Friday, December 09, 2011

As The Challah Burns


Largely due to the fact that there was amazing and readily available Rosendorf challah for sale in Baltimore, I only occasionally made challah in America. But for years, I dreamed of making challah in my own kitchen in Israel.  It seemed to tie together so many mitzvot.

After making aliyah, I didn't actually rush into it. Up until a few months ago, we were still buying challot every week. Not surprisingly, challot are even more plentiful, accessible, diverse and delicious here than in Baltimore.

Some months ago, I had an astonishing homemade honey-wheat challah at a friend's one Shabbat and decided to try to duplicate it the next week. Since then, almost every Thursday night, there's challah baking in my kitchen.

As every traditional Jews knows, the mitzvah of challah is actually in removing a symbolic piece of dough, making a bracha and, in the absence of the Beit haMikdash, burning it. During the times I made challah in America, I burned it in the oven, double wrapped it and threw it away with the household trash.  Here, I set it on a gas burner on the stove top.  Once it starts to char, its odor and smoke permeate the house.  If my kids are home, they grouse, "Eew, that stinks!"

A few weeks ago, I watched a serious Jew, a religious woman I know, put the piece of dough on which she had made a bracha into a plastic bag, pour dish soap on it, rendering it inedible, put it in a second bag and throw it away.  No mess.  No smell.

I checked with a posek and found that this is a valid halachic option.

But it doesn't sit quite right with me.  Not because it's not halachic. Historically, I tend toward adopting the more lenient halachic option.  But this one seems a bit too easy to me.

While the charring piece of dough does make for an unpleasant olfactory experience, it reminds me that this is what we have to do because we don't have a Beit HaMikdash with attendant kohanim to actually give the challah to.


To douse it with dish soup and throw it away is a perfectly acceptable option in Jewish law.

It just doesn't feel quite right to me.  Can't say exactly why this practice, above others, makes me so desire authenticity, but I'd like to think it has something to do with the fact that, on every bus trip into Jerusalem, I pass Har HaBayit and silently say the "Yehi Ratzon" for the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash.

3 comments:

Batya said...

I agree, but on the rare times I bake I stopped the burning, because I just can't get the smell out of the house.

rutimizrachi said...

This resonates for me. Perhaps because burning the challah seems more primal, or more historic. It's nonsense, I suppose: but the idea of burning that which I cannot give to the Kohanim sits more authentically with me -- emotionally only -- than does dish soap and plastic.

Tangentially: years ago, just before Tisha B'Av, one of my small sons asked if we could keep the challah dough to take to the Beit HaMikdash, since Moshiach was surely "coming before the fast this year." That little lump of dough stayed on my shelf for a few weeks, a reminder that my children were expecting the Geula at any moment.

SaraK said...

I agree. I love the symbolism of burning the challah that I am supposed to be giving to the Kohen. The smell is a good 'zecher l'churban' :)
G-d willing, we will be giving our homemade challah to the kohanim very soon!