Tuesday, July 14, 2020 -
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Forty women baking challah

FOR the fifth time in two weeks I just got asked about the “segulah” of 40 women baking challah.

The word segulah is usually used in conjunction with the Jewish nation as in “am segulah” (treasured possession). In the writings of Rav Abraham Isaac Kuk, the term usually means a divine inner attachment to G-d that is unique to the Jewish people. But today, in modern new agey parlance, a segulah has come to mean something of a good omen. Something like doing a specific act of prayer or a mitzvah that will mystifyingly serve as the trigger to become the changing chip in a challenging situation to bring about a desired outcome, which, for whatever divine reason, has been sealed up to this point.

So, if someone is, G-d forbid, ill, if a couple is unsuccessfully trying to conceive, if someone is lacking the luck or blessing of finding a marriage partner… all these are painful situations that often turn the sufferers to trying a segulah.

There are different schools of thought on segulahs. There are the true believers. There are those who are against them, seeing them as phony religious quick-fix shticks, as opposed to meaningful and real change, or religious service, which takes a lifetime of work. There are those who are really against segulahs, claiming they prey on the vulnerability and desperation of the unfortunate (there are many financial segulahs out there).

Then there are those who are neutral about segulahs — indifferently feeling like, well, they can’t hurt.

A common segulah that has gotten very popular in the last 15 or 20 years or so is that of 40 women baking challah for a specific person in need.

This is a segulah I partake in. It speaks to me. I can’t tell you what the source for this segulah is. But  I want to share with you why I partake in it.

FIRST of all, hafrashat challah, separating challah from a batch of yeast dough is, in fact, a mitzvah. So it’s not like this challah baking is some kind of hoodoovoodoo thing. It’s grounded in the Torah.

The perception of 40 women baking challah has become that of a popular panacea for a hardship. For me, however, that is hardly what the experience of baking challah, as part of a community of 40 women, means.

The rest of this article is available in the IJN’s print edition only. Contact Carol to order your copy at (303) 861-2234 or email carol@ijn.com.

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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