By Yosef Brecher
Why do we cover the challah during the recitation of kiddush, and for how long should the challah remain covered?
The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 271:9) writes that during kiddush, one should cover the challah that is on the table. There are three basic reasons for this halacha:
(1) The Rashbam and Tosfos (Pesachim 100b) explain that by reciting kiddush before the meal, we are signifying that the meal we are about to eat is not a mundane weekday meal, but rather a Shabbos seuda that is imbued with the holiness of Shabbos. It is for this reason that we cover the challah before kiddush is completed. We wish to delay uncovering the challah, and thus beginning the meal, until after the Shabbos has been sanctified by kiddush. According to this explanation, it would seem appropriate to delay bringing all types of food to the table (e.g., fish) until after kiddush is recited.
(2) Tosfos (ibid) brings another explanation: The Gemara (Shabbos 117b) writes that there is a mitzvah to recite the bracha of ha’motzei on Shabbos using “lechem mishna” i.e. two loaves of bread. The Gemara learns this halacha from the pesukim in the Torah that tell us about the mann that the Jews ate in the desert. Since the source of the mitzvah to eat two loaves of challah is rooted in the mann, the minhag is to prepare the challah on the table in a way that is reminiscent of the mann. Since the mann was covered by a thin layer of dew, we too cover our challah with a thin layer of cloth.
(3) The Tur (O.C. 271) cites another explanation from the Yerushalmi: Normally the halacha is that if someone has bread and wine in front of him, he should, out of respect for the bread, first recite a blessing on the bread and only then on the wine. Before the Shabbos meal, however, we do the opposite; we first make a blessing on the wine of kiddush and only then recite a ha’motzei on the bread. We therefore cover the bread while reciting the bracha on the wine so as to shield it from the disrespect that we are according it.
The Magen Avrohom (O.C. 271 sif katan 20) explains that the length of time that the challah must be covered depends on which of the above explanations is accepted. If the reason for covering the challah is in order to signify that the meal is a Shabbos seuda (reason #1), then one should not uncover the bread until the Shabbos has been sanctified by the complete recitation of kiddush. If, however, the reason for covering the bread is to shield it from the disrespect that we are according it (by reciting a bracha on the wine before the bread, reason #3), then it is only necessary to keep the challah covered until after the bracha of boray pe’ri ha’gefen is recited. Once this bracha has been recited, the challah can be uncovered even before the Kiddush is completed.
If the reason we cover the bread is as a remembrance for the mann that the Jews ate in the desert (reason #2), then there is disagreement as to how long the bread must remain covered. The Pri Magadim (Meshbetzos Zahav 271:12) writes that if the reason for covering is only in remembrance of the mann, then one must only keep the challah covered for a short time; keeping it covered until after the bracha of borei pe’ri ha’gofen is sufficient. The Mishna Berura (O.C. 273:41) however, cites the opinion of the Chai Adam (Shabbos 6:13), who argues and writes that if one is covering the challah in order to remember the mann, then he should keep the bread covered until the actual ha’motzei bracha is recited.
The purpose of this column is not to render halachic decisions, but rather to provide readers with a helpful overview of basic hilchos Shabbos. All specific halachic inquiries should be directed to a local halachic authority. General questions about the content being discussed, however, are welcome and can be sent to: email@example.com.
©2013 Yosef Brecher