by R. Daniel Mann
Question: We like to keep our challot in a warm place until bringing them to the table after netilat yadayim so they taste their best. Must they be on the table during Kiddush?
Answer: The question to start with is: why do we (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 271:9) cover the challot?
The gemara (Pesachim 100a-b) mentions “spreading out a cloth and making Kiddush” regarding Kiddush when a meal is in progress. The Yerushalmi (as cited by the Rosh, Pesachim 10:3) discusses covering challa to avoid “embarrassment” that we use “lower-level” wine over bread for Kiddush. The gemara (ibid.) actually says that we do not usually “bring out the table” until after Kiddush. Tosafot (ad loc.) raises a contradiction with a gemara (Shabbat 119b) that the angels who escort a ba’al habayit from shul only bless him if they find the table set. Tosafot answers that in Talmudic times, mini-tables were brought for each person after Kiddush but were set elsewhere previously. It is harder to bring in today’s bigger tables, so they are set at the place of Kiddush, and therefore (at least the challot) need to be covered. The She’iltot explained that it is clearer that the food is to honor Shabbat if it is brought after Kiddush. Being covered is enough for this effect. The Tur (OC 271) cites another reason – the covering reminds us of the man from the desert, as it was covered with layers of dew. The Mishna Berura (271:41) summarizes three distinct reasons to cover challa – 1. Honoring Shabbat by properly timing its arrival; 2. Not embarrassing bread; 3. Reenacting the man. Many discuss possible nafka minot between them, including whether a covering is needed if one makes Kiddush over challa rather than wine.
According to the simple reading of the gemara/Tosafot, accepted in practice by the Gra (Ma’aseh Rav 118), and the matter of embarrassment, it seems better if the challot (and perhaps other food – Nefesh Harav p. 158) are not present. Covering is permitted, not required. Nevertheless, the Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata (47:24) says that the minhag is to specifically put the covered challot on the table before Kiddush. There are at least three ways to explain this.
1) The Shulchan Aruch (OC 262:1) learns from the story of the angels that one should prepare his table and beds before Shabbat. While this refers to a table cloth, others (including Tosafot ibid.) apply it also to challot. According to some, this should be done even before Shabbat enters.
2) The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 271:22) says that since Kiddush must be at the place of a meal, it is respectful to have the challot present at Kiddush. This seems to contradict the gemara that prefers the food being brought later. However, it is possible that since our system of a covered challa replaced that of prepared mini-tables, this is the desired manner of preparedness and timing.
3) Regarding the idea of the man (which the Shulchan Aruch, OC 271:9, adopts, as he writes about a covering below and above), it is unclear whether it needs to be covered at the time of Hamotzi (see Mishna Berura 271:41). Some assume the reminder can be done in a short time (Pri Megadim, 271, MZ 12), and perhaps not specifically at Kiddush. Az Nidberu (II:2) argues that it has to be at a significant time. According to those who keep the challot uncovered at the time of Hamotzi, it might, then, need to be man-like during Kiddush.
There are a variety of opinions on which reason is the main reason for covering. There is logic to say we should strive to accomplish all elements (Minchat David I:2). In any case, the minhag, recognized by Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata, could very well have value. One can question whether the fact that the great majority of Shabbat tables have challot on the table is the sign of a full minhag, since for most people, there is no reason not to, whereas you have a k’vod Shabbat reason. However, proper planning (including avoiding hatmana) can allow you to have warm challot even if you bring them to the table a little “early.”