אלו מלח על הפת.

    What it all seems to come down to is that there is no difference between Shabbat and weekdays in what we “should” do, but there is a difference in what we have been, now and historically, motivated to do.

  12. YU Talmid says:

    What about the minhag to use honey instead of salt around the Yomim Noram? Also some do that during shana rishona.

  13. IH says:

    I agree with others that the distinction to which Gil refers between Shabbat/YomTov and Chol is a modern reform (kind of funny actually, given obsessive modern chumraization).

    I suspect the association of salt with bread is symbolism that is shared across many ancient culture. For example, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread_and_salt

  14. IH says:

    For those without the hardcopy of Sefer Ta’amai ha’Mihagim:
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14556&st=&pgnum=91

    Mayim achronim is covered a few pages later:
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14556&st=&pgnum=100

  15. E. Fink says:

    It’s the same as mayim achronim. People only do it on Shabbos. Some people only do it at shaloshudos in shul when they pass around the water.

    Purely social.

  16. IH says:

    “Picking and Choosing” Judaism, eh :-)

  17. ang says:

    The difference between Shabbas and chol is neither social nor halachic, but simply that many are able to relate to the Rema’s mystical considerations only on Shabbos. Many minhagim are based on this distinction.

    By the way, I once heard of a German family that had a maid by the name of Magdelene. On Shabbos they would refer to her as Migdolene.

  18. huh? says:

    “People only do it on Shabbos”

    maybe some people…

  19. SO says:

    Regarding your article “Salt and Challah”, you write, “Pouring salt on challah is a widely observed part of the Shabbos meal.”
    I would like to make a few observations:
    1. It seems from the poskim that the proper method is not to sprinkle the salt on the bread, but to dip the bread in the salt. (Piskei Teshuvot, Volume 2, siman 167, end of footnote 40). Indeed, the Mishnah Berurah (167:33 quoting the Magen Avrohom) instructs that one dips the bread into the salt.
    2. There is a custom brought down by many to dip the bread into the salt (not shake the salt onto the bread) three times. Melach (salt) in gematriya equals the Shem HaVaYaH (Kaf HaChaim 167:37). 26 x 3 = 78.
    3. Dipping the bread into the salt removes the Sitra Achra from the table (Chid”a in Avodat HaKodesh; see also Rivevot Ephraim 3:546(7)).
    4. The salt represents midat HaDin and the bread Midat HaRachamim. One dips the bread in the salt to cover Din with Rachamim. (Kaf HaChaim 167:37)
    5. The minhag of the Chatam Sofer was to not dip the bread in the salt on Shabbat evening because the chalavim were not put on the mizbeach on layl Shabbat. Dipping the bread in the salt is derived from “Al kol korbancha takriv melach” (Vayikra 2:13) (See Piskei Teshuvot page 428).
    6. If one does not have salt, one may dip the bread three times in another part of the bread because the word LeCHeM and MeLeCH have the same letters. See Piskei Teshuvot, ibid., for the reasons.
    7. Divrei Chachomim (Ginzberg) says he has seen Gedolim who were not careful to dip their bread in salt, but sprinkled the salt on the bread. (this, however, is not a strong justification of this practice which does seem to enjoy favor among many lay people).
    8. Kaf HaChaim quotes Yafeh LaLev that if one does not have salt, one may substitute sugar. Kaf HaChaim, however, rejects this option.

  20. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    1. the correct method is to dip the chalah (bread) in the salt (not sprinkle, as per your stock picture, but i like the amount salt indicated) cause “al korbancha takriv melach” means they actually dipped the korban in the salt. i doubt very much they used sugar, or other salt substitutes.

    2.at the bobover rebbe z”l’s tisch, i saw the rebbe dip his challah in honey, then salt (or was it the other way around, salt, then honey?) on shabat shuva.

    3. the european (even non jewish; its a cultural thing) custom is to eat a meal with bread. in america, we dont do this. ditto israel.

  21. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    3. the european (even non jewish; its a cultural thing) custom is to eat a meal with bread, even if no other bread is eaten. i guess that means “le-lafet et ha-pat”).

    in america, we dont do this.

    and a sandwich would not mean a meal. (no applicability of this stmt to “brachot”.)

    but all this is irrelevant to salting the bread. just per other comments here.

  22. Jenny says:

    1. If a table does not have salt, I have seen people dip the breaqd into something salty that is on the table (pickles, etc). This would seem to defeat the purpose, as the bread has been turned into bread with dip, which would now require salt (according to reason #1)

    2. What are the implications of this for Seder night? I have seen opinions that state that one should not put salt on his matza on Seder night, as it negates the taste of the matza. However, from what I’ve seen, this does not seem to be something that people are concerned about.

  23. Moshe Shoshan says:

    I skeptical of claims that dipping as opposed to sprinkling is required. Salt shakers are a relatively recent invention and according to Wikipedia only came into wide use after WWII. before that people dipped their bread.

  24. Yehudah Mirsky says:

    Though this may sound trivial, this seems to be yet another illustration of what Prof. Jacob Katz referred to (in his classic volume, “Goy shel Shabbat”) as “the ritual instinct,” the intuitive not-strictly-legal sensibility which subtly informs and shapes halakhic norms (which is a little different than the related but distinct ‘social’ dimension which others have referred to in this discussion). In this case, it is something about the confluence of the aura of shabbat with “shulchan domeah le-mizbeach” which brings about this practice.

  25. Y. Aharon says:

    The distinction between the meals on shabbat and on weekdays is that the former is a mitzvah rather than a necessity. Consequently, it has sanctity, and the comparison with an altar offering is more easily envisaged. The torah requires salt to be offered together with the principal offering (“al kol korbonecha takriv melach”). Hence the practice of adding salt to the shabbat challah. In other words, the table is viewed as an altar, and the challah is akin to the meal offering. The salt is then a symbolic re-enactment of how the temple sacrifices were offered. I would call this a symbolic gesture rather than a “mystical” one.

  26. daat y says:

    I agree with Moshe Shoshan at 3:41.

    Most probably the Mishna Berura stated putting bread into the salt that in his time salt shakers were not the norm.The salt may have been of rocksalt formation and therefor one had to put the bread into the salt then.

  27. [...] more on Hirhurim: Salt and Challah Filed under Minhag, Shabat ← Are flax [...]

 
 

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