Over the Rainbow

Question #1: Showing a Rainbow

Should you call someone’s attention to the fact that there is a rainbow?

Are you supposed to look for a rainbow?

Question #2: Niagara Falls

Does one recite a brocha when seeing a rainbow that is not after a storm, such as what one sees at Niagara Falls?

Question #3: How much?

How much of a rainbow must one see to recite a brocha?

Introduction

An entire chapter of Shulchan Aruch is devoted to two short brochos, one recited when one sees a rainbow, and one called birkas hachamah, which we recite only once every 28 years. Both of these brochos are included under the general category called birchos ha’re’iyah, brochos recited upon seeing specific things, whose halachos are spread across nine chapters of Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, from chapter 221-229).

Since the next recital of birkas hachamah will not be for a number of years, and the brocha on the rainbow is based in this week’s parsha, this article will discuss the latter brocha. The common text that we recite for this brocha is, “Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam Zocheir habris ve’ne’eman bivriso vekayom bema’amaro,” “Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who remembers the covenant, is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word.” It should be noted that the version quoted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 229:1) has a slight difference – it is missing a vov before the word “ne’eman,” thus reading: “Boruch… Zocheir habris, Ne’eman bivriso vekayom bema’amaro,” and is translated as two sentences, “Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who remembers the covenant. He is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word.”

Unusual brocha

Isn’t this a strange text for a brocha referring to Hashem? In what other brocha do we discuss Hashem’s trustworthiness and memory?

The answer is that the world is full of evil people who could be the cause for its destruction. The reason that the world is not destroyed is because Hashem promised Noach that He would not put an end to it. The additional words, that “He… fulfills His word,” are because, as we will soon see, the Torah does not mention that there was any promise or oath — simply Hashem’s declaration to Noach (Avudraham, page 187).

Before analyzing further the brocha and the Gemara that teaches us this mitzvah, let us read the pesukim in this week’s parsha, upon which this brocha is based.

Rainbow way up high

After Noach and his family exited the teivah, Hashem tells them, “I am establishing My covenant with you and the descendants that will follow you… and I will confirm My covenant with you that I will never again destroy all flesh with the waters of the flood, and there never again will be a flood to destroy the earth. And G-d said: This is the sign of My covenant that I am providing between Me and between you and all living creatures that are among you, for all future generations. I have placed My rainbow in the clouds, and it will provide a sign of a covenant between Me and between the earth. And it should be, when I place a cloud over the earth and the rainbow becomes visible in the cloud. I will then remember My covenant that is between Me and you and all living creatures, and the water will never become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the rainbow is in the cloud, I will see it and remember the eternal covenant between G-d and between all living creatures on the earth” (Bereishis, 9:11-16).

The dreams you dare to dream

Seeing a rainbow should evoke mixed feelings in us. On the one hand, it is a beautiful phenomenon of nature that truly demonstrates the nifla’os haBorei, Hashem’s wondrous Creation. The Gemara shares with us an event that bears this out. Once, it was in the middle of the dry season in Eretz Yisroel, when it never rains. Several of the tanna’im were studying intently some deep kabbalistic ideas. Suddenly, the Heavens became covered with clouds and a rainbow appeared in them, and the ministering angels gathered together, the way people gather to see the celebrations of a bride and groom, in order to hear the kabbalistic words emanating from the scholars (Chagigah 14b).

Similarly, we have the following passage of Gemara (Brochos 59a): “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, ‘one who sees a rainbow in a cloud should fall on his face, as the verse states, Kemar’eih hakeshes asher yihyeh be’anan beyom hageshem kein mar’eih hanogah saviv shehu mar’eih demus kevod Hashem, As the rainbow appears in the cloud on a rainy day, so appeared the brilliant surrounding light; this is the image of the Honor of Hashem (Yechezkel 1:28).”

The Gemara there concludes not in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, and therefore one should not prostrate himself upon seeing a rainbow, for the following reason: In Eretz Yisroel, they criticized the practice of bowing when seeing a rainbow, because it gives the appearance that one is worshiping the rainbow.

On the other hand, the rainbow also demonstrates Hashem’s covenant that He will never again bring a flood to destroy life on earth. Yet, seeing the rainbow implies that the covenant is necessary to avoid that destruction. This is not very reassuring about the state of mankind’s behavior and Hashem’s justified wrath. For this reason, in the era of the Gemara, it was a source of pride for one to have lived in a generation when a rainbow never appeared (Kesubos 77b)!

Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch concludes the laws of reciting the brocha on the rainbow with the following: “And it is prohibited to gaze at it (the rainbow) more than necessary.” The Gemara (Chagigah 16a) reports that gazing at the rainbow is bad for one’s eyes.

As a matter of fact, the rishonim ask this question: How can one look at the rainbow to recite the brocha, if gazing at it is harmful? They answer that it is only harmful to gaze at a rainbow, but not to notice it or glance at it. Thus, when noticing it, one should recite the brocha, but not look at it again afterwards (Rosh, cited by Avudraham).

Really do come true

Let us now examine our opening question: Should you call someone’s attention to the fact that there is a rainbow? Are you supposed to look for a rainbow?

The Chayei Odom (Klal 63:4) mentions, “I saw in a work, whose name I no longer remember, that one should not tell someone else that he saw a rainbow, since this is disparaging information.” The Mishnah Berurah and the Kaf Hachayim both quote this Chayei Odom. The question is that we usually assume that we are allowed to share bad news, for example, so that people know to attend a funeral or to make a shiva visit. Why not tell people about a rainbow, so that they can recite the brocha?

The answer appears to be that although the news of someone’s passing is something not good, it is not disparaging regarding anyone. However, the appearance of the rainbow is understood to demonstrate that Hashem is telling us that He is keeping His deal not to destroy the world with a flood. This statement has highly negative connotations for the entire world’s level of ethics and morality, and we want to avoid implying anything disparaging.

An alternative, similar explanation that I once heard is that one should not call attention to the rainbow, since it might make them dejected to see how wretched and undeserving the world is.

Skies are blue

A question relative to these verses is raised by the rishonim. The pesukim imply that the rainbow was created after the mabul, as a covenant. Indeed, the Ibn Ezra explains the verse this way, disputing an earlier interpretation of the posuk from Rav Saadiya Gaon. However, scientifically, if the correct factors of moisture in the air and sunlight exist, the resultant refraction of light causes a rainbow, which means that the factors causing the rainbow existed from Creation and not only after the mabul. This question was already asked by the Ramban in his commentary, which I will now quote: “‘This is the sign of My covenant that I am providing.’ One is given the impression that the rainbow in the clouds was not existent as part of Creation, but that now Hashem created a rainbow in the Heavens… . However, we are compelled to believe the words of the Greeks, that the light of the sun through moist air creates a rainbow, since taking a vessel of water before the sun will cause something similar in appearance to a rainbow.”

The Ramban continues: “When we examine further the phraseology of the verse, we will also understand (as did the Greeks), for it says ‘I have placed my rainbow in the cloud,’ rather than ‘I am now placing my rainbow in the cloud.’” The Ramban proceeds to explain that the rainbow, indeed, existed since Creation, but now, after the mabul, it became the testimony to the covenant. In other words, an already existing item now assumed a role as a testament and reminder to an agreement or covenant. The Ramban demonstrates that there are many other examples of this in Chumash.

Text of brocha

Germane to the text of the brocha we recite, the Gemara records the following: “One should certainly recite a brocha (upon seeing a rainbow). What brocha does he recite? ‘Blessed is He who remembers the covenant.’ A beraisa teaches a different text: Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rav Yochanan ben Beroka says, ‘He is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word.’ Rav Papa ruled, ‘Therefore we should recite both texts: Blessed is He Who remembers the covenant, is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word” (Brochos 59a). This is the source for the text of the brocha as we recite it, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam zocheir habris vene’eman bevriso vekayom bema’amaro.

Nevertheless, we find that there were other ways of understanding the conclusion of the Gemara and different versions of its concluding text. There was an old custom to recite the following text to this brocha: Ne’eman bevriso vekayom bema’amaro, Boruch Attah Hashem Zocheir habris,” “He is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word, Blessed are You, Hashem, Who remembers the covenant.” This version does not begin with our standard introduction for all brochos, nor does it mention at all that Hashem is King of the world. (The Shelah Hakodesh mentions a slight variation of this text which includes also Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam in its closing.) With the exception of a brocha that is a later one in a sequel, called a brocha hasemucha lachavertah, all brochos begin with our well-known formula Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam. (Examples of brocha hasemucha lachaverta are the brochos of shemoneh esrei, bensching, birchos kerias shma and sheva brochos. In these instances, the brochos that do not begin with the word boruch follow other brochos.) This is not the case with the brocha on a rainbow, which is not a sequel to another brocha, and therefore should begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam.

