Many are accustomed to braid the Challah in the shape of a key on the first Shabbos after Pesach. Others knead a key within the Challah dough on the first Shabbos after Pesach. Some record that the above custom is not followed by Chabad Chassidim.
The reason behind the custom:
On Pesach all the heavenly gates were open. After Pesach they are closed. The symbol of the key on the Challah is to show that we are opening the gates slightly through our honor of Shabbos, and Hashem will then open it fully for us. Alternatively, it represents the opening of the gates of Parnasa, as after Pesach the Mun stopped falling and we were required to fend for our own livelihood.
Is the key Challah sourced in Christian doctrines and thereby its custom should be abolished?
Although some self-acclaimed historians argue that the custom of making key shaped, or key filled, Challah’s is also sourced in Christian or even pagan culture, and should hence be banished from amongst Jewish tradition, practically, the above custom is an authentic Jewish custom that may and should be honored by those who traditionally abide by it. The Halachic criteria of banning an activity due to idolatry or Darkei Emori is not satisfied by simply drawing historical sketches of a similar custom to that of other societies, as aside for the burden of proof to historically conclude that the innovation originated from those, and not Jewish, cultures, an action that contains a permitted logical symbol and representation which was never originated for the sake of idolatry is permitted to be adapted by Jews even if it originated from gentiles. Certainly there is no issue of Darkei Emori for one to perform an action customarily done by Jews for righteous reasons, even if there are gentiles who do so for the wrong reasons, as he is doing it to mimic his Jewish tradition and not that of the gentiles. This is aside for the Talmudic and Halachic dictum of “Minhag Yisrael Torah Hi” and thus certainly a custom which has been handed from generation to generation, and mentioned in Sefarim of Tzadikim, and is done for specially Kosher and Jewish oriented reasons, does not need any further defense or legitimization to legalize its continuity. We find many precedents of Jewish customs that can be argued to be considered Darkei Emori and are nonetheless traditionally done, and defended by the great Poskim, Rishonim and Achronim. Accordingly, we humbly suggest that historians [especially those who are self-acclaimed] stick to their field and not try to spread Halachic conclusions based on their ignorance of the workings of Halacha, and the criteria’s needed to be met in order for a matter to be forbidden. Whatever the case, as in all matters of Jewish law, this is an issue that requires arbitration from a licensed and practicing Posek and not an amateur who claims to specialize in the field of history.
May one cut a key shaped Challah on Shabbos?
There is no erasing prohibition involved in cutting a key shaped Challah on Shabbos.
Dear Rabbi, for years I have been doing the custom of braiding the challas in the shape of a key for the Shabbos after Pesach and each year I see a flood of controversy on social media regarding this matter and if it’s a good custom or not and whether it should be followed by Chabad. What is your opinion on the matter.
As we wrote in our article on the subject, the above is a Jewish custom like any other Jewish custom and may be followed without any halachic question, and is especially to be honored by those who have a tradition to do so. While certainly I do not see any basis to claim that doing so is the Chabad custom and therefore should be adapted by all Chabad Chassidim, I also do not see any basis for claiming that the matter is negated according to Chabad custom and that one who has a tradition to do so should stop. I’ve yet to see any documentation or literature from the Chabad Rabbeim on this matter, and they are the sole authorities to establish Chabad custom. There are many matters that are not specifically a Chabad custom to follow but are likewise not necessarily negated according to Chabad custom, and each person and family retains the right to keep the custom or not adapt to it. Throughout the generations, there were hundreds of customs that were not the legacy of Chabad Chassidim as a whole, but were followed by various Chabad communities throughout Russia. I suspect that the annual obsession that some people have in abolishing the custom and trying to convince Chabad Chassidim that it is forbidden for them to follow it, does not come from a place of purity or the good inclination but rather the opposite. Whoever wants to place energy into the subject, I would suggest that rather than focus on this specific custom they should focus on spreading the custom that is explicitly written in the Poskim, the Rama and the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, to bake bread for Shabbos every Shabbos and not to buy bread from a bakery.
 Nitei Gavriel 39:1 writes that the custom is to shape the Challah like a key. The wording of the custom in Taamei Haminhagim is “Minakdim es Hachalos Bemafteichos”. It is unclear as to the meaning of this word Minakdin. It comes from the word Nekuda which means vowel. Seemingly this word refers to the shape of the Challah.
 Imrei Pinchas 298; Oheiv Yisrael [of Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta] Likkutim on Pesach; Taamei Haminhagim 596-597; Kol Naftali Megillas Rus p. 62; See Olas Moed Shevi’i Shel Pesach; Nitei Gavriel ibid
The reason behind the custom: On Pesach all the heavenly gates were open. After Pesach they are closed. The symbol of the key on the Challah is to show that we are opening the gates slightly through our honor of Shabbos, and Hashem will then open it fully for us. Alternatively, it represents the opening of the gates of Parnasa, as after Pesach the Mun stopped falling and we were required to fend for our own livelihood. [Oheiv Yisrael of Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta]
 Otzer Minhagei Chabad p. 243; Some report of an answer of the Rebbe stating that it is not our custom to do so. I have not seen this answer.
 Oheiv Yisrael of Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta
 See Rama Y.D. 178:1 “This is only forbidden if the clothing of the gentiles are worn by them for sake of frivolity [pritzus] or it is a gentile custom that has no logic behind it, as in such a case there is room to suspect that the custom derives from the Emorite customs, and that it derive from practices of idolatry passed down from their forefathers.”; Maharik 88; See Kapos Temarim Yuma 831 and Chavos Yair 234 that Darkei Emori applies towards practices that the gentiles developed as a result of idolatry, that they believed that these actions invoke their G-ds to give assistance. See also Ran on Shabbos 67a; See Admur 301:33 “Any medical treatment that works in accordance to Segulah [i.e. supernatural causes] rather than natural cause and effect [i.e. scientifically based] does not contain the prohibition of Darkei Emori so long as it is recognizable [to the onlookers] that it’s intent is for the sake of healing”; See Igros Moshe E.H. 2/13; Y.D. 4/11-4; O.C. 5/11-4
 See Admur 180:6 [not covering knife on Shabbos]; 432:11 [scattering 10 pieces of bread]; 452:4 [Hagalah]; 494:16 [Dairy on Shavuos]; M”A 494:6; Tosafus Menachos 20b
 See Rama 605:1 regarding Kaparos
 So rules Chazon Ish 61:1, brought in Piskeiy Teshuvos 140:4