On my Horowitz-Margareten box of Passover matzot, on the bottom on the side, in tiny letters, is written, “Challah is taken.” You have seen the sentence, “Challah is taken,” in another context, and wondered at the meaning of it. The sentence embodies a commandment from God, and the origin is this week’s Torah portion.
In Chapter 15 of B’midbar, verses 17-21, the Torah says,
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to the Israelite people and say to them:
When you enter the land to which I am taking you and you eat of the bread of the land, you shall set some aside as a gift to the Lord: as the first yield of your baking, you shall set aside a loaf as a gift; you shall set aside as a gift like gift from the threshing floor. You shall make a gift to the Lord from the first yield of you baking, throughout the age. [JPS]
Verse 20 in the Hebrew literally says, “The first time you knead dough [the Torah uses the word “challah”] you will donate to the priests a donation.”
Lest you think you are in violation of this commandment, the sages decreed that you are obligated to take challah when you bake bread involving more than ten cups of flour. In ancient time, bakers probably made a gift to the priests of a whole loaf, but in modern times, when we don’t have the priests, if you bake bread involving more than ten cups of flour, you extract from the dough an olive-size piece of dough and burn it or dispose of it respectfully.
If you are using more than 14 cups of flour, you recite a blessing: “Praised are You Adonai our God, who rules the universe, instilling in us the holiness of mitzvot by commanding us setting aside a portion of the dough.” When you bake a bread that involves ten cups or more, after the separation (and after the blessing when you use more than 14 cups of flour), hold the olive-size piece of dough and say, “This is a challah.”
If you bake bread involving more than ten cups of flour, it’s nice to know that you can continue a tradition (more so, an obligation) probably older than 2500 years, and it doesn’t cost you anything.