Guest post by R. Jeffrey Saks / The custom some women (or men) have of baking the house key into the challah on the Shabbat following Pesach (also known as a shlissel [=key] challah) is explained with the following reasons:

Shlissel Challah

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Guest post by R. Jeffrey Saks

Rabbi Jeffrey Saks is the founding Director of ATID―The Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions in Jewish Education, in Jerusalem.

The custom some women (or men) have of baking the house key into the challah on the Shabbat following Pesach (also known as a shlissel [=key] challah) is explained with the following reasons:

  1. Based on “Pitchi Li Achoti, Ra’ayati…” (“Open up, my darling…” — Shir HaShirim 5:2), on which the Midrash states “Pitchu li petach ke-chudo shel machat…,” (cf. Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5, s.v. “Kol Dodi Dofek“) = something like “Open your hearts (in teshuvah) like the eye of the needle, and I (God) will open the rest like [a very large opening].
  2. According to Kabbalah on Pesach the gates to heaven were open, and following Pesach the lower gates are shut, and it’s up to us to open them again, therefore on the first Shabbat we put the key on the challah to show that through the mitzvah of Shabbat we are opening the locks [original source?].
  3. In the desert the Jewish people ate from the manna until after Pesach upon entering the land (with the bringing of the Omer, see: Josh. 5:11), at which point the ate from the produce of the land, and became dependant on their livelihood for the first time (now they had no manna). The key in the challah after Pesach is a request the God should open the Sha’arei Parnasah (gates of livelihood). Alternatively, the manna began to fall in the month of Iyyar, and this Shabbat is always Shabbat Mevarchim Iyyar.

See: Sefer Ta’amei HaMinhagim, pp. 249-50.
See: Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 6, pp. 1419-20 for a photo of a shlissel challah (and other “special” challot). It seems (from both of the above sources) that the minhag was to bake the key on top of the challah not inside (a la the old jail break trick).

My wife prepares a shlissel challah each year — however I had to go out and buy an antiquated looking skeleton key, both to make it look more authentic, and because the top of keys in Israel (“pladelet” keys) are generally made of plastic, and there’s a fear it will melt in the baking! We have also begun the custom of using a shlissel challah for the
meal on the night of Yom HaAtzmaut — for the reasons see the story related at the beginning of O! Jerusalem, pp. 9-10 (and at note 7 here) — ve-ha-mavin yavin.

About Jeffrey Saks

Rabbi Jeffrey Saks is the founding director of ATID. His frequent lectures at the Agnon House in Jerusalem are broadcast on WebYeshiva.org/Agnon.

43 comments

  1. Har Nof Academic

    Shliss Challah? Really? Must be a slow news day…

    I hope you have a “segulah” against the dangerous traces of lead your antique key will leave in your bread. See: http://matzav.com/danger-of-eating-shlissel-challah

  2. @Har Nof Academic –

    Two workarounds: My wife usually wraps the keys in foil. Also, some bake the challah in the shape of a key, instead of using an actual key.

  3. I’ve heard the “original” minhag was neither key-shaped bread nor metal-containing bread, but regular-shaped bread decorated with seeds in the shape of a key. But I never exactly investigated so thoroughly.

  4. Re the noted Shir haShirim phrase, I recently saw R’Tzadoq haKohein miLublin quoted as rereading “ufasach H’ al hapesach” as referring to the “pesach” of the “machat,” i.e. that on Pesach, H’ is ‘passing up’ the prerequisite of our opening up even a needle’s-hole worth, which for me segues into the 2nd reason (all “gates” open on Pesach) mentioned above.

  5. “I’ve heard the “original” minhag was neither key-shaped bread nor metal-containing bread, but regular-shaped bread decorated with seeds in the shape of a key”

    The shvigger is choshesh for all three shitos. she also bakes in her copies of the keys of her childrens homes so as grant them a segulah for parnassa as well.

  6. can someone explain what a “segula for parnasa” means? how does it work? Praying for parnasa makes sense to me, but what is this segula for parnasa and how does it work?

  7. Segulas: Open Letter about the Shliss Challah

    from Moshe Ben-Chaim( Mesora.Org )

    ——————————————————————————–

    The Torah teaches that Hashem punishes the wicked, and rewards the righteous. It does not say that challah baking or any other activity will help address our needs, as those practicing “segula” suggest.

