This week, Jews all over the world attended cooking classes and bake-offs as part of what has become known as the “Great Challah Bake.” Abby Schachter, drawing on her own experience at Great Challah Bakes, comments on these events and their rapid spread over the past few years:
In recent years, communal challah baking has expanded beyond the Orthodox community and Chabad, as Reform synagogues and others have joined the party (or thrown their own). This year, there was even a Great British Baking Show-style competition at a local Reform synagogue, perhaps sparked by an episode [of the television series] where challah was curiously called “a plaited loaf.”
Every one of these events—which I have attended variously as a participant, table captain, or Martha Stewart-like demonstrator—has been an event unlike any other I have attended in a life of attending Jewish events. The crowd is (largely) female; the age range is wide, as is the level of expertise. The crowd includes Israeli émigrés [and] secular, affiliated, post-denominational, traditional, and ḥaredi participants.
The women from across the Jewish spectrum who gather together at these events are participating in what is more conventionally a solitary experience, conducted in one’s own kitchen with a good cookbook propped up on the counter next to a bag of flour. But maybe the current fad of group baking can be understood not as innovation so much as a modification of practices that reach back to an earlier time. Indeed, baking used to be only communal, as towns and hamlets ordinarily would have had one baker who baked loaves for everyone.