In addition, brochos that are short and not multi-themed do not have a closing of Boruch Attah Hashem. These endings are restricted to brochos that are lengthier.

Precisely for these reasons, the authorities universally reject the text Ne’eman bevriso vekayom bema’amaro, Boruch Attah Hashem Zocheir habris, since it violates the structural rules for brochos established by Chazal (Bach; Pri Megadim). The poskim contend that this errant version was based on a misunderstanding of the text of the Gemara (Drisha, Orach Chayim 229, quoting his rebbe, the Maharshal).

Different text

Tosafos quotes a slightly different version of the brocha, which might have been based on a variant text of the Gemara passage: Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam ne’eman bivriso vekayom beshevuaso vezocheir habris,” “Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who is trustworthy in His covenant, fulfills His oath and remembers the covenant” (Tosafos, Brochos 59a s.v. Hilchach I).

One of the interesting points about this text is that it mentions that Hashem swore an oath regarding the rainbow. Although this idea is not mentioned in the Torah, it is mentioned by the prophet Yeshayohu (54:9), Ki mei Noach zos li asher nishbati mei’avor mei Noach od al ha’aretz, kein nishbati mi’ketzof alayich umi’ge’or boch, “These shall be for Me like the waters of Noach, which I swore never to bring again onto the earth. So, too, have I sworn not to become angry with you or to rebuke you.” These words are part of the reading for this week’s haftarah, as well as for that of parshas Ki Seitzei.

Somewhere over the rainbow

At this point, let us discuss our third opening question: “How much of a rainbow must one see to recite a brocha?”

Strangely enough, this question is not discussed by any of the standard, early authorities. The Mishnah Berurah, in his Biur Halacha commentary, does raise this question, stating that there are no halachic sources that clarify whether one recites the brocha only when he sees the entire arch of a rainbow, which is a 180 degree arc, or even if one sees only a small section.

Dreams really do come true

Among the things one sees that require a birchas ha’re’iyah, some require a brocha only when one has not seen them in the last thirty days, such as the brochos on magnificent mountains and seas, or the brochos upon seeing destroyed cities of Israel. There are also brochos that are recited more frequently, should the occasion present itself, such as the brocha recited when seeing lightning. The halacha is that, once the storm clears, should one see lightning accompanying a new thunderstorm, one recites the brocha again. What is the halacha regarding a rainbow? In the event that a new rainbow is the result of a different rainstorm, should one recite a new brocha? The halachic conclusion of the authorities is that one does (Shaarei Teshuvah 229:1 and other acharonim.).

A land that I heard of once

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: Does one recite the brocha only if one sees a rainbow after a storm? What is the halacha if one saw a rainbow elsewhere, such as at Niagara Falls or at Paterson Falls, right near New York City; does one recite a brocha?

The wording of the posuk, the Gemara and the poskim implies that the brocha is recited only when the rainbow appears in the clouds, related to a storm. Thus, there should be no brocha recited on a rainbow from any other source.

Way up high

A natural phenomenon that occasionally occurs is a double rainbow, in which a reversed-direction rainbow appears in the sky, high above a lower rainbow. There is an opinion among the late poskim that one recites the brocha only when seeing this particular type of rainbow, which means that one would rarely recite the brocha of Zocheir habris ve’ne’eman bivriso vekayom bema’amaro. One can rally an earlier comment as a source for this position, since one finds that the Seforno, in his commentary to the posuk in parshas Noach, understands that this was the type of rainbow that Hashem described to Noach as His covenant.

However, the well-known later authorities who quote this opinion conclude that one may ignore it, since none of the established early halachic authorities mentions this requirement for reciting the brocha (Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Eikev #17; Kaf Hachayim, 229:4). The Ben Ish Chai mentions that if an individual, when seeing a regular rainbow, chooses to omit the mention of Hashem’s name when reciting the brocha out of concern for this opinion, one should not rebuke him for this, notwithstanding that this approach is not the accepted halacha.

Conclusion

One of the understood messages of the rainbow is that it points upward, whereas the archer’s bow, which is a weapon, is always bent in the direction of its target. Thus, one of the symbolisms of the rainbow is that Hashem is pointing the potential weapon in the wrong direction, rendering it useless.

Rav Hirsch, in his beautiful explanation of Tehillim 75, notes that Asaf prophesies the end of warfare, when man’s weapons will become useless. Thus, our major hope is that man lose interest in his ability and his incentive for all warfare, and allow for the teaching of Hashem to permeate the earth. This fulfills the famous words of the prophet Yeshayohu (2:4) and echoed by Michah (4:3), Vechitesu charvosam le’itim vachanisoseihem lemazmeiros. Lo yisa goy el goy cherev velo yilmedu od milchamah, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning forks. No nation will raise a sword against another, and they will no longer learn warfare.”

 

May I Smell My Esrog and Hadasim on Sukkos?

Although this question may seem trivial, it is indeed a serious shaylah that requires explanation. Sometimes, one may smell an esrog, while at other times one may not. Why is this true? Also, when it is permitted to smell an esrog, do I recite a bracha beforehand? If I do, which bracha do I recite?

We may ask similar questions regarding the hadasim, although the answers are not always the same. May I smell my hadasim, and which bracha do I recite before smelling them?

In order to explain the background to these questions, I first need to explain two very different areas of halacha, one concerning the laws of muktzah, and the other concerning the laws of brachos on fragrances.

MUKTZAH

The Gemara teaches us the following: One may not smell (during Sukkos) the hadas that is set aside for the mitzvah, but one may smell the esrog. The Gemara asks, “Why is there a difference between the hadas and the esrog?” The Gemara replies that since the main use of a hadas is for fragrance, it becomes muktzah, and one may not smell it. But since the main “use” of an esrog is for food, one may not eat it, but one may smell it (Sukkah 37b). This is the explanation of what the Gemara means.

This Gemara teaches that an item used for a mitzvah becomes muktzah machmas mitzvah; that is, designated solely for its specific mitzvah and not for a different use. This category of muktzah is different from the more familiar types of muktzah in several ways:

  1. As the Gemara teaches elsewhere (Sukkah 9a), this type of muktzah is prohibited min Hatorah, whereas other forms of muktzah are prohibited only miderabbanan.
  2. These items are muktzah only to the extent that one may not use them, but one may move them. This is different from most types of muktzah, which one may not move on Shabbos or Yom Tov.
  3. These items are muktzah only with regard to their primary, normal purpose: for example, one may not smell a hadas that is muktzah machmas mitzvah because the primary purpose of a hadas is for fragrance. However, one may use it (or them) for a secondary use, and that is why, according to the Gemara, one may smell the esrog. (A person who is interested in purchasing a fragrant item would consider buying hadasim, not an esrog.)
  4. This type of muktzah is prohibited even on Chol Hamoed, whereas other types of muktzah are prohibited only on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Thus, it would seem that we may answer the original question I asked: May I smell my esrog and hadas on Sukkos? And the answer is that I may smell my esrog, but I may not smell my hadas, because it is muktzah for its mitzvah.

However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 653:1) rules that I should also avoid smelling my esrog on Sukkos. Why does the Shulchan Aruch prohibit something that the Gemara explicitly permits?

The answer to this question takes us to the other topic — when does one recite a bracha before smelling a fragrance? Although the Gemara explicitly permits smelling an esrog on Sukkos, the Gemara does not mention whether one recites a bracha before smelling it.

Indeed, the Rishonim dispute whether one is required to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog. Rabbeinu Simcha, one of the late baalei Tosafos, rules that one may not recite a bracha before smelling an esrog that is being used for the mitzvah on Sukkos, whereas the Ravyah, an early Ashkenazi posek, rules that one must recite a bracha. The later poskim conclude that this dispute is unresolved, and that, therefore, one may not smell an esrog during Sukkos, when reciting a bracha would be a question. This topic requires some explanation: Why should an esrog on Sukkos be different from an esrog any other time of the year?

