of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel


Bet Midrash Virtuali



One should slice the loaf where it is well-baked (and our loaves should be sliced from the top side and the bottom side) and cut the slice. One should make a little cut [in such a manner] that if one holds up the slice the rest of the loaf will rise with it, because otherwise the loaf will be considered already sliced. One should leave it attached to the loaf and start to recite the benediction. upon concluding the benediction [the slice] may be separated. [This is] so that as the benediction is concluded the loaf is still whole. The slice should not be too small so that he not seem to be miserly, but nor should it be larger than an egg's-bulk because that would seem gluttonous. Note: On Shabbat one should not cut the loaf [at all] until after the benediction so that the loaves will be whole [during the benediction]. However, if one forgot and sliced [the loaf] as on a weekday it makes no difference. It also seems [to me] that the requirement not to make the slice larger than an egg's-bulk applies only to weekdays and [only] when one is eating alone; but on Shabbat or when there are many people [dining] and an olive's-bulk must be given to each person it is permitted to slice as much as is needed.


After Kiddush and Neetilat yadayyim comes ha-Motzi, the benediction over bread before the Sabbath repast. Section 167 is long, with many paragraphs. Not all of them are relevant to our topic, but most of them are. However, we must bear in mind that Section 167 does not come among the rules and regulations concerning Shabbat; it is part of the section in Shulĥan Arukh Oraĥ Ĥayyim that deals with daily routine. This is immediately evident in paragraph 1 of section 167, which is the subject of our present shiur.

The first part of paragraph 1 of Section 167 deals with the way in which we are to handle the bread over which we recite the benediction ha-Motzi; but it is concerned with the way that this is done on weekdays. In a note which comes towards the middle of the paragraph Rabbi Moshe Isserles teaches that the handling of the bread on Shabbat is different. But we can only understand his comment and its reasoning if we first take a look at what Rabbi Karo has said in the first part of the paragraph.

It seems that what Rabbi Karo is saying is that the bread should be sliced from the best part of the crust. (In earlier times the heat of an oven was not uniform, so it could well be that some parts of the loaf were 'underdone' and other parts 'overdone': the person about to recite the benediction should examine the loaf so that he or she will make their incision at the part of the loaf which seems best cooked. In modern times this is almost invariably irrelevant.) He now goes on to describe a manner of preparing the loaf for the benediction which, apparently, is no longer in vogue. He says that an incision should be made into the loaf that penetrates a good way down, but not far enough to slice the loaf in two: the incision should be such that if one lifts the loaf both halves will still be securely joined. The benediction may now be recited. (We shall examine the text of the benediction much later in Section 167.) Once the benediction has been recited the slicing of the loaf can be completed. It seems that this manner of cutting the loaf has gone out of fashion, though many people do make a slight token incision in the loaf before they recite the blessing; however, this is a far cry from what Rabbi Karo describes.

Rabbi Karo next describes the size of the slice that should be removed from the loaf. He says that it should not be too big, lest the celebrant appear to be greedy and voracious; but on the other hand it should not be too small, lest the celebrant appear to be miserly. Apparently, as in the case of Goldilocks, it should be 'just right'.

In the note which we mentioned above Rabbi Isserles points out that none of this applies on Shabbat! Firstly, no incision at all should be made in the loaf. This is because each of the Ĥallot must be whole loaves while the benediction is recited. (It would therefore seem right that those who make a token incision into the loaf before the benediction should do so only on weekdays and forego the act on Shabbat.) He also says that on Shabbat we should ignore the injunction against cutting off too large a slice: on Shabbat we do not skimp. (He adds that this should be the case on weekdays too if a lot of people are sharing the same loaf.)

On weekdays one loaf will suffice for the benediction ha-Motzi; however, at each repast on Shabbat we require two loaves, called Ĥallot. These two loaves are called in Hebrew leĥem mishneh, which may perhaps be rendered into English as 'double rations'. This is based on what the Torah tells us about the way in which the manna was collected during the desert wanderings of our ancestors. You will recall that this wondrous substance was found daily on the ground after the morning dew had risen. The Israelites were to collect just enough manna to serve the needs of each household for one day. If people tried to hoard it it became mouldy, full of worms and uneatable.

However, on Fridays the people had to collect manna to last for two days, because on Shabbat (which is God's Sabbath!) He would not provide the miraculous manna. Here is how the Torah [Exodus 16:21-30] describes it:

So they gathered it every morning, each as much as he needed to eat; for when the sun grew hot, it would melt. On the sixth day they gathered double the amount of food ... and when all the chieftains of the community came and told Moses, he said to them, "This is what God meant: Tomorrow is a day of rest, God's holy sabbath. Bake what you would bake and boil what you would boil; and all that is left put aside to be kept until morning." So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered; and it did not turn foul, and there were no maggots in it. Then Moses said, "Eat it today, for today is God's sabbath; you will not find it today on the plain. Six days you shall gather it; on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none." Yet some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found nothing. And God said to Moses, "How long will you men refuse to obey My commandments and My teachings? Mark that God has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you two days' food on the sixth day. Let everyone remain where he is: let no one leave his place on the seventh day." So the people remained inactive on the seventh day.

We have already covered this material in Shabbat 028, where, in #5 we also described the origin of the cloth with which the two Ĥallot are covered until they are needed.


Derek Fields writes:

Regarding the issue of a pause between al netilat yedayim and ha-motzi, I had learned that while speaking is to be avoided, that one can engage in an activity such as a niggun while waiting for the rest of the dinner party to conclude the washing so that all may say ha-motzi as together (or be yotzei on the ha-motzi). Does it constitute an inappropriate pause to wait for the entire group to conclude washing or to engage in a niggun while waiting?

I respond:

It all depends on what you mean by "inappropriate". According to the strict letter of the law, as we have seen, one should not have a pause between washing the hands and making the benediction over bread that is caused either by a long time-lapse or by speaking or by doing something that is not connected with the start of the meal. I would say that singing a song, whether it is wordless or not, is not directly connected with the start of the meal; I would imagine that others would see no harm in it. Section 167, which we started learning above, is a very long section with many paragraphs. Eventually, we shall see that where there are many people dining together it is preferable (but not essential) that each one should have his or her own bread for ha-motzi. If you already have a custom to sing a niggun while waiting I see no need to change the custom; if you have never done such a thing before - don't start now!

Previously, at the request of Yehuda Wiesen, I gave a brief outline of some of the occasions when we wash our hands which are not connected with eating bread. Now Yehuda Wiesen writes again:

Thank you very much for your reply concerning hand washing. You mention a difference between the rituals for washing hands on arising and before eating bread. What are the differences in the ritual details of hand washing for the other events you list (evacuating the bowels or bladder; before prayer; etc.) Is there a system for understanding these differences in hand washing ritual. For example, are there categories of types of hand washing that are all ritually the same?

I respond:

With the best will in the world I cannot answer Yehuda's request in the brief space one can devote to an item under discussion. A full and appropriate response to his request would involve several complete shiurim. Since such an excursus would have nothing to do with "Shabbat Eve in the Home" I would run the risk of rousing the ire of many participants. In such a situation I would suggest two possibilities. Speak to the rabbi of your local congregation: I am sure that he or she would be delighted to teach you these details. Alternatively, perhaps you could suggest that this be a topic to be covered when we have finished "Shabbat Eve in the Home" - though I cannot guarantee, of course, that the majority would vote for it. I am truly sorry to have to disappoint you.