Why We Cover Challah at the Shabbat Table

Why We Cover Challah at the Shabbat Table

Do you have a lot of challah covers and challah boards? They make great presents. Why do you need any at all? Should you use a Challah cover during the week or only Shabbat?

Why do we cover Challah at the Shabbat Table?

It is a custom, not a law, to cover the Challah at the Shabbat table.

There are two reasons we cover the Challah at the Shabbat table:

The first answer is derived from Exodus 16:13-14 AND Numbers 11:9.

We read in Exodus that dew fell on top of the manna. Later, in Numbers, we read that the manna fell on top of a layer of dew. Yes, two layers of dew.

Rabbi Yosei bar Hanina explained that the manna appeared as if it were packed in between the upper and lower layers of dew (like a to-go box). This teaches us to place the challah on a plate or board and to cover it.

You can use any plate and any napkin. However, Jewish artisans have produced thousands of beautiful covers and boards to beautify this action. So indulge!

The second reason we cover the Challah on Shabbat is derived from Deuteronomy 8:8.

The seven species that grew in the land of Israel are mentioned: wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olives, and honey. The rabbis of the Talmud said that the order of blessings on food and drink should basically follow this order (Berakhot 41a). Bread is the most basic and satisfying food and it is typically made from wheat, the first item on the list. So, in general, a person should say the blessing over bread at the start of a meal which will include any other items.

However, on Shabbat, we use wine to sanctify the day of Shabbat and we say this blessing first. Since we are now saying the blessings “out of order,” we cover the Challah. We demonstrate that we know we are doing things differently on Shabbat than on a weekday. We do NOT cover bread on a weekday—we say HaMotzi at the start of a weekday meal.

Some people say that we cover the Challah so the Challah doesn’t get embarrassed that it is going second in the blessing list on Shabbat. But I think we cover the Challah so WE do not get embarrassed—we are reminding ourselves that the Challah blessing comes AFTER kiddush.

Author

  • Hazzan Sara Geffen Geller

    Sara Geller has served Conservative congregations since 1992. She received her Commission from the Cantors Assembly in 2002. She has lived in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, and South Carolina. Hazzan Geller sits on the Cantors Assembly Executive Council and the Antiracism Subcommittee of the RA/USCJ Commission on Social Justice.

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Author

  • Hazzan Sara Geffen Geller

    Sara Geller has served Conservative congregations since 1992. She received her Commission from the Cantors Assembly in 2002. She has lived in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, and South Carolina. Hazzan Geller sits on the Cantors Assembly Executive Council and the Antiracism Subcommittee of the RA/USCJ Commission on Social Justice.

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