FRAGRANCES THAT ARE NOT FOR THE PLEASURE OF SMELL

One recites a bracha only on a fragrance that is avida lereicha, literally, “made for fragrance” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 217:2). In the words of the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 35:1), “Anything whose current purpose is not for aroma is not considered a fragrance” (regarding recitation of a bracha). Therefore, one does not recite a bracha before smelling a deodorizer, even if it has an extremely pleasant fragrance, since its purpose is not aroma, but to mask unpleasant odor. Similarly, smelling the tantalizing aroma of a food or food flavoring does not warrant a bracha, since its purpose is not enjoyment of their aroma, per se. (I have written several other articles germane to the brachos on fragrances, which are available on the RabbiKaganoff.com website; to find them, use the search word fragrance.) Furthermore, when the halacha rules that one is not required to recite a bracha, one is not permitted to recite the bracha, as doing so constitutes a bracha l’vatalah, a bracha recited in vain.

EXAMPLE:

When showing a house that is for sale, some people toast cinnamon in the oven or open essential oils and other fragrances around the house to make the house more appealing. Since the purpose of these fragrances is to give the house a pleasant aroma and not to entice people to smell or purchase the fragrance, one does not recite a bracha.

Based on the foregoing introduction, we can now explain the above-quoted dispute whether to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog on Sukkos. Rabbeinu Simcha contends that although one may smell an esrog on Sukkos, and it is not prohibited due to its being muktzah, this does not warrant making a bracha. The esrog on Sukkos is still primarily intended for the mitzvah, and not for fragrance; therefore, smelling it does not require a bracha. In Rabbeinu Simcha’s opinion, reciting a bracha in this case constitutes a bracha l’vatalah.

The Ravyah disagrees, maintaining that since it is permitted to smell an esrog, it is considered to be meant for fragrance, and requires one to recite a bracha before smelling it (Mordechai, Sukkah #751; Tur Orach Chayim 653).

This dispute places us in a predicament. The halacha is that one may not benefit from something in this world without first reciting a bracha, and if, indeed, one is required to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog, then one may not smell it without reciting a bracha (Brachos 35a; Hagahos Smaq 193:11). On the other hand, if one is not required to recite a bracha before smelling it, then one may not recite the bracha, and doing so involves reciting a bracha in vain, a bracha l’vatalah.

Since we are not in a position to resolve this dispute, the poskim contend that one should avoid smelling the esrog used for the mitzvah during Sukkos (Shulchan Aruch 653), even though there is no muktzah violation in smelling it. Furthermore, one may smell the esrog if he first recited a bracha on a different fragrant fruit.

ESROG ON SHABBOS

As I mentioned above, Rabbeinu Simcha contends that an esrog is not considered avida lereicha, meant for fragrance, and therefore one does not recite a bracha before smelling it. Does this halacha apply the entire week of Sukkos, or only when I pick up the esrog to fulfill the mitzvah? What if I smell the esrog on Shabbos, when there is no mitzvah to perform, or I pick it up on a day of Sukkos after I have already fulfilled the mitzvah? Do I recite a bracha before smelling it, according to his opinion?

Let us compare this shaylah to the following case:

Someone who enters a spice merchant’s store recites a bracha, because the owner wants customers to smell his wares so that they will purchase them (Berachos 53a). If these items are in his warehouse, where he is not soliciting customers, one does not recite a bracha (Magen Avraham 217:1).

Why does one recite a bracha on the spices in the store, but not on those that are in the warehouse? This is because the spices in the store are there to be smelled and enjoyed, and are therefore avida lereicha. However, the spices in the warehouse are not meant to be smelled – therefore, they are not avida lereicha. Note that we are discussing the same spices, and the only difference is where they are located.

PUTTING INTO YOUR HAND

Let’s assume you are back in the spice merchant’s warehouse or in a flavor factory, and you know that you do not make a bracha on the incredible fragrance that is wafting through the air. What happens if you approach some of the spices to take a pleasant whiff, or you pick up some of the spice in order to smell it? Do you recite a bracha?

The poskim dispute what to do in this case. The Mishnah Berurah (217:1) contends that whenever you do something to smell the fragrance, such as moving towards the source of the fragrance in order to smell it, picking it up, or putting some into your hand, you should recite a bracha. Any such act makes the fragrance avida lereicha.

However, the Chazon Ish disagrees, maintaining that if you will return the spice afterwards to the storage bin in the warehouse, it is not avida lereicha, and you do not recite a bracha (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 35:1). The Chazon Ish agrees that if the manufacturer has samples available that he wants people to smell and buy, one does recite a bracha on them, and he also agrees that if you remove some of the spices to smell and will not return them, you do recite a bracha.

SPICES IN THE KITCHEN

There is a common, practical difference in halacha between the approaches of these two Gedolim regarding kitchen spices. Suppose you want to enjoy the smell of the cinnamon or the oregano on your kitchen shelf. According to the Mishnah Berurah, if you remove a container from the shelf to smell it, you recite a bracha on the spice, even though you intend to return the spice to the shelf after smelling it, and it will eventually be added to food. (By the way, the poskim dispute which bracha one recites before smelling cinnamon. The accepted practice is to recite borei minei besamim.) However, according to the Chazon Ish, you do not recite a bracha on this spice, unless you no longer intend to cook with it. Someone who wants to avoid the dispute should sprinkle a little bit of spice into his hand and make a bracha on that. Since you are neither going to return this spice to the container nor cook with it, according to all opinions, one recites a bracha before smelling it.

Some poskim explain that this opinion of the Chazon Ish is the reason for the widespread minhag to set aside special besamim for havdalah on Motza’ei Shabbos (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, Vol. 2 pg. 262).

WHAT ABOUT MY ESROG ON SHABBOS?

A dispute similar to the one quoted above exists concerning smelling my esrog on Shabbos, or picking up the esrog to smell it after I have fulfilled the mitzvah for the day.

The Magen Avraham rules that I recite a bracha before smelling the esrog under these circumstances, even according to Rabbeinu Simcha. Therefore, in his opinion, one may pick up the esrog specifically to smell it, and one recites the bracha before smelling it.

However, the Taz implies that one may not smell the esrog anytime during Sukkos. According to the Chazon Ish’s analysis of the subject, one can explain the Taz’s approach as follows: Since the esrog is meant for the mitzvah, it is not considered avida lereicha that warrants a bracha, unless one permanently makes it into a fragrance. Thus, if an esrog became pasul, or for some other reason can no longer be used for the mitzvah, it will be called avida lereicha and warrant a bracha. Under any other circumstance, it remains a safek bracha, and one should not smell it until Yom Tov is over. One may recite a bracha and smell it on Shemini Atzeres or Simchas Torah, since it no longer serves any mitzvah purpose. Thus, it appears that the dispute between the Magen Avraham and the Taz is identical to the dispute between the Mishnah Berurah and the Chazon Ish.

WHICH BRACHA DO I RECITE ON AN ESROG?

Everyone agrees that one may smell an esrog that will no longer be used for the mitzvah, and that one must recite a bracha before smelling it. In such a case, which bracha do I recite?

Chazal established five different brachos that relate to scent, each for a different category of fragrance.

  1. Borei shemen areiv, “The Creator of pleasant oil,” is recited only on the fragrant oil extracted from the balsam tree (Mishnah Berurah 216:22). Because this tree was important and grew in Eretz Yisroel, Chazal established for it a special bracha (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brachos 43a).
  2. Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros, “He who bestows pleasant fragrances in fruits” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 216:2). We recite this bracha before smelling fragrant, edible fruits and other foods (Rama 216:14). Some poskim rule that the proper text for this bracha should be in past tense: Asher nasan rei’ach tov ba’peiros, “He who bestowed pleasant fragrances in fruits” (Mishnah Berurah 216:9). This is the bracha one recites before smelling an esrog.

Many poskim state that the custom today is to not make a bracha on smelling a fruit, unless it has a pronounced aroma (see Vezos Haberacha pg. 174). For this reason, one should be certain that the esrog one holds has a strong, pleasant fragrance before reciting a bracha. If one is uncertain, one may smell the esrog first to see that it is fragrant, and then, if it is fragrant, recite the bracha hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros and smell it again.

  1. Borei atzei besamim, “The Creator of fragrant wood (or trees).” One recites this bracha before smelling fragrant, woody plants and trees, or their leaves, flowers, wood, or oils. Hadasim are certainly in this category. Although we mentioned above that it is prohibited to smell a hadas that is being used for the mitzvah on Sukkos, hadasim that one does not intend to use for the mitzvah may be smelled on Sukkos, and he should recite this bracha before smelling them.

