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Why is Shlissel Challah permissible?

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In ancient times, the Roman pagan holiday of Saturnalia included a practice of baking some type of cake with a fava bean hidden inside, with a prize for whoever got the piece containing the bean. In medieval times, the prize often included being the ruler of the region for the year, hence why this practice is called the “King’s Cake.”

Over time, the custom became distorted by its adoption into Christianity: rather than a winter custom, the practice was near-universally shifted to the spring and practiced during Epiphany (during Mardi Gras), the day believed to be the conception of their Messiah. Further, the specific object which was hidden (called a fève, after the original fava beans used) changed over time and locale, broadening to whatever fruits were in-season (almonds, dried fig pits), candies, figurines, and...keys.

It seems pretty straightforward to suggest that the Jewish custom of shlissel challah, where on the first Sabbath after Passover a key is baked in the challah (or in a more recent take, shaping the challah itself as a key), originated from this practice.

The Torah commands us not to emulate the practices of the idolatrous nations (Leviticus 18:3 et. al.; Rambam, Hil. Avodah Zarah 11:1ff). Why would Shlissel Challah be permissible?

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8 comments

Because it isn't permissible? This seems like a loaded question. I've never actually been served this sort of avoda zara (apparently it's not as widespread as its worshippers like to insinuate) but if I was I'd be sure not to eat it. AA ‭ about 1 month ago

Or...the custom didn't come from that? Harel13‭ about 1 month ago

@Harel13 Even if you're correct, it's not clear to me that a practice which independently evolved, but which bears striking resemblance to an idolatrous practice, is permissible. For example, playing music in shul during davening (let's assume not on Shabbos itself, or else on Shabbos by a non-Jew so as to be a שבות דשבות לצורך ציבור) was still forbidden by orthodox Enlightenment-era Rabbis on the grounds that it was חוקת הגוים. DonielF‭ about 1 month ago

@AA I would be inclined to agree with you. I guess I'm asking, how do those who do practice this service defend the practice? DonielF‭ about 1 month ago

I thought that playing music in Shul was forbidden because that was limited to the Beis Hamikdash, or to the time when there is a Beis Hamikdash - similar to other limitations on music (which vary quite a bit depending on who you ask...) manassehkatz‭ about 1 month ago

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