Question: Is there a halachic necessity to have salt placed on the table before reciting the Hamotzi blessing and is it necessary to observe this custom on weekdays as well?
Answer: The Gemara (Berachot 40a) states: “Rava bar Shmuel said in the name of Rav Chiya: One may not recite the Hamotzi blessing on bread unless one has salt or other dips before him.”
The Rambam (Chapter 7 of Hilchot Berachot, Halacha 3) and Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 167, Section 5) rule likewise.
There are two underlying reasons for this law quoted in the works of the Rishonim. The Ra’ah (Rabbeinu Aharon Ha’Levi) writes that one must have salt in front of him, for unsalted bread is not as edible and is therefore not as fit to bless on. The Sefer Halachot Gedolot writes that the reason for this is because if salt is not placed before the individual recites the blessing, there is concern that after he recites the blessing (before tasting the bread), he will ask for salt to be brought to him and since one should not interrupt between reciting the blessing and eating by speaking, our Sages enacted that one should have salt before him before he begins to recite the blessing. The Vilna Gaon rules accordingly. (Although the Halacha is that if one speaks words related to the meal before tasting the bread, one does not recite the Hamotzi blessing again, for instance, if one requests that salt be brought to him before tasting the bread, as we have discussed, nevertheless, it is preferable not to interrupt even in a permissible fashion to begin with.)
The Poskim explain that this obligation was according to the letter of the law only in their times when the bread was completely unflavored and unsalted and it was thus uncommon to eat bread without salt. However, in our times when the bread is already salted from the time the dough is kneaded, this is no longer a genuine obligation. They further explain that when eating clean bread, like our bread made from wheat, which is edible even without salt, there is likewise no obligation to place salt before the individual before reciting the blessing. Similarly, if the one reciting the blessing intends to eat the bread plain, even when it is completely unflavored, there is likewise no obligation to have salt placed before him prior to blessing, for in each of these scenarios, the concerns the Poskim discuss do not apply.
Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch rules likewise that if the bread is clean (like our white bread), if it is already salted (like our bread as well), or if the one reciting the blessing on it intends to eat it plain, one need not wait for salt to be placed before him in order to recite the Hamotzi blessing.
Nevertheless, the prevalent custom among the entire Jewish nation is to have salt placed on the table from the time the Hamotzi blessing is recited until the conclusion of the meal. Indeed, the custom of Maran zt”l is to be meticulous about this on Shabbat as well as during the rest of the week. This is based on the words of the Rama who writes that it is a Mitzvah to place salt on every table before reciting the Hamotzi blessing, for the table is likened to the altar and one’s meal is like an offering (for it is meant to infuse the individual eating with strength to serve his Creator) and the verse states, “On all of your offerings shall you offer salt”; this indeed protects one from punishment. It is therefore correct to place salt on the table before the one reciting the blessing on all weekdays and especially on Shabbat, in line with the widespread Jewish custom. (There are several additional reasons for doing so based on the words of the Mekubalim.)