Incidentally, the correct bracha to recite before smelling citrus blossoms or flowers is Borei atzei besamim, since the flower is not edible.

  1. Borei isvei besamim, “The Creator of fragrant grasses.” We recite this bracha before smelling non-woody plants, their parts or extracts. Before smelling a fragrant hyacinth, narcissus, or lily one recites this bracha. The custom among Sefardim is to recite this bracha before smelling mint, although, for reasons beyond the scope of this article, Ashkenazim recite borei minei besamim before smelling mint.
  2. Borei minei besamim, “The Creator of different types of fragrances.” This is the “catch-all” bracha for all fragrances, the equivalent of reciting a shehakol on food. Sometimes, it is the preferred bracha, and sometimes it is the bracha used to resolve uncertainties. Although I have not seen poskim discuss this case, it would seem to be permitted to recite a bracha on an item whose bracha is borei minei besamim and have in mind to include the esrog and then be able to smell the esrog. This would provide a method whereby one could smell one’s esrog on Yom Tov, according to all opinions.

Question: Why did Chazal create a unique bracha prior to smelling aromatic fruits?

Answer: Whenever one benefits from this world, one must recite a bracha. Thus, Chazal instituted brachos that are appropriate for fragrances. However, the other brachos on fragrance are not appropriate for smelling fragrant foods, since they praise Hashem for creating fragrances, whereas fruits are not usually described as fragrances, but as foods that are fragrant. Therefore, Chazal needed to establish a special bracha for aromatic fruits (see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim end of Chapter 297).

Conclusion

The Gemara (Berachos 43b) teaches, “How do we know that one must recite a bracha on a fragrance? Because the pasuk (Tehillim 150:6) says, ‘Every neshamah praises Hashem,’ – What exists in the world that the soul benefits from, but not the body? Only fragrance.”

Because fragrance provides some physical pleasure, but no nutritional benefit, the sense of smell represents an interface between the spiritual and the physical. Similarly, we find that we offer korbanos as rei’ach nicho’ach, a fragrance demonstrating one’s desire to be close to Hashem. We should always take advantage of the opportunity to smell fragrant items as a steppingstone towards greater mitzvah observance and spirituality.

 

Blessings and Guardrails

Mitzvas maakeh is mentioned in this week’s parsha.

Blessings and Guardrails

Question #1: Who makes the brocha?

“If someone performs a mitzvah as my agent, can I still recite a brocha on the mitzvah?”

Question #2: Am I doing the mitzvah?

“Do I fulfill the mitzvah of building a maakeh if I hire a non-Jew to do it for me?”

Question #3: When do I bless?

“If I am performing a mitzvah that will take a long time to fulfill, when do I recite the brocha?”

Introduction:

Reb Gavriel*, a talmid chacham whom I know, is having his house remodeled, including adapting a roof area for use, which will require the assembly of a maakeh, a fence, wall or railing high enough and strong enough to prevent someone from falling (see Devorim 22:8). He asked me the following: “I will now have the first opportunity of my life to fulfill the mitzvah min hatorah of building a maakeh. My question is: The construction workers are not Jewish. Can I recite a brocha on performing this mitzvah, when gentiles are doing the work? And, if I recite a brocha, when do I recite it, since this construction will take several weeks?”

Let me explain Gavriel’s excellent questions. Prior to performing a mitzvas aseh, a positive mitzvah, we recite a brocha thanking Hashem for the opportunity to fulfill His commandments. These brochos are what we call birchos hamitzvah. They begin with the words Boruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu and conclude with the words appropriate to the specific mitzvah. According to the majority of halachic authorities, one recites a brocha on constructing a maakeh, since by constructing this maakeh one fulfills a positive mitzvah of the Torah (Sedei Chemed, Volume 5, page 250, provides analysis of this point). The rishonim cite several slightly variant texts detailing how one concludes the brocha recited for fulfilling this mitzvah. (See commentaries She’eilas Shalom and Ha’eimek Hasheilah to She’iltos, Eikev #145, who discuss what is the proper text of the brocha.) I believe that the accepted Ashkenazic practice is to complete the brocha with the words: Al mitzvas maakeh.

In Reb Gavriel’s case, there are three questions:

  1. Can I recite a brocha when I am not performing the mitzvah myself?
  2. Do I fulfill a mitzvah when it is performed by hirees who are not Jewish?
  3. At what point in the construction should I recite the brocha?

Who recites the brocha?

Reuven asks Shimon to search his (Reuven’s) house for chometz. Can Reuven recite the brocha of al bedikas chometz on Shimon’s search? (We should note that, in general, someone obligated to perform a mitzvah should do the mitzvah himself, rather than assign it to someone else, a principle called mitzvah bo yoseir mibeshelucho, it is a bigger mitzvah to perform a mitzvah yourself than via proxy [Kiddushin 41a].)

On the one hand, Reuven is fulfilling the mitzvah, not Shimon. On the other hand, Shimon is the one who is actually performing the mitzvah.

The Magen Avraham states that the agent doing the act of the mitzvah can recite the brocha (432:6), but he also implies that should Reuven want to recite the brocha, he may do so, even if he himself did not participate at all in the act of performing the mitzvah (432:5). They should not both recite the brocha – for one of them, this would constitute a brocha levatalah, a brocha recited in vain.

Shelichus

The Torah teaches a principle that a person can perform a mitzvah, create a transaction, or discharge a legal requirement by having an agent act on his behalf, a concept called shelichus. Because of this rule, a husband can appoint someone to write a get on his behalf, or deliver a get to his wife. Similarly, I can appoint someone to separate challah from dough that I have prepared, or appoint someone to be my agent to carry out a transaction, such as having a rav sell my chometz.

Ein shelichus lenachri

Although I can appoint a proxy to separate terumos or challah for me or to carry out a transaction on my behalf, that agent must be Jewish. The Torah did not extend the concept of agency to non-Jews, either to allow a gentile to function as surrogate for someone else or to have a gentile appoint a surrogate on his own behalf. A result of this halachah is that a Jew cannot appoint a gentile to separate challah. Thus, a Jewish-owned bakery that has non-Jewish employees mixing dough must make provisions to have a Jew take challah. If a gentile did the act of separating challah, no mitzvah was performed.

According to this reason, it would seem that if Reb Gavriel has non-Jewish workers building his maakeh, the mitzvah was not fulfilled. He is not doing the construction himself, and the people he hired are ineligible to be his agents. It is true that there is no longer any danger of having an unfenced roof, and, therefore, one is not in violation of allowing a safety hazard to exist, lo sasim damim beveisecha (Devorim 22:8). Yet, it would seem that the positive mitzvah to build a railing was technically not observed, since it was constructed in a way that no one fulfilled the mitzvah.

Enter the Machaneh Efrayim

Yad po’el keyad baal habayis

  1. The Gemara teaches a principle; yad po’el keyad baal habayis, literally, the “hand” of the worker is treated as the hand of the employer (Bava Metzia 10a). If I hire someone to perform general work – regardless of what he is assigned to do — and he finds an unowned object in the course of his work, the employer becomes the owner of the object. How did the employer gain ownership of the item, when it was the employee who found it and picked it up? The Gemara explains that since the employer hired the worker to do whatever needs to be done during the period of his service, the employer owns even the worker’s ability to take possession of items, which is called a yad, a hand, in halachic jargon.

The Machaneh Efrayim extends the principle of yad po’el keyad baal habayis to Reb Gavriel’s situation. When I hire someone to be my general worker, it is considered that I built the railing myself. I have therefore fulfilled the mitzvah and may recite the brocha. This principle does not apply when I hire a worker for a specific job (see Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 427:3).

There are other ramifications of this principle of the Machaneh Efrayim. Although there is an obligation to separate terumos and maasros from produce growing in a Jew’s field in Eretz Yisroel or in the lands nearby, one is not required to separate them until the harvesting process is complete. At the time of the Mishnah/Gemara, this entailed leveling off the pile of grain or other produce, after all had been harvested. The Machaneh Efrayim contends that, even if this leveling was performed by a gentile employee or hiree, the owner becomes obligated to separate terumos and maasros. Despite the fact that a non-Jew cannot function as a proxy, the processing he performs as an employee obligates the owner to separate maasros.

