Challah seems to be the first food that runs out at the Shabbat dinners at Franklin & Marshallâ€™s Hillel. While the rest of the meal is catered, the challah is handmade by students and faculty earlier in the day. Each table gets one plain challah and one sprinkled challah, both of which are braided. It is a cute addition to put sprinkles on the challah of course, but last week at Shabbat I was curious as to why challah is oftentimes braided. Presentation? Convenience? Or what?
Supposedly, each of the three strands represents the commands to observe Shabbat, found within Mosesâ€™ Ten Commandments. These three tell us to remember, to safeguard, and finally, to do these two acts at the same time.
Similarly to the last strand, the braid of the challah represents the tying together and conclusion of the week, which Shabbat is supposed to represent. Since Jews are supposed to put aside the Sabbath as a time of rest, they are mentally and physically summing up their past weeks. Therefore, the braided challah is a pleasant metaphor for the relaxation period that is beginning on Friday at sundown.
Though the challah at my Hillel is braided, this is not always the case. Therefore, it may just be that this symbolism above happens to be applicable to the braided shape, yet is not standard. We also know that challah can come in different shapes depending on the holiday, such as being round on Rosh Hashanah to represent the complete eternal life we are celebrating that time of year.
While my friends at the table constantly praise the challah, I in fact cannot take part in this enjoyment. Along with being vegan, I was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease, which my doctor tells me nearly one in twenty people have these days, so I figured that at least some of the readers on New Voices might be interested to test out this gluten free challah recipe I found! Check it out on I Am Gluten Free to test it for yourself. If you enjoy this recipe, I encourage you to look into other recipes on that site, as I have heard several recommendations about it. Luckily, there are creative enough cooks out there to create these recipes so the growing population (scary to think about) of gluten free individuals can join everyone else in the indulgence of delicious challah, just be sure to separate it from the regular one to prevent cross-contamination!
Regardless of the shape or gluten-ness of challah, we all seem to love this bread that has gained such a connotation with Judaism.