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Challah Covers

A Challah cover is a special fabric used in covering two unsliced braided loaves of bread (Challah) placed on the table at the start of a Shabbat or Yom Kippur meal. As its appearance imparts a ceremonial and decorative aspect to the set table, its presence process both symbolic and halakhic use.

A Challah cover is in use in traditional Jewish households every Friday as part of a welcoming ritual during the Shabbat. Besides the Challah and the Challah cover, the Shabbat table is typically covered with a white table cloth, with wine glasses and candles.

The Challah is kept covered until sundown before Shabbat, either by a special Challah cover or by a napkin. At the start of the Kiddush, the father of the family says the benediction over the wine, and everybody drinks from the Kiddush cup. Afterwards, the father consecrates over the Challah, and removes the Challah cover. At the end, the Challah is circulated to the table and each person takes a small bit off and eats it.

There are various reasons why a Challah cover is used by the Jewish people. The first is since bread is the main ingredient of almost every meal, and Shabbat is considered a special meal. For that, some people keep the Challah concealed to highlight the Friday evening observances of lighting the candles and Kiddush. Another reason is affiliated with the story of manna.

When the Jews traveled in the desert for forty years their only nourishment was the manna (“bread from heaven”) brought down by God, which fell upon them every day.

On Shabbat, however, the manna did not fall.  Rather, a double portion was given on Friday, one portion for that day and another for the rest day.  So, this is why we put two Challahs on the Shabbat table, to honor this double portion, the Challahs symbolically representing the manna fed to our ancestors in the desert.

The manna from heaven, which was small pellets of full sustenance, would fall down from the heaven early in the morning and it is protected by layers of dew.  Therefore, by means of placing the Challahs in the middle of the protective layers of the tablecloth or Challah cutting board from underneath and the Challah cover on top, we produce a model of the manna miracle during our Shabbat meal.

The Challah cover and the Challah board beneath it symbolize the two layers of dew that covered the manna, which protected it from the sand below and the sun above. The dew was a kind of a preservative to ensure that the taste of the manna stays fresh and energizing.

Another reason is that the bread is always the highest and most significant of our benedictions during a meal. It stands as our primary staples and sustenance.  So as not to "dishonor" the significance of basic and simple breads, we lay a Challah cover while the Kiddush is being held.  A lot of the Challah covers are decorated, and some include some Hebrew inscription, writing out the word Shabbat or a prayer connected with it.