to the Editor - A Response to the 5 Town Jewish Times
4 April 2013
Larry Gordon, Editor
5 Towns Jewish Times
Far Rockaway, NY
Response to: 'Schlissel
Challah - An Analysis by Rabbi Yair Hoffman' [against
the article: 'The
Origins of the Non-Jewish Custom Of 'Shlissel Challah'
by Shelomo Alfassa]
gentleman who's opinion differs from mine (as well as
many rabbanim), on the historic development of Shlissel
Challah, is certainly entitled to his opinion; yet,
to call my essay "faulty" is a somewhat feeble
method of trying to advance his statement that Shlissel
Challah was "practiced by the greatest of our Chasidic
brethren." There is no question that it was practiced-that
is not what my paper is about; my paper demonstrates
some of the non-Jewish origins of this custom.
opinions is a foundation of the Jewish educational process;
it is the basis for most of the Gemara-which is filled
with thousands of opinions, some in agreement, and some
in disagreement, on a variety of subjects. The Baalei
Tosafot who later commented on the Gemara, also left
behind copious arguments and disagreements on matters
of the Jewish people, sometimes meticulously (and sometimes
strongly) argued over the smallest everyday matters.
So? how do we know who is correct in an argument, well,
Jewish tradition has a colloquial answer. For thousands
of years the Gaonim have said, "one day, Eliyahu
HaNavi will come and answer these questions and problems!"
until that day, let me clarify, Chassidic Judaism only
started in the 18th century, and the Tanya wasn't
even in distribution across Europe until the mid-19th
century. When Chassidus was created, the Baal Shem Tov
and his followers certainly didn't just instantaneously
devise a new custom for their women to bake keys in
their bread. As I clearly demonstrated, the idea of
the key / loaf baked goods was old, and certainly pre-existing
in Europe. There is historic provenance to demonstrate
this--and as I stated, it has its foundation in non-Jewish
Many Charidim hate or fear non-Jews so much, they don't
even want to admit that Judaism has absorbed non-Jewish
traditions. They spend time and energy to attempt to
"prove" that the ideas just *cannot* be anything
but "true Jewish." Over the centuries, Judaism
has clearly borrowed from non-Jewish people, i.e., the
very black hat they wear on their heads come from a
non-Jewish tradition; having a bride wear all white
at a wedding, walking down an aisle (to the Chuppah),
TO THE EDITOR IN RESPONSE FROM THE PUBLIC
usually enjoy Rabbi Yair Hoffmans lucid and insightful
halakhic expositions in the Five Towns Jewish Times;
which is why I am all the more perplexed that he offered
such a rigorous defense of the strange custom of the
schlissel challah (Unlocking the Custom of Schlissel
Challah). Rabbi Hoffman makes two basic claims
in his article: 1) that schlissel challah does not find
its origins in Christian practice, 2) that it is wrong
to discourage the minhag of schlissel challah.
the first issue - the question of the schlissel challahs
connection to Christianity, I found it odd and out of
place that Rabbi Hoffman went so out of his way as to
pluck Shelomo Alfassas paper out of relative obscurity
and use a general news Jewish weekly as the forum to
offer criticisms that seem more suitable in an academic
publication. Though I cant speak for Mr. Alfassa,
and though it is difficult to provide a full rebuttal
to Rabbi Hoffmans arguments in a letter to the
editor, suffice it to say that the specific sources
in Mr. Alfassas paper that Rabbi Hoffman criticized
were meant to provide a general sense that the superstitious
practice of making markings on bread with various instruments
including keys was one that was found among the Christians.
To me, the very simple and well-documented fact that
for hundreds of years, Northern European Christians
have produced Easter Breads (Osterbrot or Osterkuchen)
and cross-buns specifically during the Passover
season with various markings on their surface is enough
to at least create a suspicion of its possible connection
to schlissel challah. (After all, the first mention
of the minhag, attributed to Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro of
Koretz, was to merely mark the challah with a key [menakvin
bamafteach], not to actually bake it in the bread
or take the form of the bread).
offers no justification other than to quote a few
Chassidishe seforim and say that it is the minhag of
many many Chassidim.'
for the second issue - the propriety of practicing schlissel
challah today, Rabbi Hoffman offers no justification
other than to quote a few Chassidishe seforim and say
that it is the minhag of many many Chassidim. Does Rabbi
Hoffman mean to claim that all the various bizarre segulos
brought down by Chassidishe sources are worthy of the
but one of a myriad examples, in Taamei Haminhagim,
one of the Chassidishe sources quoted by Rabbi Hoffman,
the following segulah is recommended for one who wishes
to reveal the identity of a thief: write the words ofe,
ofe, ofe on a klaf that was designated for a Sefer
Torah or tefillin and then hang it around the neck of
a white rooster, and it will immediately run to the
thief or bite him. Alternatively, write the names of
the suspects on separate pieces of kosher klaf and place
them into a water-filled earthenware vessel. Recite
Tehilim 19 three times and the parchment upon which
the name of the guilty party is written will sink to
the bottom. (p 569).
as far as I can tell, these and other similar abhorrent
rituals have not become widespread among Klal Yisrael,
and I trust and hope that Rabbi Hoffman does not lend
similar support for them. To our great chagrin however,
for some reason schlissel challah has gained more popularity.
It is the responsibility of our great rabbonim to decry
such practices and follow the example set by Rabbi Herschel
Schachter in a public shiur last year, when he said
rebbitzen from the neighborhood called her [my wife]
up on the telephone that she has to bake the challahs
this Shabbos and put in a key schlissel challah.
So I said, Dont you dare put any key in!
Its mamash nichush! What kind of baloney is this?
conclusion, the Torah asserts that the peoples of the
world will look at the practices of Klal Yisrael and
remark that this great nation is nothing but a
wise and understanding people (Devarim 4:6). Unfortunately,
I am fairly certain that they will reach the opposite
conclusion when they observe such an abhorrent custom
practiced among our people; moreover, that esteemed
scholars like Rabbi Hoffman deign to defend it.
West Hempstead, NY
Rambam asserts, Hashm created the animal sacrifices
in order to lead Jews away from the practice of animal
sacrifice to idolatry. The Rambam argues that this is
why we are not allowed to add to or subtract from Torah--because
the requirements in Torah are so precise, and so close
to the practices of many idol worshippers, that to add
to or subtract from Torah may lead us into Avodah Zara
without our knowledge.
humbly suggest that it is better to refrain from the
invention of new customs without evidence of their source,
than it is to follow them--for fear that one may be
partaking in Avodah Zara without intent.
there any who believe that Hashm will
reward them for cooking a key in a bread'
Jewish Tradition, the 18th and 19th century are comparatively
"new." The subscription of good Mazel for
doing so--and the growing idea that it should also help
the sick--leads me to believe it is an even more suspect
there any who believe that Hashm will reward them for
cooking a key in a bread?
there is even one, it seems a dangerous practice. When
Jews are intent upon creating ritual objects not connected
to Torah in order to gain favor with Hashm, especially
directly following Pesach, does it not smack of the
are to protect Torah, not Chassidish Seforim. If those
books become more important than Torah, I shall weep
and rend my clothes at the result.