Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Shlissel (Key) Challah: The Loaf of Idolatry?

JUDAIC STUDIES ACADEMIC PAPER SERIES, Authored by Shelomo Alfassa:
The Origins of the Non-Jewish Custom Of "Shlissel Challah" (Key Bread) “The Loaf of Idolatry?”

You can read it all here, or see the following key point from the research paper:

- Every year Jewish women, young and old, partake in the Ashkenazi1 custom to place a key (such as a door key to a home), inside the dough of a loaf of bread that they bake.2 This custom is known as shlissel challah—shlissel from the German language shlüssel (key) and challah or hallah from the Hebrew for bread.

- The baking of a key inside a bread is a non-Jewish custom which has its foundation in Christian, and possibly even earlier, pagan culture. At least one old Irish source tells how at times when a town was under attack, the men said, ―let our women-folk be instructed in the art of baking cakes containing keys.

- Keys were traditionally manufactured in the form of a cross, the traditional symbol of Christianity, a physical item all Christian commoners would posses in their home. On Easter, the Christian holiday which celebrates the idea of Jesus "rising" from the dead, they would bake the symbol of Jesus—the key shaped like a cross—into or onto a rising loaf.

- The modern Jewish custom of baking the symbolic shlissel challah, annually takes place on the shabbat immediately following the holiday of Pessah, when tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of religiously observant Jewish women11 practice this observance.

- In Christianity, baked goods associated with keys are commonly called "Easter breads," and in Europe they are also known as ‗Paschals,‘13 as the holiday of Easter in the East is known as "Pascha" or "Pascua." This is most likely the reason Christians often call Easter breads baked with keys Paschals.

- While the custom is said to be mentioned in the writings of Avraham Yehoshua Heshel (the ―Apter Rav‖ 1748-1825) and in the Ta’amei ha-Minhagim (1891), there is no one clear source for shlissel challah. And while people will say there is a passuq attributed to it, there is not. And, even if there were, a passuq that can be linked to the practice is not the same as a source. Micha Berger, founder of the AishDas Society, [orthodox] calls this type of logic "reverse engineering," it‘s like drawing a circle around an arrow in a tree, and subsequently declaring the arrow is a bullseye. The idea of baking shlissel challah is not from the Torah; it‘s not in the Tannaitic, Amoraitic, Savoraitic, Gaonic or Rishonic literature.

- Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim19 of Mesora.Org [orthodox] teaches that:

The Torah teaches that Hashem punishes the wicked, and rewards the righteous. It does not say that challah baking or any other activity will help address our needs…When the matriarchs were barren, they did not resort to segulas, but introspected and prayed…Nothing in Torah supports this concept of segula; Torah sources reject the idea of a segula…baking challas with brachos cannot help…segulas are useless, and violate the Torah prohibition of Nichush [good luck charms]. It does not matter if the charm is a rabbit‘s foot, a horseshoe, a challah, key or a red bendel. The practice assumes that forces exist, which do not, and it is idolatrous.
- On the far end of the scale, it can be said that shlissel challah observance is a nothing less than "the way of the Amorites." It is precisely this type of behavior and observance which Jews are supposed to separate themselves from, so it doesn't go on to influence our thoughts and deeds. Am Yisrael was not created to lose itself in such folklore, and Judaism without disciplined study is nothing but folklore. Judaism allows and encourages the use of our minds. It‘s never too late to realign our path with Torah sources, not blind faith practices which are trendy, in, or cool.

- Educated Jews should help to promote Torah sources to our friends and neighbors, not false practices which are of non-Jewish origin and have nothing to do with Judaism.

100 Amens to that!

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11 comments:

Anonymous said...

We all know that minhag yisrael torah. A minhag that our great sages have done has a reason and is holy. Can you really think that the holy Rabbanim and Rebbes with ruach hakodesh would have made such a mistake?

ProfK said...

Article is wrong in stating that this is an "Askenazi minhag." To be accurate, it is a minhag held by some ashkenazim. Neither my mom nor my dad's family up and down the family tree have this minhag and neither do the families of my in laws. I first heard of this minhag when I moved to NY, where some people I know observe it and some do not. I'm thinking it would depend on where your family originally came from.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering if "Nothing in Torah supports this concept of segula; Torah sources reject the idea of a segula"
What are the "semanim" on Rosh Hashana? Do they not kind of fit into the "segula" category ? I may be really ignorant and off base but just wondering if/how they are different?
Lea

Shlomo said...

Lea - we say "May it be God's will that ____" when eating the simanim, because it depends on God's will, not on what we eat.

Gee a Moron said...

Jameel -

Why the timing of presenting this article at Chanukah time rather than right after Pesach? Are sufganiyot a segula (for anything other than obesity)?

Anonymous said...

"What are the "semanim" on Rosh Hashana? Do they not kind of fit into the "segula" category ? I may be really ignorant and off base but just wondering if/how they are different?"

Three difference between a semanim and a segula.

1. Semanim are a pun. The pun is a hint. Segulas are not puns, but are believed to be a cause/effect relationship.

2. Semanim are just a reason to say a bracha, the bracha being the key point. Segulas do not lead to anything other than other segulas.

3. Semanim can be done with replacements, because they are meaningless, and only the bracha is important. Segulot are a type of witchcraft.

josh said...

There is always those who will be Chassidim and Misnagdim. I'm waiting for the post about how dressing in black and white was taken from the Catholic priests.

I'm not discounting this story, but would like to get more current and varied rabbinical sources, including mekubalim. Can anyone send a shut to Rav Shmuel Eliyahu? His father was much against anything to do with crosses and avodah zarah and perhaps we could get his take on this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all the answers to my question regarding the segula vs semanim. They were all very helpful and appreciated:)
Lea

Esser Agaroth said...

Although I am no fan of nonsense, and particularly Ashkenazi nonsense, I must say that the story I was always told was quite anti-Christian:

Erev Pesah, Christians planted evidence in the cellar of a Jewish community facility for making matzah. There were to come and prove that Christian blood was used in the matzah.

The key to the cellar kept falling off of its hook. Finally, someone opened the cellar, and foudn the evidence. They were able to clear out the "blood" from the cellar.

The Shabbath after Pesah, it became a tradition to bake a key in the challah, or the challah in the shape of a key to commemorate the miracle.

Shira Salamone said...

Josh said, "I'm waiting for the post about how dressing in black and white was taken from the Catholic priests."

I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. It goes along with the "Burka Ladies" borrowing their garb from Muslim women. In my opinion, the clothing we wear has always been influenced by the people among whom we live--for better and for worse.

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