    When the matriarchs were barren, they did not resort to segulas, but introspected and prayed. On Devarim 10:17 “Hashem does not take bribes”, Sforno wrote the following commentary:

    “The punishment of a sin will not be removed at all due to the reward of a mitzvah that this sinner performed. As the Rabbis taught, ‘A mitzvah does not extinguish a sin’. And all this teaches that one should not be confident that if he sins, that his sin is removed at all…except by complete repentance.”

    Sforno was a great thinker, Rabbi, and a true Torah commentator. He remained loyal to Hashem’s Torah words, and did not follow practices that violated Hashem, unlike proponents of Segulas. And it matters none how popular segulas have become, if they are in direct opposition to Torah and our Rabbis. Sforno taught that our mitzvahs cannot remove our personality flaws, which may deserve a punishment. The only way we are forgiven for our sins and remove Hashem’s wrath, is when we identify the cause of our sins, recognize the error, and abandon our poor behavior forever. But, ignoring our flaws, even by occupying ourselves with many great mitzvahs, in no way removes our flaws. “Let us search and examine our ways and return to Hashem”. (Megillas Eicha, 3:40) Eicha teaches what we must do, and it does not say segulas are the Torah’s approach. No pasuk says so.

    Nothing in Torah supports this concept of segula; Torah sources reject the idea of a segula. If we deserve a punishment, and we don’t address our shortcomings, baking challas with brachos cannot help. And if we have no sin, then the correct approach to infertility is medical treatment. In either case, segulas are useless, and violate the Torah prohibition of Nichush. Nichush in common day terms, are good luck charms. It does not matter if the charm is a rabbit’s foot, a horseshoe, a challah, key or a red bendel. The practice assumes that forces exist, which do not, and it is idolatrous. Tosefta Shabbos chapter 7 prohibits red bendels openly. It refers to bendels as “Emorite practices” which are idolatrous. This applies to all practices where we assume a causal relationship, which does not exist. Separating challa so that we remove infertility, find a shidduch, etc., assumes a causal relationship that does not exist. Hashem gave us sechel — intelligence — precisely because He desires we use it in all areas, especially in our Torah lives. Hashem prohibited many idolatrous rites since they were not supported by natural law. That is why He wiped out so many people, since they worshiped stone gods, or believed in demons, spirits, and other forces that defy natural laws. Hashem wants us to follow what our minds tell us is true, and not what our emotions “wish” to be so. I understand your good intent, but our actions must be based on Torah and reality.

    Please help to remove false practices from Jewish culture, and instead of supporting segula, we should spread these Torah sources to our friends, for whom we desire to help. We must adhere meticulously to Hashem’s Torah…the Torah He said, “not to add to or subtract from”. (Devarim, 4:2)

    It is time to use our minds and realign our path of life with Torah sources, not blind faith practices.

  8. Michael Balinsky

    Nothing in the post talked about segulas. It is a sign, not an action that causes something. It is not like giving a man peticha when his wife is overdue.

  9. Segulos for parnasa (baduk u’menuseh):

    (1) Buy low, sell high.

    (2) Marry rich.

    (3) Go to school and learn a profession.

  10. part of rosh hashonah mean (mentioned in halacha) is segulos like eating honey or pomegranates or leak (or waldorf salad? Ok, that one is newer)

  11. MiMedinat HaYam

    a prominent MO rav in teaneck (whose blog is often mentioned here) spoke at an rca convention a few years ago about a charedi rav (i called rabbi machmir) who used to write in his prominent pesach guide (now copied by everyone) that segulot are foolish, but in his after pesach section, tells ppl to not forget to bake a shlissel chalah.

    2. if this is an ancient custom (as implied in comments on the mimouna), then we should do extensive research on the proper shape of ancient keys, and whether or not we had locked doors in the midbar?

    and if you use an ancient key (such as the one youi boufght at the mossad harav kook sale, or perhaps you were kluckily to get the ket y to machon slomo

  12. As R’ Asher Weiss says – if you are going to use sgulot, stick to those specifically mentioned by Chazal.
    KT

  13. From R’ Aviner:
    Shlissel Challah

    Q: Is there an authentic source for making Challah with a key in it (or in the shape of a key) on the Shabbat after Pesach as a Segulah for Parnasah, or is it superstition?

