More than being "the staff of life," bread also plays an important role in Jewish cuisine for religious reasons, dating back to the days of the Temple, when it served as part of the sacrificial offerings. Without possibly even realizing it, part of our modern practice stems from this. When we place two loaves of challah and a dish of salt on the Shabbat or holiday table, we are recalling the shewbread and salt placed on the Temple altar. Even the name of the bread itself, challah, is taken from the ritual of contributing portions of bread for the Temple offering.
In fact, biblical Hebrew contains 12 names for different types of bread; most of them still in use in the modern spoken language. In addition to challah, other words still in use include, for example, kikar , which refers to a loaf of bread, and oogah, a cake of bread, which now is used to mean cake. Rakik retains the same meaning (a thin cracker), and levivah, a pancake bread, now means pancake. Paht is used to mean a slice or piece of bread, and the same word root can be seen in pita.
Each Jewish ethnic community has made a notable contribution to the types of breads we prepare and enjoy, today. The Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe adopted the styles of their neighbors centuries ago, giving us the braided loaf which we now call challah, along with the coarser breads of the rest of the week, such as rye and pumpernickel, and rolls such as bagels and pletzlach. Sephardic Jews, who often traded in spices, give us wonderful breads scented with these once-exotic ingredients, while Yemenites contribute their unique forms of bread, which are more like pan-fried pastries.
Like bagels, pita has entered the international culinary lexicon and dining experience. This Middle-Eastern flat bread is not exclusive to the region, though, as many primitive peoples -- from the Asian province of Georgia to India, and from Ethiopia to Greece -- have such breads; a function of the types of baking facilities available to them. Watching a Bedouin woman fling a flat round of dough onto a metal plate over a campfire and seeing it bubble up and turn brown, one can suddenly appreciate the experience of the ancient Children of Israel who, in their rush to leave slavery, baked their unleavened dough in haste, resulting in matzah.
What leaps we have made from this experience to sharing challah recipes for Automatic Bread Makers!
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