Construction is different

  1. The Machaneh Efrayim presents a second line of reasoning why someone who hired a gentile to build a railing has fulfilled the mitzvah. The rule that a gentile cannot be my agent is only when something requires agency to be effective, such as the separation of challah, the delivery of a get, or creating a transaction. In each of these cases, a change of status or ownership is effected by someone’s intent. Without intent on the part of the person creating the change or transaction, nothing has happened – the dough  that was separated did not become challah, the woman did not become divorced, the chometz was not sold. In these instances, since the Torah did not create a concept of shelichus for gentiles; if I appointed someone non-Jewish to separate challah or to carry out agency, nothing has transpired.

However, contends the Machaneh Efrayim, when a physical act is being done, such as the construction of a railing, we are not dealing with a legal effect, but an on-the-ground, physical result. This is not a function of the laws of shelichus, but a practical matter. Since the railing now exists, I have fulfilled the mitzvah and can recite the brocha, regardless who actually constructed it.

Railing about the railing

Notwithstanding that the Machaneh Efrayim concludes that Reb Gavriel could recite a brocha when his gentile workers build the maakeh, many later authorities dispute either or both of his reasons (Shaar Hamelech, Terumos 1:11; Shu’t Shivas Tziyon #53; Nesivos Hamishpat, Chapter 188; Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah #546; Shu’t Sha’ul Umeishiv, Volume 1, part 2 #110; Ulam Hamishpat, Chapter 188; Shu’t Birchas Retzei  #75; Sedei Chemed, Volume 5, pages 249-250). Regarding his first approach, that, because of the concept of yad po’el keyad baal habayis, it is considered that the employer built the railing himself, there are two different reasons to refute his position. Firstly, there is no evidence that the halachic concept yad po’el keyad baal habayis applies to non-Jewish employees. All the places in which the Gemara applies this rule involve Jewish workers, and there are valid reasons why one should not be able to compare the two.

Furthermore, even if yad po’el keyad baal habayis applies to gentile workers, there is a big jump in logic to apply this principle to the construction of a railing. If, in the course of his day’s work, an employee acquires something on behalf of the employer’s business, one could argue that the employer made the transaction, since he owns the employee’s yad.  However, how does the act of the gentile employee, such as constructing a railing, become the act of the Jewish employer, in such a way that he did the act of the mitzvah himself and can therefore recite a brocha? A mitzvah must be performed by someone who can be commanded to fulfill this mitzvah. The action performed by the gentile does not become the act of the employer because of yad po’el keyad baal habayis.

To demonstrate the difficulty with the Machaneh Efrayim’s approach, some authorities contend that, according to the Machaneh Efrayim, if a Jew instructed his gentile employee to plow using a donkey and an ox, the Jew will be liable for malkus, lashes, for violating the Torah violation of having them work together, since his gentile employee’s action is considered as if he did it himself (Shu’t Shivas Tziyon #53). Although it is prohibited to hire a gentile to do this, it is highly surprising to assume that the Jew should be liable for malkus in such a situation.

Is this chometz she’avar alav hapesach?

The Machaneh Efrayim’s principle created a problem for a community in a very different case. The local branch of a Jewish-owned business was managed completely by gentiles. The question was whether the chometz that the non-Jewish employees of the local branch purchased on behalf of the business before Pesach becomes prohibited because of chometz she’avar alav hapesach, chometz that was owned by a Jew in the course of the holiday. The questioner, Rav Yaakov Mendel Friedman, the rav of Nadvorna, wanted to permit the chometz on the basis that, since there is no agency of non-Jews, the chometz is halachically considered to have been owned by gentiles over Pesach. However, he noted that, according to the Machaneh Efrayim, since the gentiles are the employees of the Jewish owners, the chometz is deemed to have been owned by Jews over Pesach, and it is therefore prohibited. He sent the question to Rav Tzvi Hirsch Orenstein, a respected nineteenth century posek in Lithuania and Poland. (During his lifetime, he served successively as rav in Brisk, Reisha and Lvov.) Rav Orenstein ruled that accepted halachah does not follow the opinion of the Machaneh Efrayim (Shu’t Birchas Retzei #75).

Other railings

The second reason presented by the Machaneh Efrayim why someone could recite a brocha upon the assembly of a railing built by a non-Jew was that the owner fulfills the mitzvah of building a maakeh, no matter how the railing actually became constructed. Notwithstanding the Machaneh Efrayim’s contentions, others dispute his conclusion that this is considered that the Jew performed the mitzvah.

It appears that most authorities reject the position of the Machaneh Efrayim and contend that one should not recite a brocha, if a gentile built the railing. Those who reject the Machaneh Efrayim’s approach would require that a Jew participate in the construction of the railing, in order to be able to recite the brocha. However, one major authority rules that Reb Gavriel should recite a brocha on the assembly of the railing, regardless of whether it was assembled by Jews or by gentiles, and even if he did not participate at all (Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 427:3).

When do I recite a brocha?

At this point, let us examine the third of our opening questions:

“If I am performing a mitzvah that will take a long time to fulfill, when do I recite the brocha?” This exact question can be asked regarding the assembly of a railing, and we noted before that Reb Gavriel, indeed, asked it.

Allow me to provide some background. In general, one recites a brocha immediately prior to beginning the performance of a mitzvah or immediately prior to eating a food. The Gemara (Pesachim 119b) calls this oveir la’asiyasan. According to this, one should assume that one would recite the brocha on the railing immediately before one performs the mitzvah. However, the question, here, is that the mitzvah takes a long time to perform. It can also happen that someone may encounter a difficulty in the middle of the job that makes it impossible for him to complete the mitzvah. Because of these concerns, when should one recite the brocha for performing the mitzvah?

This question is raised by the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 52), who concludes that one should recite the brocha immediately prior to completing the maakeh. In his opinion, since the railing does not provide adequate protection until it is complete, the act of the mitzvah is the last hammer blow that makes it into an effective railing.

However, a much earlier authority than the Chasam Sofer holds differently. The Baal Ha’itur (Hilchos Tzitzis, Shaar 3, Cheilek 2, page 152) rules that one recites the brocha at the beginning of the assembly of the railing, even though its manufacture takes time. He compares this to the brocha of al bi’ur chometz, which we recite at the beginning of the search, knowing that it may involve interruptions and considerable time until the mitzvah is completed, which is when one has finished burning the chometz.

A third approach

I found yet a third approach to when one should recite the brocha on assembling a railing, because of an interesting reasoning. Some late authorities suggest that if the owner is unable to construct the railing himself, he should wait to recite the brocha until the railing is in place, out of concern that the employee may not complete the job, and the brocha that he recited for the mitzvah would be in vain (see Sedei Chemed).

In conclusion

What should Reb Gavriel do? I found some late authorities who suggest that he should try to assist the workers at a critical time in the manufacture of the railing, in which case, he could recite the brocha, because he took an active part in its assembly (Sedei Chemed, quoting Nediv Leiv). According to the Chasam Sofer, he should help out at the last stage of the construction of the railing, which is when the mitzvah is being properly fulfilled. According to the Baal Ha’itur, he should help out at the beginning of the construction of the railing, so as to recite the brocha before the mitzvah is begun.

Just as we must make sure that we build a guardrail in a way that it will properly prevent physical injury, so must we also examine the laws governing how and when we thank Hashem for the opportunity to observe his mitzvos. And just as we hire a professional to ascertain that our guardrail does its job well, so should we strive to recite our brochos and prayers with careful attention to detail, performing them in the way Hashem wants.

* I was asked this exact question. The name was changed to protect the individual’s privacy.

Is This Considered a Mixture?

Since this week’s parsha, Eikev, includes the sources for the laws of brochos, it is certainly appropriate to discuss:

Is This Considered a Mixture?

Some Details of the Halachos of Ikar and Tafeil

Question #1: What bracha do I recite on a fruit salad?

Question #2: What is the difference between a mixture and an enhancer?

Question #3: Why should I sometimes recite the brachos of ha’adamah or shehakol before I recite the brocha of ha’eitz?

Answer:

In a different article, Important Eating, I noted that there are two general categories of ikar and tafeil; (1) enhancers and (2) mixtures.

(1) Enhancers: This category includes food items where the tafeil food makes the ikar food tastier. Some common examples include: eating cereal with fruit and milk or latkes with apple sauce; stirring herbal tea with a cinnamon stick; breading fish or meat (schnitzel). In all of these cases, one recites the bracha for the ikar; that is, the cereal, latkes, tea, or meat; and the tafeil is included.