    A: It is not forbidden but there is no meaning in doing so (This custom is mentioned in Ta’amei Ha-Minhagim pp. 249-250).

    KT

  14. why isn’t it forbidden? it sure seems like darkei ha’emori to me…

  15. I would guess because there is some “mention”?
    KT

  16. when? in the 19th century? this is absurd. Add this to the list of the “scandal of orthodox indifference” to clearly forbidden practices…

  17. I was being dan lkaf zchut-I think the real answer is a calculus that there are many people who need something like this as a connector to HKB”H – I’d refer them back to the statement from R’ Asher Weiss but that’s just the kalteh litvak in me.
    KT

  18. Fotheringay-Phipps

    AFAIK the earliest source for this is the Apter Rav (early 19th century).

    I believe that some keys (e.g. car keys) might be muktza.

  19. the truth is I am surprised to find such an non critical article on the topic posted on hirhurim. I assure you that if you ask the YU Roshei Yeshiva what they think about this minhag, they will tell you it is darkei ha’emori. Two prominent Roshei Yeshiva told me that they thought it is certainly darkei ha’emori

  20. r’Talmid,
    and red bendles?
    KT

  21. you dont need YU roshei yeshiva to tell you about that – its an explicit tosefta!

  22. “Har Nof Academic on April 28, 2011 at 2:27 am
    Shliss Challah? Really? Must be a slow news day…

    I hope you have a “segulah” against the dangerous traces of lead your antique key will leave in your bread. See: http://matzav.com/danger-of-eating-shlissel-challah

    I would venture to say that consuming cholent, kishke and kugel on a regular basis, without proper nutrition and exercise is much more dangerous.

  23. Lawrence Kaplan

    Of all the people in the world, I am sure that Moshe Shoshan is among the very last to believe that the Shliss Hallah is a segulah for parnassah. (I assume he did not respond since it is Shabbat in Israel already.) Perhaps he was baiting us. Now, as for his shvigger….

    It would have been nice had R. Saks informed us as to when the minhag originated and what scholars suggest its reason is. First R. Enkin’s unscholarly posts on the development of the Haggada and Maimuna, and now R. Saks on the Shliss Hallah. We’re on a (dangerous for one’s intellectual health) roll here.

  24. Peter Milton Biswas

    I have no question on challah. I was looking for a Rabbi who can answer my thousand question on Torah. Since Jews are the chosen nation and still they exist in this earth they must the authentic truth hoder.

    My first question is David fought and defited Goliath, the giant of Phlistianian. Jews are fighting still with Philistianian. When shall it stop? Is there any text in Pentatuch or any where in Torah? Please reply me with reference.

  25. “key” in yiddish is “shlisl” and not “shlis”.

  26. Dear Peter Milton Biswas,
    Thank you for your excellent question. In my opinion, a good reference with which to start on this question is the responsum of R. Ovadia Yosef in his book Yabi’a Omer, Volume 6, Orach Chaim no. 41. R. Yosef explains (in a treatise built on talmudic argumentation) that the current state of Israel is a gift from the Creator for which all Jews should be appreciative and recite Hallel (Psalms chapters 113-118) on the Jewish anniversary of its founding. However, as you correctly indicate by your question, the state of Israel is currently imperfect – living in an unredeemed world (as evident, for instance, by the ongoing hostility between Israelis and Palestinians) – and therefore no blessing may be recited over the Hallel. When the messiah arrives and we live in a utopian world where the Torah is embraced by all humanity, we will probably recite the blessing over Hallel (pending confirmation of the Sanhedrin).

  27. Peter Milton Biswas

    Thank you so much for your quick reply. “the state of Israel is currently imperfect” Does it mean tnat Joshua and his army could not win all part of canan, the land of honey and milk, which was promied by God to Abraham?

    My next question: Accroding to Genesis 11:9, the confusion of language took palce at the foot of shinar. Genesis. 11:1 says that up to Shinar people spoke one language only to communicate with one another. What was the name of that language that text ment? Why God had to take our common language after a long time( perhaps 10 generation after, from Adam to Noah)

  28. According to my father’s theory (he grew up in a catholic country), the end of pesach coincides with Easter. Easter bread is shaped in a cross, or has the image of a cross on top of it. Keys (antique ones) have a similar shape to a cross. Smells fishy.

