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.
- 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.
- Boshesh means to wait. Someone who lacks salt need not hesitate but may proceed because the bread contains salt.
- 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.