At every Shabbat meal, the blessing of Ha’mo’tzee (the blessing over bread) is recited over two complete loaves of bread. This ‘bread’ is usually the braided loaves known as challot, but any type of bread is acceptable as long as it is uncut and unbroken.

There are actually several steps involved in this formal ‘breaking of bread.’ The challah is covered by a cloth until everyone is ready (see Jewish Treats: Covering The Challah). The person making the blessing over the challah then makes a gentle knife mark on the challah that will be cut first, raises both challot and recites the blessing. The marked challah is then cut, dipped in or sprinkled with salt (just a pinch) and distributed to everyone at the table.

The challah is dipped into salt to commemorate the sacrifices offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, which always contained salt. Although the Temple no longer stands, the salt reminds us that our table is like the altar of old, as the sages attest in Berachot 55a: ‘…as long as the Temple stood, the altar atoned for Israel, but now a man’s table atones for him.’ With every offering brought to the Temple, a salt offering was also prepared (Leviticus 2:13: And you will season every meal-offering with salt; neither shall you suffer the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your meal-offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.) to commemorate the eternal covenant with God, which, like salt, never spoils.

While many people know and are familiar with the rules of dipping one’s bread in salt on Shabbat, the law actually applies to any time one has a meal with bread.

This Treat was last posted on February 12, 2010.

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