At each of the three meals eaten on Shabbat, the meal is started with a piece of bread. How this bread is distributed differs by tradition – Sephardic Jews tear the bread with their hands and Ashkenazi Jews cut the bread with a knife. Any knife can be used to cut the bread, but most people show respect for Shabbat by cutting the bread, or Challah, with a Challah knife.
A Challah knife is at its essence a fancy bread knife. It is usually between 10 and 15 inches long and has a stainless steel blade. The blade may have engravings on it; however, it is the handle that usually has Judaica artwork on it.
When picking out a Challah knife, the options are endless as there are no rules defining the Challah knife’s shape, size and what may be engraved or painted on it. The most common Challah knives are made of wood, glass, ceramic and metal, although it is also possible to buy a knife with a stone handle.
Challah knives with wooden handles are usually hand-painted and lacquered. They usually are painted with views of Jerusalem, scenes from the Torah, the 7 species or something else related to Judaism. Challah knives with glass handles are usually brightly colored and there is often metal surrounding the glass. Ceramic handled Challah knives are usually fancy, brightly colored and usually have designs such as flowers and Jewish stars along with phrases such as the blessing made on bread or the word "Shabbat".
Metal Challah knives are usually sterling silver handle, and in particular 925 sterling silver, and have a stainless steel blade, although there are pewter handles as well. These silver Challah knives are usually engraved with a design such as Jerusalem, the name “Jerusalem” in Hebrew or English or a phrase like "Shabbat Kodesh", "Holy Sabbath", on either the handle or the blade. The handles of these knives can also be molded; some common shapes are Challot or sheaves of wheat. If you would like to mix the materials used to made a Challah knife’s handle and create a fancy Challah knife that is practical and will also make a beautiful heirloom, you can embed pewter and Swarovski crystals into a ceramic handle and paint the handle to match the crystals.