The Sabbath is the first of the seven major holy days listed in the Torah. Needless to say, a meal is not complete without bread and the blessing recited over it - particularly the family's Sabbath meal, which is more festive and sumptuous than any weekday repast. Pride of place on the Sabbath table is reserved for the Kiddush wine and the two loaves of bread that recall the double portion of manna gathered on Friday by the Israelites.
Before the meal is served, the head of the household recites Kiddush and gives everyone a taste of the wine he has blessed. After washing his hands (a reminiscence of priestly usage in the Temple), he removes the hallah cloth from the bread, recites the benediction over the bread, slices the right-hand loaf, dips the bread in salt, and hands a piece to each member of the family. Although the term hallah, identified today with Sabbath loaves, appears in the Bible in connection with the Temple shewbread, this sheds no light on the hallah's form or nature. Rabbinic sources mention "loaves" or "Sabbath bread," but their identification with what we call hallah is a later development.
The traditional braided hallah, now the Jewish world's most popular type of Sabbath bread, is of Ashkenazi origin. Many communities, however, still maintain their own distinctive traditions regarding the shape, symbolic number, and arrangement of hallot on the Sabbath table. The small selection exhibited here demonstrates the wide range of Sabbath loaves currently produced in Israel.