ḤALLAH (Heb. חַלָּה), a form of bread (ii Sam. 6:19). The term also applies to the portion of dough set aside and given to the priest (Num. 15:19–20). The etymology of the word is traced either to the Hebrew root for "hollow" and "pierce" (Heb. חלל, ḥll), suggesting a perforated and/or rounded loaf, or to the Akkadian ellu ("pure"), referring to the bread's sacral use. Until new evidence allows more precision, however, ḥallah must be rendered "loaf" (parallel to the Hebrew word kikkar, cf. Ex. 29:23; Lev. 8:26). In the Bible, ḥallah is a bread offering subsumed under minḥah, the grain sacrifice. Commonly used in an unleavened form, and only rarely in a leavened form (Lev. 7:13; probably Num. 15:20), the bread is made with or without oil (Ex. 29:2, 23; Lev. 2:4; 7:12; 8:26; 24:5; Num. 6:15, 19).
According to the rabbis, the precept of setting aside ḥallah applies to dough kneaded from one of the *five species of grain (Hal. 1:1), since only from them can the bread (referred to in Num. 15:19: "when you eat of the bread of the land" etc.) be made, although Philo (Spec. 132) limits it to wheat and barley alone. The time of setting aside the ḥallah was derived by the sages from the words, "Of the first of your dough" – which they interpreted as meaning "as soon as it becomes dough" – hence one may eat casually of dough before it forms a ball in the case of wheat, and a lump in the case of barley (Sif. Num. 110), i.e., when the kneading is finished. If, however, it had not been set aside from the dough it must be set aside from the baked bread (ibid.). The Septuagint translates the word ḥallah as baked bread, and both Philo and Josephus (Ant. 4:71) also imply that the precept of setting aside the ḥallah applies to baked bread. The quantity of dough from which ḥallah must be taken is not explicitly stated in the Bible, and Shammai and Hillel already differed on the quantity (Eduy. 1:2). In later generations, however, the quantity was fixed, based on the words "Of the first of your dough," which was taken to mean "as much as your dough was," viz, "the dough of the wilderness." How much was this? It is written (Ex. 16:36): "Now an omer is the tenth part of an ephah" (Er. 83a–b). It was accordingly laid down that dough is liable for ḥallah if it is kneaded from a bulk of at least 43⅕ medium-size eggs (approximately 1¾ kg.; Maim. Yad, Bikkurim 6:15; Sh. Ar., yd 324:1), and as a mnemonic the sages pointed out that the numerical value of the word ḥallah is 43. Since the Bible does not specify the amount of ḥallah to be given, according to the letter of the law even a single barley corn exempts the whole dough, but the sages fixed a quantity in accordance with the size of the whole dough: "a householder whose dough is usually small sets aside 1/24; a baker sets aside 1/48." According to biblical law the obligation to separate ḥallah applies only to Ereẓ Israel, and "even in Israel there is no Torah obligation except when all Israel [i.e., the majority] are there" (cf. Ket. 25a). So that the obligation of ḥallah should not be forgotten, however, the rabbis made it obligatory to separate it nowadays too, and even outside Ereẓ Israel.
Ḥallah is one of the 24 perquisites of the priest (cf. Ezek. 44:30): "in order that the priests, who are always occupied with Divine service, should live without any exertion" (Sefer ha-Ḥinnukh, no. 385). Ḥallah must be eaten by priests in a state of ritual purity; the commoner who eats it deliberately is liable to the penalty of *karet, and if eaten inadvertently must pay its value plus an added fifth to the priest, in the same way as a commoner who eats *terumah. Nowadays since the obligation to give ḥallah is rabbinic and the priests are unable to eat it because of ritual uncleanness, it is customary to set aside an olive's bulk from any dough liable for ḥallah and to burn it. The precept of hallah is the subject of a special tractate of the Mishnah in the order Zera'im that bears its name and the Jerusalem Talmud also has a Gemara to it. The word ḥallah is popularly employed for the special Sabbath loaves.
Women and Ḥallah
Domestic bread production has always been a largely female task. From the early rabbinic period, "taking ḥallah" was considered one of three mitzvot (commandments), together with hadlakah (kindling Sabbath *candles) and *niddah, which women were obligated to perform. These three commandments are known as the ḤaNaH mitzvot, an acronym of ḥallah, Niddah, and Hadlakat ha-Ner, which, in a play on words also evokes Hannah, the mother of the biblical Samuel, considered a model of female piety. A number of midrashic sources declare that these obligations are female punishments or atonement for the disobedience of the first woman in the Garden of Eden and her responsibility for human mortality (e. g. arn2 9, 42; Gen. R. 17:8; tj, Shab. 2:6, 8b). According to the Mishnah (Shab. 2:6), women who neglect these commandments risk death in childbirth (also arn2 42). Popular vernacular teḥinnot or *tkhines, supplicatory prayers for women from the early modern period, offer positive interpretations of this tradition. Tkhines to be recited while separating ḥallah recalled the ancient bringing of tithes, thus making women participants in ancient Temple worship and invoking the messianic era when the Temple rites would be restored.
[Judith R. Baskin (2nd ed.)]
in the bible: D.Z. Hoffman, Sefer Va-Yikra, 1 (1953), 107; Ben-Yehuda, Millon, 2 (1960), 1559; K. Elliger, Leviticus (Ger., 1966), 46. post-biblical: Mishnah, Hallah; Maim., Yad, Bikkurim, 5–8; Sh. Ar., yd 322–30; Epstein, Tanna'im, 269–75; Ḥ Albeck (ed.), Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, 1 (1958), 271–3. add. bibliography: J.R. Baskin, Midrashic Women (2002), 66–73; C. Meyers, "Having Their Space and Eating There Too: Bread Production and Female Power in Ancient Israelite Households," in: Nashim, 5 (2002), 14–44; C. Weissler, Voices of the Matriarchs (1998), 29–35, 68–75.