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Challah Covers

A challah cover as a gift

Gifts are silence breakers, smile enhancers and mood lighteners that can diffuse a tense moment into an instant of joy and elation. The perfect weapon to break the ice or the most memorable way of celebrating homecoming of children, a gift always makes itself just-the-right-thing for all occasions. From weddings to funerals, from graduation parties to farewells, a souvenir is the best way to show appreciation, pay tribute, express gratitude, congratulate, trigger remembrance or simply make someone feel loved. One of the most popular gifts for milestones that is an essential for the Jewish home is the Challah Cover.

Challah covers are an ancient tradition both in Judaism and Judaica art. Originating from religious tradition in Talmudic times, challah covers serve two purposes. One is the obvious role of covering the challah on your Shabbat dinner table. As a piece of Judaica art, its second job is to decorate your dinner table adding a greater meaning and aesthetic pleasure to your weekend. Another reason for the covering of challah is the other Jewish tradition of Kiddush. According to the religious practices of the sages, the meal’s bread needs to be blessed before everything else.

However, Kiddush, or the blessing of the wine, must be performed to sanctify Shabbat making this of high priority. The solution has been to cover the challah and perform Kiddush while the challah remains out of sight. Only after the Kiddush is the challah uncovered and blessed.

A challah cover is used in traditional Jewish homes every Friday as part of the family ritual of welcoming Shabbat (the Sabbath). The Shabbat table is generally covered with a white tablecloth, and the three Shabbat symbols are placed on it: candles, wine glass, and challah.

The candles

are two long white tapers usually set in silver candlesticks. The wine glass is usually silver and is called the Kiddish cup. The challah is an unsliced loaf of egg bread, always braided. In the most tradition-bound families, the challot (plural) are used. This symbolizes the double portion of manna that God gave the Israelites on the sixth day, which was to last them through the Sabbath, when no work could be done. Though the use of two challot is ‘correct,’ it is very common for only one challah to be used.

The kiddush ceremony

Until sundown, when Shabbat begins, the challah remains covered, either by a napkin or by a special challah cover. In the home, Shabbat is ushered in by the mother as she chants the blessing over the candles, her head covered with a piece of lace. Next, the father (whose head is covered with a skullcap, or yarmulke) says the blessing over the wine, drinks from the Kiddish cup, and everyone has some wine (or grape juice). He may say some other prayers at this point. Then the challah is uncovered and the blessing over it is said by the father, or, commonly, by the whole family. Actually, there are delightful melodies for all of the Shabbat blessings and they are more likely to be sung than simply recited. After the ‘Ha Motzi’ (the challah blessing) is sung, the challah is passed around and each person tears a small piece off and eats it. “All of the challah covers I have seen— whether in books or in synagogue gift shops—have been embroidered cloth. Some are very beautiful, and the embroidery usually includes some Hebrew lettering, spelling out the word Shabbat or a prayer associated with it.