(2) Mixtures: This category includes cases where one food is not specifically enhancing the other, but both foods are important. Examples of this type of ikar and tafeil: macaroni and cheese, blintzes (they always contain a filling), cholent, kugel, stew, soups. These mixtures are considered one complete food item and therefore have only one bracha. Thus, the concept of ikar and tafeil is very different here – it is the rule used to determine which bracha we recite on this food.

WHAT IS A MIXTURE?

Does a “meat and potatoes” roast require one bracha on both ingredients, or is it two items that require separate brachos?

Is the bracha on a mix of raisins and peanuts ha’eitz or ha’adamah?

Is a fruit salad containing melon or pineapple in addition to pears, apples, and peaches a mixture that requires one bracha or separate brachos?

When dealing with the correct bracha on a food mixture, one of the key questions one must ask is whether the food is indeed a mixture that requires one bracha or if it is considered two (or more) separate foods each of which requires a separate bracha.

Here is an obvious example: Suppose you dine on a chicken dinner with side dishes of noodle kugel and string beans. Although you are eating them all at the same time, these foods are not a mixture. Therefore, each item requires its own bracha.

FRUIT SALAD

Do the ingredients of a fruit salad that contains both ha’eitz and ha’adamah items require two separate brachos, or is the salad a mixture requiring one bracha? Whereas in a soup, peanut bar, or tzimmes, the foods were cooked or blended together and are difficult to isolate from one another, in most fruit salads the different fruits can be clearly distinguished and separated from one another. On the other hand, because the pieces are small, one usually eats the different varieties together.

The poskim dispute whether fruit salad warrants one bracha or two. According to most poskim, one should recite only one bracha over a mixture of this type. Following their opinion, one would recite a bracha on the majority item in a fruit salad. However, the Chayei Odom contends that when the items can be clearly distinguished from one another, they are not to be considered a mixture, and one should recite separate brachos on the components of the dish. Thus, in his opinion, one should recite a ha’eitz on the tree fruits and then ha’adamah on the melon in the fruit salad.

(I noted in other articles, entitled “Topical, Tropical Fruits”; “A Sweet Change of Pace”; and “Papaya, that although we recite ha’adamah on bananas, pineapples, and strawberries, and shehakol before eating chocolate, there are poskim who contend that one should recite ha’eitz on these fruits because they are perennial; that is, the root remains from one year to the next. Because the poskim dispute whether the correct bracha on these types of perennial fruits is ha’eitz or ha’adamah, we recite ha’adamah [and, in the case of chocolate, shehakol] to resolve the doubt. In all of these instances, we recite the more general bracha, because one who recites a ha’adamah when he was to have recited ha’eitz fulfills his obligation, since trees grow from the ground. Shehakol is the most general of all brochos on food, and fulfills the requirement bedei’evid whenever it is recited on any food.

However, since we recite this bracha only to resolve a safek, there are several ramifications of this ruling, one of which directly affects our case. If one will be eating both these fruits [bananas, pineapples, and strawberries] and definite ha’eitz fruits, one should recite the ha’adamah first and taste them before one recites ha’eitz. This is because, according to the opinion that the correct bracha on any perennial is ha’eitz, if one recited a ha’eitz on the tree fruits, reciting a different bracha afterwards on the banana, pineapple, or strawberry is a bracha levatalah, a bracha in vain. Although we do not rule according to this opinion, we should not ignore it.

Similarly, if you are going to recite shehakol on the chocolate, you should recite this bracha first and taste the chocolate before eating the tree fruits. This is because there are halachic authorities who rule that the brocha on chocolate is ha’eitz, as I explained in the above-referenced article, A Sweet Change of Pace.)

The same dispute about making one or two brachos on a mixture exists regarding a mix of raisins and peanuts; most poskim contend that one should recite the bracha of the majority item, and the Chayei Odom rules that they require two separate brachos.

The Mishnah Berurah (212:1) concludes that safek brachos lehakeil: when in doubt, we do not recite a bracha, and therefore, one should recite one bracha on both items. The bracha should follow whatever bracha one would recite on the majority of the mixture, even if it consists of different fruits (Mekor Haberacha pg. 182). If one cannot determine whether the majority is borei pri ha’eitz or borei pri ha’adamah, then one should recite borei pri ha’adamah, since when one recites pri ha’adamah on an item that is pri ha’eitz, one fulfills the requirement, but not vice versa.

Following the majority opinion that a person recites one bracha on the mixed fruit salad or the peanuts and raisins, we still need to clarify a very important issue. At what point do we consider the two items to be different foods requiring separate brachos? In the case mentioned above of a chicken dinner with side dishes of noodle kugel and string beans, it is obvious that they are different items. But is a roast of meat and potatoes or a shepherd’s pie (usually consisting of alternating layers of ground meat and potatoes) considered one item, or does it require two separate brachos?

The poskim rule as follows: When the two items are eaten together in one spoonful, he recites one bracha, even if there is an occasional spoonful where he is eating only one of them. However, if each spoonful usually contains one item exclusively, the two items should have separate brachos. Thus, meat and potatoes cooked together would have two separate brachos, since the meat and potatoes are usually not eaten together in the same forkful. However, shepherd’s pie or soup would require only one bracha, since each forkful or spoonful will probably contain parts of at least two different foods. In this case, he recites one bracha, even if an occasional forkful/spoonful has only one of the ingredients (Aruch Hashulchan 212:2).

WHAT ABOUT CHOLENT?

A cholent consisting of barley, kishka, meat, potatoes and beans contains some items whose bracha is mezonos (the barley and kishka) and others whose bracha is shehakol (the meat) or ha’adamah (potatoes and beans). Is cholent a mixture like a soup requiring only one bracha, or can it be compared to eating a meat and potatoes roast, where several brachos are recited on the components? Truthfully, it depends on the consistency of the cholent. If the cholent that includes barley or kishka is made in such a way that each forkful contains a mix of the various ingredients, its bracha is mezonos. However, if the potatoes or meat are large, discernable chunks, they will require their own brachos (Pri Megadim, Pesicha Kolleles, Hilchos Brachos s.v. klal amru; Vezos Haberacha pg. 110).

Conclusion

Not everything we do in life qualifies as our ikar purpose in life; often we must do things that are tafeil to more important things. However, paying attention to the halachos of ikar and tafeil should encourage us to focus on our priorities in life, and not allow the tafeil things we must do become more important than they really are.

 

Holey Foods: Of Donuts and Bagels

Question #1: Challah on donuts

“Is there a requirement to separate challah from donuts?”

Question #2: Frum cousin

“I have discovered that a cousin of mine eats donuts only as part of a meal. Is there a halachic basis for his practice?”

Question #3: Holy bagels

“May I use bagels for lechem mishneh on Shabbos?”

Question #4: Top of the grill

“If I bake small loaves of bread on top of the grill, do they qualify as hamotzi and may I use them for the seudos of Shabbos?”

Question #5: Waffling along

“A friend of mine just purchased a factory that manufactures waffles. Does he need to have challah taken? The factory is located in a rural area, where there is no Jewish population.”

Introduction:

To understand the issues raised by our opening questions, we must analyze the definition of “bread,” particularly for the three different mitzvos mentioned: the separating of challah, the brochah of hamotzi, and the fulfillment of lechem mishneh, having two loaves at the Shabbos repasts. (Please note: This entire article will use the word challah to refer to the Torah’s mitzvah of setting aside a sample of dough to be given to a kohen, or to be burnt if the dough is tamei. I am not referring to the unique bread that is customarily served at Shabbos and Yom Tov meals, which has come to be called challah, although this is, technically, a misnomer.)

Separating challah

We will begin our discussion with the laws of challah taking, since this will make it easier to present the halachic literature on the other topics.

The Torah describes the mitzvah of challah in the following passage:

When you enter the land to which I am bringing you, it will be that, when you eat from the bread of the land, you shall separate a terumah offering for G-d. The first dough of your kneading troughs shall be separated as challah, like the terumah of your grain shall you separate it (Bamidbar 15:18-20).

The Torah requires challah to be taken from your kneading troughs, from which we derive that there is no requirement to separate challah unless there is as much dough as the amount of manna eaten daily by each member of the Jewish people in the desert. Chazal explain that this amount, called ke’shiur isas midbar, was equal to the volume of 43.2 eggs. In contemporary measure, we usually assume that this is approximately three to five pounds of flour. (For our purposes, it will suffice to use these round figures. I encourage each reader to ask his own rav or posek for exact quantities.)

