The mitzvah of separating challah (or ראשית עריסותיכם, the “first of your dough”) was first commanded to the children of Israel when they where camped in the desert before entering the land of Israel — the actual initiation of this mitzvah began upon entering the land;
בְּבאֲכֶם אֶל הָאָרֶץ..וְהָיָה בַּאֲכָלְכֶם מִלֶּחֶם הָאָרֶץ תָּרִימוּ תְרוּמָה לַה’ רֵאשִׁית עֲרִסתֵכֶם חַלָּה..תִּתְּנוּ לַה’ תְּרוּמָה לְדרתֵיכֶם
When you come to the land..and when you eat from the bread of the land you should raise trumah to hashem. The first of your dough –challah– you should give to hashem –for your generations.
במדבר פרק טו -
Note how the verse doesn’t say here “give it to the kohen” it actually reads “give it to hashem”. It is only four chapters later where the Torah explains that it is the kohen, his sons and daughters (the bat-kohen) whom are the designated persons to consume this holy bread;
וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל אַהֲרן וַאֲנִי הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי לְךָ אֶת מִשְׁמֶרֶת תְּרוּמתָי לְכָל קָדְשֵׁי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְךָ נְתַתִּים לְמָשְׁחָה וּלְבָנֶיךָ לְחָק עוֹלָם..וְזֶה לְּךָ תְּרוּמַת מַתָּנָם לְכָל תְּנוּפת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְךָ נְתַתִּים וּלְבָנֶיךָ וְלִבְנתֶיךָ אִתְּךָ לְחָק עוֹלָם כָּל טָהוֹר בְּבֵיתְךָ יאכַל אתוֹ. כל חֵלֶב יִצְהָר וְכָל חֵלֶב תִּירוֹשׁ וְדָגָן רֵאשִׁיתָם אֲשֶׁר יִתְּנוּ לַה’ לְךָ נְתַתִּים
And hashem spoke to Ahron; And I, hereby, give you ..all the best of the vineyard and grain their firsts that they give to hashem –to you I give.
The Sifri explains that the words “(their firsts that they give) to hashem (-to you I give)” refer to the challah separated from the dough be given to the kohen. (Sifri to פרשת קרח)
What is done
Today’s challah procedure in the land of Israel is simple but a bit less exciting; a portion of dough is separated, a blessing is made, it is then burnt.
But what then happend to Gods commandment of “ראשית עריסותיכם תתנו” -“the first of your dough the yisroel should give to hashem”? if so, why is it burnt and not given? The commonly cited reason is that challah is given by the torah the title of “Trumah”. Trumah carries the requirement that it be טהור –pure– and be given to the טהור kohen. Whereas in the land of Israel , due to “impurity to the dead”, both the challah that was touched by it’s kneader (or machinery) and the kohen are in an tamei (impure) state.
The kohen is forbidden from consuming trumah when in a tamei state as the posuk says וינזרו מקדשי בני ישראל (vayikra 22) “and they –the sons of Ahron– should abstain from the holy trumah of the sons of Israel” while in a state of tumah (impurity).
However, not all opinions agree that the challah be burnt in the land of Israel. The Rambam writes that the mitzvah nowadays is merely midirabbanan (of rabbinic decree) and thus the challah is permitted to be eaten in the land of Israel (Rambam הלכות איסורי ביאה פרק כ). Too, the Shalah, in context of his discussion of the laws of trumah in the land of Israel, may have been the first to say that nowadays, in the state of impurity, it may be wiser to give the trumah (challah) portion to the kohen rather than burn it, as even in modern times he can derive benefit from it other than actually eating it (Shelah, שער האותיות,קדושת האכילה).
Outside of Israel
But what about Chutz L’Aretz? well, for the first thing some rishonim explain that challah is not required מן התורה to be given to the kohen outside the land of Israel, as the posuk sais בְּבֹאֲכֶם אֶל הָאָרֶץ “when you come to the land” meaning the mitzvah of challah applies when בני ישראל are in the land of Israel and not outside of it. But, as Rabbi Elazar of Worms explained (based on Sifri Zutta), since the posuk also uses the term לדורותיכם “for you generations” which has an eternal implication –regardless of where בני ישראל are, חז“ל decreed that challah be separated outside the land of Israel –and this requirement was enacted כעין מדאורייתא “similar to a torah mitzvah”.
Another angle showing that the mitzvah of challah is applicable outside the land of Israel is the Medrash HaGadol (דברים 26:1) explaining that the expression “when you come to the land” (בבאכם אל הארץ) is used by the torah by both the mitzvah of tfillin and petter chamor. Whereas they are both required outside the land of Israel. Thus showing that the determining factor that makes a mitzvah applicable outside the land of Israel is not necessarily whether it is limited by the words בבאכם אל הארץ, but by it being a mitzvah of “Chovat HaGuf” –an obligation of the ישראל person (as opposed to “Chovat karka” –an obligation of the land/earth).
The Mishna, Gmara and Rishonim
Rabban Gamliel is quoted in the mishna as listing three stages of challah giving (mishna challah 4:7(8)), for the purpose of this article, the most relevant being what is to be done outside the land of Israel.
with most mishna commentators defining the third stage as being final and referring to everywhere outside the land of Israel. In fact, in this third stage two challa’s are separated; the first is burnt while the second is given to the kohen for consumption, the first has no minimal requirement (and thus is quite small) while the second has a minimal requirement. The logic here being that since both challah’s are midirabbanan (required by chazal), it is better to increase the quantity of the one eaten over that of the one burnt.