  29. MiMedinat HaYam

    good solution — a challah in shape of a fish. then we can argue about sturgeon, and whether or not herring is the quintessential jewish fish.

  30. Now we’re talking. Anyone know of a source for fresh (wet & raw) herring in the NYC area? In London, we could buy it regularly and we marinated it ourselves at home; but since moving back to NYC we have not been able to find it anywhere.

  31. Lawrence Kaplan

    I just listened to R. Leibowitz’s talk which I highly recommend. R. Leibowitz notes that there is Christian custom before Easter to bake a special Easter bread with a cross imptinted on it. And he further notes that old keys look like crosses. All this raises the serious hashash of darkei Ha-Emori.

    He also points out that the old sources and explanations for this minhag are all hasidic. The widespread practice of this minhag, then, is further evidence for the — this is my observation– hasidicization of Orthodoxy.

  32. Dear Peter Milton Biswas,
    Thank you for your second and third questions.

    -Yes, you are correct. Joshua did not inherit all of the land of Israel that was promised to Abraham at the Covenant of the Parts. Some of the territory will be inherited by the Jews in the messianic era. (Commentary of Rashi to Genesis 15:19 and to Deuteronomy 19:8-9)

    -The language spoken by humanity until the Dispersion was Hebrew. (Commentary of Rashi to Genesis 11:1)

  33. Could Pre-Hebrew be the Safa Ahat of Genesis 11:1? by Isaac Elchanan Mozeson:
    http://jbq.jewishbible.org/assets/Uploads/381/381_safaachat.pdf

  34. Thank you so much for your answer. Though I partly agree and partly disagree on the issue of language confusion in Genesis 11:1. But I don’t want to debate with you lest I miss you. I Don’t want to miss you until all my questions are answered. Rabbies are the bearer of true knowledge of God, as I think.

    My next question is on Genesis 6:2( the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful and they married of them they chose)Some Bible commentator says that this was the marriage between fallen angels from heaven and with the human beings daughters, which God did not like it to be happened. As a consequence God introduced flood. What is the real truth about this marriage? Please answer me.

  35. Peter Milton Biswas

    Thank you so much for your answer. Though I partly agree and partly disagree on the issue of language confusion in Genesis 11:1. But I don’t want to debate with you lest I miss you. I Don’t want to miss you until all my questions are answered. Rabbies are the bearer of true knowledge of God, as I think.

    My next question is on Genesis 6:2( the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful and they married of them they chose)Some Bible commentator says that this was the marriage between fallen angels from heaven and with the human beings daughters, which God did not like it to be happened. As a consequence God introduced flood. What is the real truth about this marriage? Please answer me.

  36. Dear Peter Milton Biswas,
    Thank you for your kind words and thank you for patiently waiting for the response to your fourth question.

    An informative survey of three approaches among the rabbinic commentaries to Genesis 6:2 is offered by the Artscroll Bereishis (2nd edition, 1980) by R. Nosson Scherman and R. Meir Zlotowitz, pp. 180-182. The three approaches are:

    1. These were the sons of judges
    2. These were the sons of G-d-fearing descendants of Seth
    3. These were angels

  37. Peter Milton Biswas

    Happy Sabbath! It’s Friday sunset. We obserber Sabbath here in Bangladesh, go to church early in the moreing and spend three hours with the Lord praying singing,reading Bible. I am sure your do the same.

    It took 5 days for your to answer? I almost lost my patience. Well, It is better late than ever. Thanks for your kind reply. I agee with third approaches because Genesis6:4 says that they were giants in the earth. But again, Where are those giants now?

    My next Question: “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” Genesis 12:3, How the descended of Abraham still a blessing to earth as he promised to Abraham?

    Next Question: Do you have a prophet still now in your country like Elijah,Elisha,Jeremiah,Ezekiel,and so on? If your answer is no, Why did Jehova stop sending prophet among you at present?

  38. See R. Slifkin’s RATIONALIST JUDAISM discussion of this custom and its pagan roots.

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