The requirement to separate challah depends on the ownership of the dough at the time it is mixed, not on who mixes it. In other words, if a Jew owns a bakery, there is a requirement to separate challah, even if his workers are not Jewish. Similarly, if a gentile does the kneading in a Jewish-owned household, nursing home or school, one must separate challah. And, conversely, there is no requirement to separate challah at a bakery owned by non-Jews, even if the employees are Jewish.

When there is a definite requirement to separate challah, one recites a brochah prior to fulfilling the mitzvah. As with all blessings on mitzvos, the brochah begins Baruch atoh Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu. There are different opinions and customs as to the exact text used in concluding this brochah. Among the versions I have seen: Some conclude lehafrish terumah, others lehafrish challah, and still others lehafrish challah min ha’isa.

Getting battered

Is there a requirement to separate challah when one is mixing a batter, as opposed to dough? The answer to this question is that it depends on how the batter is baked. When the finished product is baked in an oven, there is a requirement to separate challah, whether or not it was originally dough or a batter (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 329:2). Similarly, dough or a batter baked in a frying pan or a “wonder pot” (a pot meant for baking cakes on top of the stove) is also chayov in challah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 329:2). (Again — bear in mind that there is a requirement to separate challah only when there are at least three pounds of flour in the batter, a circumstance that is unusual when baking on a household stovetop.)

Waffles, when baked from batter poured into molds, are chayov in challah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 329:5). However, pancakes, which are made by pouring dough directly onto a stovetop or a frying pan, are exempt from challah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 329:5), even if one makes a large quantity. Why are waffles included in the requirement to take challah, but not pancakes? After all, both are made from loose batters.

The rishonim explain that when processing a thin batter without an oven, the finished product requires challah only when it has a bread-like appearance, what the Gemara calls turisa denahama, which it receives when baked in a mold (Tosafos, Brochos 37b s.v. Lechem). When a batter is neither baked in an oven nor poured into a mold prior to being baked, it does not form a turisa denahama. Therefore, pancakes, which are made from a batter, are not baked in an oven and are not poured into a mold, never form a turisa denahama, which is a requirement for them to become chayov in challah.

The waffle factory

At this point, we can address the fifth question that was asked above: “A friend of mine just purchased a factory that manufactures waffles. Does he need to have challah taken? The factory is located in a rural area where there is no Jewish population.”

The Shulchan Aruch rules that one is required to separate challah from waffles that are baked in a mold and therefore form a shape. Since a factory uses more than five pounds of flour in each batch of waffle mix, one should separate challah with a brochah, even though there are no Jews involved in the production. Ideally, arrangements should be made to have a frum person present during production to separate challah. Alternatively, there are methods whereby challah can be separated by appointing a frum person who is elsewhere as an agent for separating challah, but the logistics that this requires are beyond the scope of this article.

Sunny dough

All opinions agree that dough baked in the sun is not obligated in challah (Pesachim 37a). Also, a batter prepared in a frying pan that has some water in the bottom of the pan is patur from challah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 329:2), since this is considered to be cooked batter rather than baked bread.

Holy donuts

At this point, we can begin to explain whether donuts require the separation of challah. Donuts are made of dough with a reasonably thick consistency that is then deep-fried, or cooked in oil (these are two ways of saying the same thing). Cooking is not usually considered a process that creates bread. The question is whether the requirement to take challah exists already because it is mixed into dough, or that there is no requirement to take challah unless one intends to bake the dough.

According to one approach in the rishonim, one is obligated to separate challah from any dough that meets the size (43.2 eggs) and ownership (Jewish) requirements mentioned above, regardless of whether one intends to bake, cook or fry the dough afterwards (Rabbeinu Tam, as understood by Tosafos, Brochos 37b s.v. Lechem and Pesachim 37b s.v. Dekulei alma). Since the Torah requires separating challah from dough, it is possible to contend that there is a requirement to separate challah from dough even when there is no intention to bake it into bread, but cook it as pasta, kreplach, or donuts. According to this approach, a Jewish-owned pasta factory is required to separate challah for the macaroni, spaghetti and noodles that it produces. (Note that some authorities who accept Rabbeinu Tam’s basic approach, that any dough is obligated in challah, nevertheless exempt dough manufactured for pasta because of other reasons that are beyond the scope of our topic [see Tosafos, Brochos 37b, s.v. Lechem, quoting Rabbeinu Yechiel].)

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 329:3) concludes that dough that one intends to cook or fry is exempt from the requirement to take challah, ruling against Rabbeinu Tam. However, the Shach contends that one should separate challah without a brochah. Again, this would be required only if someone prepared a dough containing at least three pounds of flour. The Shach would hold this way also regarding other products that involve cooked or fried dough, such as kreplach. Thus, a caterer, restaurant or hotel cooking a large quantity of kreplach for a communal Purim seudah should have challah taken from the dough, in order to take into consideration the Shach’s position.

So, the simple answer to the question, “Is there a requirement to separate challah from donuts?” is that, according to the Shach, there is such a requirement, if more than three pounds of flour are being used. However, no brochah should be recited when separating challah, even when using a large amount of flour, since most authorities exempt dough that one intends to cook or fry from the requirement of taking challah.

Hamotzi

Having established some of the rules germane to the requirement to separate challah, do the same rules apply when determining what items require hamotzi before eating them? This is, itself, a subject that is disputed (see Tosafos, Pesachim and Brochos 37b s.v. Lechem). Some authorities contend that the rules for brochos are identical to those applied to the separation of challah, whereas others rule that one does not recite hamotzi unless another requirement is met – that the finished product has a bread-like appearance (turisa denahama). The halachic basis for drawing a distinction between the mitzvah of challah and the brochah to be recited is that the requirement to separate challah is established at the time the dough is mixed, whereas the halachic determination of which brochah to recite is created when the food is completed (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brochos; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 168:13).

Most authorities conclude that the correct brochah prior to eating a dough product that is cooked or fried is mezonos. According to this opinion, the correct brochah to recite before eating donuts or cooked kreplach is mezonos. (Sometimes kreplach are baked, which might change the halacha.) However, there is a second opinion that the correct brochah on these items is hamotzi, because they are all made from dough. According to this latter opinion, one is required to wash netilas yadayim prior to eating these items and to recite the full birchas hamazon (bensching) afterwards.

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 168:13) and the Rema (ibid.) both follow the majority opinion that the correct brochah prior to eating a dough product that is cooked or fried is mezonos. However, the Shulchan Aruch also cites the minority opinion, that one should recite hamotzi prior to eating a cooked dough product. He concludes that, to avoid any question, someone who is a yarei shamayim should eat a cooked dough product only after making hamotzi and eating a different item that is definitely bread. This way, the G-d fearing person avoids all halachic issues.

Some authorities question this solution, since a snack food requires a brochah even when consumed in the middle of a meal. A snack that is made out of dough is included under the halachic heading called pas habaah bekisnin, a topic I have written about in other articles, including one entitled Pizza, Pretzels and Pastry that can be found on the website RabbiKaganoff.com. (Those eager to pursue this question are also referred to the Magen Avraham [168:35] and the Machatzis Hashekel [ad loc.])

We now have enough information to answer the second of our opening questions: “I have discovered that a cousin of mine eats donuts only as part of a meal. Is there a halachic basis for his practice?”

Indeed, there is. According to the Shulchan Aruch’s recommendation that a yarei shamayim eat cooked dough foods only after reciting hamotzi on a different food that is definitely bread, your cousin is following the approach advised by the Shulchan Aruch to cover all the bases. However, this practice is not halachically required.

Holy bagels

At this point, let us return to the third of our original questions:

“May I use bagels for lechem mishneh on Shabbos?”

To answer this question, let us spend a moment researching how bagels are made. The old-fashioned method of making bagels was by shaping dough into the well-known bagel with-a-hole circle, boiling them very briefly and then baking the boiled dough.

Modern bagel factories do not boil the dough, but instead steam the shaped bagels prior to baking them, which produces the same texture and taste one expects when eating a bagel, creates a more consistent product and lends itself more easily to a mass production process. In either way of producing bagels, the halacha is that their proper brochah is hamotzi, because they are basically baked products (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 168:14). Since halacha treats them as regular bread, they may be used for lechem mishneh on Shabbos and Yom Tov. So, although bagels and donuts often share a common shape, they do not, in this case, share a common halachic destiny.