As a fringe opinion but nonetheless an amazing display of leniency is the mishna comentary of Rabbi Shlomo Sirillo. Rabbi Shlomo introduces a “fourth stage” that essentially means all of chutz l’aretz. It is in this fourth stage where the first challah isn’t to be burnt but given to a kohen minor (or an adult kohen who has immersed in the mikvah even if he is a tvul yom) whereas if a kohen minor isn’t available the first challah is burnt and a second challah is taken and given to an adult kohen to eat even if the kohen is tammei (Pirush מלאכת שלמה to mishna challah 8:4).
A noteworthy reason why one challah is to be consumed by the kohen is that eyewitnesses shouldn’t exclaim “we’ve seen טרומה טהורה –pure trumah– being burnt” as would be the case if we’d have the challah burnt without one being consumed by the kohen (pirush hamishna of rambam, Rabbi Yitzchok ben Malki-Tzedek).
What is wrong with burning pure trumah anyway?
Another concern known and noted by the talmud is דלא תשתכח תורת חלה that “the concept/“torah” of challah not be forgotten” by בני ישראל outside the land of Israel. Now, based on what the primary focus of challah is (i.e. the “separating” or the “giving”) it can be inferred just what the concern was; essentially, what was chazal concerned with that may be forgotten? was it the the separating or the giving/eating to/by the kohen?
In talmudic literature, it seems that the actual consumption of the challah bread by a kohen was important as seen from the requirement of separating a “second challah” for actual consumption by the kohen;
אמר רבינא הילכך נדה קוצה חלה ואוכל לה כהן קטן ואי ליכא כהן קטן..שדיא בתנורא והדר מפרשא חלה אחריתי כי היכי דלא תשתכח תורת חלה ואוכל לה כהן (ואפילו) גדול -בכורות דף כז
It is here where the concern is spelled out in terms of the kohen eating the challah; with the phrase “in order that תורת חלה not be forgotten” brought by the gmara in context with the eating of the challah (and not its separating) –thus the requirement of a “second challah” to be separated and given to the kohen for consumption whereas if the kohen will not eat the challah outside of Israel the “torah of challah” may be forgotten1) 2 .
Another important theme of giving challah to the kohen for consumption is that the kohen should be given the opportunity and means to engage in torah study and instruction. This theme is cited by the rishonim (to chumash) as the general reason for all מתנות כהונה, and challah is to be given preferably to the kohen who engages in תורת השם as opposed to the kohen who does not (Tosfoth to Bchoroth 27b ד“ה וכי הזאה. Tosfoth to chullin 104b ד“ה וניתנת). Here, with the kohen being given the challah and his requirement to make a blessing אשר קדשנו בקדושתו של אהרן וציוונו על אכילת תרומה is a gently reminder of the sanctity of his bread and his designation as an איש קדוש among the holy nation of Israel.
To summarize the reasons why challah should be eaten by the kohen outside the land of Israel;
- The “torah” of challah not be forgotten
- Eyewitnesses shouldn’t err by saying “pure trumah is actually burnt” (according to the Rambam, this reason applies to second stage challah)
- The kohen should have an incentive to actively engage in torah study and instruction
As understood by the Rambam’s witness to challah being eaten by kohanim outside the land of Israel complete with saying the blessing על אכילת תרומה, kohanim would eat the challah in his era (see Rambam 6;2 of הלכות תרומות and end of Ch. 6). In fact the Rambam explains that the challah –even in the land of Israel– is required only midirabbanan and thus consumed by the kohen muchzak nowadays (Rambam הלכות איסורי ביאה פרק כ) .
Many Rishonim go on to say that outside the land of Israel –in “far away” places (also known as “third stage challah”)- no challah is burnt, but the “first challah” is given to the kohen for consumption; below is a listing of their respective places;
- Tosfoth Bchoroth 27a ד“ה פסק
- Tosfoth Chullin 104a ד“ה חלת
- Sefer HaTrumah, Hilchot Challah par. 80 (if one desires he may give the first challah to the kohen for consumption)
- הרמבן הל’ בכורות פ“ד,וכן הסכים תשב“ץ פסקי חלה פ“א –ובתשובותיו ח“ב סי” רצא
- ואפשר ג“כ האור זרוע ח“א סי’ רנא ורא“ש הל’ חלה סי’ יד לחולין פ“ח סי’ ד וסמ“ג עשין קמא ופרישה שם בשם רש“ל שכן דעת הטור: יוצא מדבריהם דבחלת מקומות הרחוקים מא“י מפרישים רק א’ ונאכלת לכהן טהור),וכשהכהן טמא שורף הראשון ומאכילו חלה שניה.-ראב“ן סי’ נד דצוטט בראבי“ה ח“א סי’ קסז
Rabbein Asher favors the minhag to burn the first challah in “third stage” areas but to give the second challah to the kohen for consumption (kitur piskei ha’rosh to chullin ch. 8, par. 4)
In stark difference, Rabbi Shimshon of Sens (to mishna, challah 4–7(8)) validates the custom of France and Ashkenaz to not give challah for consumption to the kohen. indicating that since challah isn’t eaten in the land of Israel but burnt as per הלכות גדולות. Rabbi Shimshon reasons that this is due to טומאת מת –impurity of the dead– thus, the kohen outside the land of Israel is not given challah to eat. Tosfoth, likewise quoting the same הלכות גדולות, differs by saying that in the land of Israel the first challah is burnt due to טומאת המת but a second challah should be given the kohen for consumption so the torah of challah won’t be forgotten. As mentioned above, the Rambam’s take (cited in הלכות איסורי ביאה פרק כ) is likewise that challah is indeed eaten by the kohen in the land of Israel.
More articles about the mitzvah of challah:
[]התורה והמצוה ch. 122[]