It’s a widespread custom to dip challah in salt before eating it. Why? When the Temple was standing in Jerusalem, the Israelites worshipped God by offering sacrifices, which they were commanded to salt. By dipping the challah in salt, our shabbat table becomes like an altar, giving us a chance to recall the sacrifices, which ceased when the Temple was destroyed.
This is not a practice we observe in our home. For one, I have high blood pressure and try to keep the salt off the table. Also, my daughters tend to overindulge in one of their favorite delicacies, freshly ground salt. But more to the point, I don’t really wax nostalgic for the Temple. I may not like shul that much, but it’s a major improvement over participating in animal sacrifice. Similarly, I don’t pay much attention to the many fast days that mourn the destruction of the Temple, most notably, Tisha B’Av (The 9th Day of the Hebrew month of Av), which fell a couple of weeks ago on the calendar. I’m sure there’s a homeshuling-friendly way to frame these days for my kids, and I’d love to hear how other parents honored the day, but for now, it’s comfortably off our radar.
But a week after Tisha B’av comes a glorious and little known holiday, Tu B’Av (The 15th day of the same month.) Falling on the full moon in the heat of August, it was a day when, according to the mishna, “the daughters of Jerusalem went out in white garments … dancing in the vineyards. And what did they say? ‘Young men, look up and see what you will choose for yourself. Look not at beauty but at family….” – a celebration of romance, love and fertility.
Tu B’Av fell on August 5th this year, and while I accidentally ignored it on the actual date, I thought it would be nice to commemorate the holiday on shabbat. It happened to be one of the most gorgeous evenings of this wet, muggy summer – seventy degrees, low humidity, and a cloudless sky. So we decided to take a picnic shabbat dinner over to the park down the street. I ran out to the supermarket, and picked up a pizza and 2 baguettes (sort of like challah) and scanned the aisles looking for something to add an extra touch of love to the meal.
I remembered that in the first year of marriage, many couples dip their challah in honey instead of salt, to celebrate the sweetness of their love. But with Rosh Hashanah approaching, honey didn’t seem quite special enough. Fortunatley, as I turned the corner in the market, I found my answer. This was on sale. And they were giving out samples. And coupons. Who could say no? After all, isn’t chocolate the food of love?
So, we now have a new Tu B’Av tradition – challah dipped in nutella. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that it was a big hit with the whole family, who will likely clamor for nutella every single shabbat, not just the lovey-dovey one. But it occurred that it would have tasted even sweeter (if it’s at all possible to out-sweeten nutella) if we usually dipped our bread in salt. So, I’m going to spend this week looking for other explanations of the salt, ones that don’t channel blood and fat dripping off a stone altar. If I succeed, we’ll give it a try next week. I’ll just take the shaker off the table after motzi, so my kids don’t mistake it for a salt lick.