- Rabbi Aryeh Finkel
Buttering up the Challah
As cookbooks proliferate, the options for Shavuos dairy recipes grow. Many are eager to fulfill the age-old minhag with much creativity and ingenuity — beyond the traditional cheesecake and blintzes. Pastry purses, cheese bourekas, cheddar-stuffed challah, mozzarella onion buns, among many other dairy delicacies, enhance the Shavuos menu. How does kashrus tie into these kosher cuisines?
Kashrus is not only about kosher ingredients but also about how these ingredients are prepared.
We’re all familiar with the prohibition of eating basar b’chalav, a mixture of meat and milk, but the degree of caution that the sages demand is not as familiar to many. To avoid troubling results, the chachamim forbade the preparation of breads that are un-noticeably milchig or fleishig. This enactment safeguards people from mistakenly eating dairy products with meat, or the opposite. This is a prime example of where chazal implemented asu syag l’Torah.
It is not only the preparation that is forbidden, but the food itself becomes forbidden to eat (even with pareve). The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 97:1) writes, “It is forbidden to knead dough with milk lest one mistakenly eat it with meat. If it was kneaded, the bread is forbidden to be eaten, even alone.” The Aruch Hashulchan (ibid. 8) adds, “Even if the milk was inadvertently mixed-in, the bread is forbidden.”
This can be a good riddle to ask your children at the yom tov seuda. How can I have a few kosher ingredients that are all allowed to be eaten together, yet if I bake it together it becomes not kosher? The answer is dairy bread, and this is how kashrus ties into many dairy pastries as well.
This rule has exceptions, and we’ll elaborate on some of them. The Rema (Y.D. ibid) mentions a centuries-old minhag of baking dairy Challah for Shavuos, which seems to conflict with halacha, but he endorses the custom.
The rationale is twofold: Firstly, only a small amount of bread was baked. Secondly, the bread was formed with an unusual shape.
By implementing either one of these two solutions, the Shulchan Aruch and Rema (ibid.) permit baking such bread, because the chance of mistakes are slim. The small quantity ensures that no leftovers remain after the meal; and the unusual shape serves as a reminder.
In fact, in ancient times Jews used to shape their dairy bread resembling a bull’s eye, as reported in the gemara (Pesachim 36a; following the Rambam’s rendering). Why this particular shape was chosen is unclear, but the reason for the shape was to serve as a warning for uninformed diners.
For this reason, many poskim write that a strange shape is only sufficient if it indicates dairy. For example, a dairy bun should be shaped like a typical dairy croissant which signifies its dairy status. (The bull’s eye shape was apparently a known dairy shape.)
Another method implemented by the Jews of old was to sprinkle a bit of cheese on the top of the roll (Shaarei Dura Ch. 35). This made its dairy status visible and eliminated the risks of mistakes.
For this reason, cheesecakes, and other such pies, whose cheese ingredients are visible, are permitted. Cheese danishes and muffins, as well, pose no issue because the cheese is seen.
These sweet pastries, though, have another leniency. According to some poskim (Maharit vol. 2 Ch. 18) chazal only prohibited mixing dairy with foods that are normally eaten with meat, such as bread and other such staples. Sweet pastries are usually not served with meat and are therefore not subject to this prohibition. Other poskim, however, don’t differentiate (see Yad Yehuda 97:6).
Another point debated by the poskim is in regard to the solution of small-quantity baking. According to the Rema, a quantity that will be consumed by the family over the course of one day is permitted to bake. We assume that mistakes will not occur on the day it was baked. Others with a more stringent approach require a much smaller quantity. The idea is that there should be no leftover dairy bits of bread from the meal (Pri Megadim Y.D. ibid). According to this view, only small rolls work for this solution, as normal sized loaves leave leftover pieces.
This discussion demonstrates the necessary awareness needed when preparing dairy breads and pastries. When baking challah, rolls, breadsticks, and other such items, unless either it has a distinctive siman or it was baked in a small quantity, adding butter or milk to the recipe actually renders the item non-kosher! You would not be able to “save” this dairy bread by inviting your friends to quickly eat it with you in one sitting. Once it is deemed not-kosher it cannot be used.
The solutions mentioned here should obviously not serve as final psak, as their purpose is to present a simplified overview on the issue. A rav should be asked regarding one’s particular case.
Minhagei Yisroel, besides for enriching our mitzvos with spirit and life, give us the opportunity to expand our halachic knowledge and consciousness.