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B'siyata d'shmaya - With the help of Heaven


Letter to the Editor - A Response to the 5 Town Jewish Times

4 April 2013

Mr. Larry Gordon, Editor
5 Towns Jewish Times
Far Rockaway, NY

Re: 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]

Dear Mr. Gordon:

The 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.

Differentiating 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!"

Yet, 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 tradition.

Most Sincerely,

Shelomo Alfassa
Brooklyn, NY


P.S. 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), etc.





To the Editor:

I usually enjoy Rabbi Yair Hoffman’s 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.

Regarding the first issue - the question of the schlissel challah’s connection to Christianity, I found it odd and out of place that Rabbi Hoffman went so out of his way as to pluck Shelomo Alfassa’s 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 can’t speak for Mr. Alfassa, and though it is difficult to provide a full rebuttal to Rabbi Hoffman’s arguments in a letter to the editor, suffice it to say that the specific sources in Mr. Alfassa’s 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).

'Hoffman offers no justification other than to quote a few
Chassidishe seforim and say that it is the minhag of many many Chassidim.'

As 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 same defense?

As 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).

Fortunately, 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 the following:

The 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, “Don’t you dare put any key in!” It’s mamash nichush! What kind of baloney is this?

In 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.

Rabbi Yossi Azose
West Hempstead, NY

Dear Rabbi Hoffman,

As 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.

I 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.

'Are there any who believe that Hashm will
reward them for cooking a key in a bread'

In 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 practice.

Are there any who believe that Hashm will reward them for cooking a key in a bread?

If 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 Golden Calf?

We 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.




© Shelomo Alfassa