The torah and other Jewish literature make clear that "challah" is a catch all that describes a normal bread that is often used in offerings, or portions of it are given as sacrifices or as gifts. Although the Bible doesn't usually physically describe the appearance of what normal bread is, we know it's a type of flatbread from various proofs.

One proof is we know ancient Israelite ovens (tanur) are designed for flatbreads.

The Persians introduced a clay oven called a tanur (similar to the Indian tandoor), which had an opening at the bottom for the fire, and through which the bread was placed to be baked on the inner wall of the upper chamber from the heat of the oven and ashes after the flames had died down. This continued to be the way in which Yemenite Jews baked bread until modern times. The remains of clay ovens and fragments of bread trays have been found in several archaeological excavations.[4][17]

All these methods produced only thin loaves, and the custom was thus to break bread rather than cut it. The bread was soft and pliable and used for dipping and sopping up gravies and juices.[4][17]

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Israelite_cuisine

Another of is because you can have matzot that are called challot.

Leviticus 8:26

26 And out of the basket of unleavened bread, that was before the LORD, he took one unleavened cake, and one cake of oiled bread, and one wafer, and placed them on the fat, and upon the right thigh.

‏כו וּמִסַּל הַמַּצּוֹת אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, לָקַח חַלַּת מַצָּה אַחַת וְחַלַּת לֶחֶם שֶׁמֶן אַחַת--וְרָקִיק אֶחָד; וַיָּשֶׂם, עַל-הַחֲלָבִים, וְעַל, שׁוֹק הַיָּמִין. ‏

Another proof is supposedly the earliest source of Hallah as a "Shabbat bread" says the following:

15th c. German work Leket Yosher (p. 49) as referenced by John Cooper’s Eat and Be Satisfied: A Social History of Jewish Food

I remember that on every Friday afternoon they would make three thin ḥallot that were kneaded with eggs, oil, and a little bit of water. In the evening, since the table was square, the middle ḥallah was put in the middle of the table on the middle tablecloth. Under the ḥallah was a large whole loaf…In the morning the large ḥallah and a large loaf were put on the table like in the evening. For the third meal the small ḥallah and a small bread was taken.

According to a different answer on Mi Yodeya, not only does the braided aspect of challah not come from a Jewish source, but seems to have direct ties to outright paganism and idolatry.

the potential origin recorded by Menachem Mendel:

I mentioned this to my colleague Rabbi Jill Hammer, and she suggested that I look into the connection between ḥallah and goddess

worship. Not really knowing what to expect, I found the following in The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects (p. 482):

The braided bread loaves of Germanic tradition were invented by the women of Teutonic tribes, who used to make offerings of their own

hair to their Goddess. Eventually they learned to preserve their braids by substituting the imitative loaf, which was called Berchisbrod or Perchisbrod, bread offered to the Goddess Berchta, or Perchta. The name of the braided Sabbath loaf among German Jews, Berches or Barches, was copied from this tradition.

Could it be that those nice braids that my wife makes when she bakes ḥallah really have their source in pagan goddess worship? The

linguist Paul Wexler thinks that the original name was actually the German Holle which was the name of a pagan Germanic goddess to whom braided bread was once given in offering. [The German] Holle was replaced at a later date-under the pressure of Judaization-by the [Hebrew] ḥallah, which bore formal and semantic similarity. (See his book The Non-Jewish Origins of the Sephardic Jews, pp. 68-69 and numerous other places in his writings.)

Along the same lines:

Joshua Trachtenberg, in his book, Jewish Magic and Superstition, claims that Ashkenazic Jews in German lands as early as the 10th

century adopted the practice of braiding their ritual loaves from their neighbors who worshipped the goddess/spirit Perchta, or Holda, or Holle. According to Trachtenberg, these German women worshiped the goddess by offering their braided hair! The tradition of the times was braiding loaves of bread, called Perchisbrod, as an acknowledgement of this pagan custom.

Source: https://judaism.stackexchange.com/a/55771/9045

So my question is, how can something seemingly so disconnected from Jewish tradition, with credible links to pagan origins, become a "symbol" of "Judaism/Jewish Practice?"

  • 2
    Jews should never eat fluffy bread because our ancestors didn't? Should we not eat potatoes either? – Heshy Jul 6 at 22:39
  • 1
    @Heshy That's not what I said. This doesn't have to be about Challah. It could be about the Hamsa, it could be about so many things. The question is how does something unrelated to Judaism become so pivotal to Judaism that people cannot even fathom Shabbat without it. – Aaron Jul 6 at 22:59
  • 1
    @DoubleAA why did you close my question? – Aaron Jul 6 at 23:00
  • Bread is pivotal to Shabbat (not necessarily Biblically, but at least Rabbinically). People like fluffy bread better than flat bread. So they have fluffy bread instead of flat bread. – Heshy Jul 6 at 23:12
  • 2
    Seemingly it was not a Jewish custom to name children Aaron as we never find anyone named after Aaron in Tanach or the Talmud. But that became popular too. Hopefully by tevhias hameisim the old generations will recognize the modern ones as even being 'Jewish'. And vice versa. – user6591 Jul 7 at 2:20

Browse other questions tagged .