Brachot (blessings) are a central part of the Jewish religious experience, and form the basis of many fascinating halachic discussions. We recite brachot the moment that we wake up in the morning and the moment before we fall asleep at night. We use brachot to thank Hashem for all that He has given us, and to request from Him that he continue to provide for us. The gemara tells us that we are to make at least 100 brachot per day, a full complement of occasions on which we recite the Divine Name and recognize the kingship of Hashem.


However, this is not to say that we can simply make a bracha whenever we feel like it. In fact, there seem to be competing statements in the Rabbinic literature concerning brachot. On the one hand, the gemara in Brachot 35a states that a person must always make a bracha before eating food, since it is forbidden for a person to benefit from this world without first recognizing where that benefit comes from. As such, an individual may not put even the smallest morsel of food into his mouth without first pausing and acknowledging his creator.


On the other hand, no less an authority than the third of the Ten Commandments instructs us not to take the name of Hashem in vain. Since every bracha, by definition, includes the name of Hashem, a person must be careful not to make a bracha that is unnecessary. Along these lines, we have a principle that in cases of doubt concerning brachot (such as if a person is unsure whether or not he recited a certain bracha) we are lenient, and do not require that a person recite a bracha to resolve the doubt.


This tension is highlighted in the case of a person who eats a meal with several components to it. There are six potential brachot that a person can make before eating his meal: one on bread, one on other foods made from grains, one on wine, one on fruits, one on vegetables, and one on anything that does not fit into those five categories. If a person ate a snack consisting of cookies, a drink, and an apple, he would be required to make three separate brachot, one before biting into each item. However, if a person were to eat a meal that included bread, he would begin by making the bracha of "ha-motzi" on the bread, and from that point would not need to make another blessing on any of the other foods that were a part of the meal. Since bread is the staple food par excellence, once a person makes a bracha on bread, he is considered to have included the entire meal in that original blessing.


[It is interesting to note that the bracha made on bread is made on bread alone, while the bracha of "she-hakol" can be made on anything, even on bread (if one is unsure about what bracha to make). Nevertheless, it is the bracha for bread which can cover an entire meal, while "she-hakol" is said only on individual items, but not as a catchall for an entire meal.]


If only it were this easy. The gemara in Brachot 41b presents are argument over the case of fruits eaten during the meal. Rav Huna and Rav Sheshet were once brought figs and grapes to eat during a meal, and Rav Huna claimed that a bracha had to be made before eating them, although not afterwards, since the birchat ha-mazon made on the meal as a whole would cover the afterblessing. Rav Sheshet went once step further, requiring that a bracha be made both before and after the fruits, since any food that requires its own bracha before it is eaten, also requires its own bracha after it has been consume. The gemara then notes that both of these opinions seem to run against the statement of Rav Chisda, who rules that the bracha on bread frees a person from the obligation to make individual blessings on any other foods during that meal.


What is the source of this entire controversy? Given Rav Chisda's ruling, why would these Rabbis think that a new blessing would have to be made on these fruits? Rashi points out an important reason underlying this law. Although the bracha made on bread is important, it is only important within the definition of a meal. A meal is defined (at least in a loose sense) as bread and anything that is eaten along with it. Thus, a person does not have to make an extra bracha on the peanut butter or meat that may lie on top of his bread the initial bracha is sufficient. The foods placed onto the bread have the status of "tafel," secondary to the main part of the meal (bread), and thus they do not mandate a bracha for themselves. (We will hopefully delve into the difficult topic of "ikkar" and "tafel" in a future Chabura.)


But fruits are different. It is rare that they are meant to specifically accompany the bread, and they usually cannot even be called a side dish that is complementary to the bread and/or the main dish. Fruit salad is generally eaten before or after the meal begins, but very infrequently is one served fruit along with his steak sandwich. For this reason, Rashi explains that fruits eaten during a meal are categorized as food that are not meant to accompany the bread, and thus fall outside of the halachic purview of what a meal is. This being the case, they require their own brachot.


Tosafot echo the view of Rashi, with a further clarification. They recognize the fact that there are some foods which are sometimes eaten with bread but sometimes are eaten alone as well. Taking our example of a steak sandwich, it is probably more common for a steak to be eaten by itself than it is for it to be eaten on bread. Tosafot thus note that any food which is eaten with bread can be covered by the bracha of "ha-motzi," even if it is not being eaten with bread at this particular meal.


Rosh goes one step further. He agrees with the views of Rashi and Tosafot, and then adds on that any drinks that are drunk during the meal are also covered by the bracha on bread. His rationale is that a person must drink in order to get his meal down, and thus they are considered to be part of the meal. His one exception is wine. Since wine is special in that it has a bracha all to itself ("borei pri ha-gafen"), one would need to make a bracha on wine if he drank it during a meal.


While this view of Rosh is shared by Rabbeinu Tam and other Ba'alei Tosafot, the Hagahot Maimoniyot notes that there are those who make a bracha on water drunk during a meal. Given the fact that water is seemingly the most non-descript of all drinks, the "anti-wine" if you will, why is it deserving of its own bracha? The answer that he gives sheds some light both on the categories that we are using, as well as on the specific examples mentioned in the gemara. He writes that water does not provide true sustenance ("zan") to a person, and thus it is not classified as being a true part of the meal. This would seem to suggest a modification of our initial category. We had said that the things covered by the bracha on bread were those things that are normally eaten with bread. Now, however, we have a view that claims that things that are covered by bread are those things which resemble bread insofar as they are foods that one normally makes a meal from them. Fruits rarely serve as the main course of a meal, and thus would not be covered by ha-motzi; whereas steak does get eaten as the main course, and thus would be covered.


This can also shed some light on the case in Brachot 41b. Rav Huna and Rav Sheshet were not served apples and oranges, but rather grapes and figs, two fruits from the seven species of Israel, and two fruits with unique statuses in halacha. Grapes are obviously unique due to their connection to wine, the other food whose bracha has the potential to cover other foods of a different bracha (since one can make a bracha on wine at the start of a meal and thus obviate the need to bless on any drink during that meal). As far as figs are concerned, there is a minority view in the gemara that suggests that one should say a full birchat ha-mazon after eating figs since they provide sufficient sustenance ("zan"). Bearing this in mind, the issues in the gemara can be brought into a much stronger focus than we originally thought. The case now appears to involve two fruits that one might think could require their own brachot even if bread has been eaten and blessed on during this meal. The fact that the argument swirls around these foods may provide some direction as the halacha shapes up in further discussions.


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