Top of the grill

At this point, let us examine the fourth of our original questions: “If I bake small loaves of bread on top of the grill, do they qualify as hamotzi, and may I use them for the seudos of Shabbos?” Does bread baked on top of a grill qualify as bread for hamotzi and lechem mishneh?

We can prove what the halacha is in this case from a passage of Talmud. The Gemara (Pesachim 37a) quotes a dispute between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakeish whether bread baked in a pan or pot is chayov in challah or not. According to Rabbi Yochanan, all such bread is chayov in challah, whereas according to Reish Lakeish, it is chayov in challah only if the pan is preheated, and then the dough is placed inside; however, if the dough is placed into a cold pan which is then heated, there is no chiyuv challah.

Although Rabbeinu Chananel rules according to Reish Lakeish in this instance, most rishonim rule according to Rabbi Yochanan, and this is the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch. The halachic conclusion is, also, that this bread requires the brochah of hamotzi (Rema, Orach Chayim 168:14). Furthermore, most authorities understand that the dispute between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakeish is when one is attempting to make bread out of a batter by baking it in a pan on top of the fire, but that all opinions agree that dough baked on top of the fire is definitely treated as bread. Therefore, we can answer this question positively: Bread produced this way may be used for the Shabbos meals, including lechem mishneh.

Conclusion

We have discovered that there are a variety of regulations that define whether something is chayov in challah, requires hamotzi and may be used for lechem mishneh. Dough or batter that is baked in an oven or other baking process and looks and services like bread, is bread for all these mitzvos.

On the other hand, a batter that is subsequently cooked or fried is not considered bread for any of these purposes.

In between, we have our donuts, which, although made from dough, are cooked. One should take challah from them without a brochah, assuming that there is sufficient quantity to create a chiyuv. For brochos purposes, we usually consider them mezonos, although there is a basis to be more stringent and to eat them, always, within a meal, to avoid getting involved in a halachic dispute.

Since we have spent most of our article discussing the mitzvah of challah, we should note the following Medrash that underscores its vast spiritual significance: “In the merit of the following three mitzvos, the world was created – in the merit of challah, in the merit of maasros, and in the merit of bikkurim” (Bereishis Rabbah 1:4).

 

The Text of Birchas Hagomeil

After Eliezer’s extensive travels through the desert, he presumably recited birchas hagomeil. Did he use the same text that we use?

Question #1: Slip up in shul

Not long ago, I received the following question in an e-mail. Upon reciting birchas hagomeil, the individual erred and recited the following:

Hagomeil tovim, shegemalani kol tuv,” thereby omitting the word lachayavim in “Hagomeil lachayavim tovim.” Must he now repeat the bracha because he omitted a word?

Question #2: Minor acknowledgements

“Thank G-d, my nine-year old daughter is now recuperating very successfully from surgery. Does she recite birchas hagomeil?”

Question #3: Daily thanks

“Does someone who travels daily recite birchas hagomeil?”

Answer:

In a previous article, we learned that birchas hagomeil is to be recited by someone who has been saved from a dangerous situation. Specifically, Sefer Tehillim (107) and the Gemara (Brachos 54b) mention four categories of people who survived treacherous predicaments: someone who traversed a wilderness, a captive who was freed, an ill person who recovered, and a seafarer who returned to terra firma. A safe return, release or recovery warrants reciting this bracha, although the halacha is that one recites birchas hagomeil after surviving any life-threatening situation. This article will discuss some aspects of this bracha that were not yet covered.

Someone else reciting

May someone else recite some form of birchas hagomeil on behalf of the person who actually was in the difficult circumstance? In this context, we find the following Gemara passage (loc. cit.):

“Rav Yehudah was ill and then recovered. When Rav Chona of Baghdad and other scholars came to visit him, they said to Rav Yehudah, ‘Blessed is the merciful One (in Aramaic, rachmana), Who returned you to us and not to the earth.’ Rav Yehudah responded, ‘You have exempted me from reciting birchas hagomeil!’”

Thus, we see that Rav Yehudah ruled that the praise recited by Rav Chona exempted him (Rav Yehudah) from reciting birchas hagomeil, notwithstanding the fact that Rav Chona had not been ill and had no requirement to bensch gomeil.

The Gemara proceeds to ask several questions about this conversation: “But do we not require a minyan for birchas hagomeil?” to which the Gemara replies that there indeed were ten people present when Rav Chona visited Rav Yehudah.

Subsequently, the Gemara questions how Rav Yehudah could have fulfilled the requirement to recite birchas hagomeil, if he himself had not made the bracha, to which it replies that he answered ‘Amen’ to the blessing of Rav Chona of Baghdad.

Thus, we see a second halacha. Someone who is required to recite birchas hagomeil need not recite the entire bracha himself, but can fulfill his responsibility by answering amen to someone else thanking Hashem.

Deriving Halacha

In addition to what we noted above, this Gemara discussion teaches several other halachos about birchas hagomeil:

1. Although the authorities quote a standardized text for birchas hagomeil, we see that one fulfills the requirement to recite the bracha even if one recited a version that varies considerably from the standard text. As long as one recites or responds to a bracha that acknowledges appreciation to Hashem for the salvation, he has fulfilled his obligation.

2. The person who was saved can fulfill his obligation by answering amen when he hears someone else thank Hashem, even though the other person who recited the bracha has no requirement to bensch gomeil. This is a unique halacha, because usually one may fulfill a bracha or mitzvah by hearing it from someone else only when the person reciting the bracha is equally required to observe the mitzvah. Nevertheless, Rav Yehudah discharged his responsibility through Rav Chona’s bracha, even though Rav Chona had no requirement to recite birchas hagomeil.

3. We can also derive from this anecdote that someone may fulfill the requirement of birchas hagomeil through someone else’s bracha, even though the person who recited the bracha did not intend to recite it on behalf of the person who is obligated. This is also an unusual facet of birchas hagomeil, since, in all other instances, the person fulfilling the mitzvah does so only if the person reciting the bracha intends to be motzi him.

4. Some authorities ask: How could Rav Chona of Baghdad have recited a blessing, when he did not know that Rav Yehudah would fulfill the mitzvah with this recital? Since Rav Chona was unaware that Rav Yehudah would fulfill the mitzvah, why was he not concerned that he would be reciting a bracha levatalah, a blessing recited in vain?

The answer is that Rav Chona of Baghdad’s recital was certainly praise to Hashem and thanks for His kindness, and therefore this blessing would certainly not be a bracha levatalah, even if no one fulfilled any requirement through it (Tur, Orach Chayim 219).

Uniqueness of birchas hagomeil

From these last rulings, we see that the concept of birchas hagomeil is unlike other brachos, and, therefore, its rules are different. As long as the person obligated to thank Hashem is involved in an acknowledgement that Hashem saved him, he has fulfilled his obligation.

What about mentioning Hashem’s name?

One should not infer from the above story that one can fulfill reciting birchas hagomeil without mentioning Hashem’s Name. This is because the word rachmana, which translates literally into English as “the merciful One,” also serves as the Aramaic word for G-d. Thus, Rav Chona of Baghdad did mention Hashem’s name in his blessing.

What about mentioning malchus?

The Rishonim note that from the way the Gemara quotes Rav Chona of Baghdad, “Blessed is the merciful One Who returned you to us and not to the earth,” one might conclude that it is sufficient to recite Baruch Ata Hashem for birchas hagomeil, and that one does not need to say also Elokeinu Melech haolam, the standard text prefacing all brachos. This would be very novel, since all brachos require an introduction that includes not only mention of Hashem, but requires also proclaiming that Hashem is King. However, the Tur and the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 219) reject this conclusion, contending that one does not fulfill birchas hagomeil unless one does mention sheim and malchus. We must therefore assume that the Gemara abbreviated the bracha recited by Rav Chona of Baghdad, but that he had indeed mentioned Hashem’s monarchy in his blessing.

The text

What is the optimal nusach, the exact text, of this bracha?

Although our Gemara (Brachos 54b) quotes a wording for birchas hagomeil, it is apparent that different rishonim had variant readings of the text of the bracha. The most common version recorded is: Baruch Atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam, hagomeil lachayavim tovos, shegemalani kol tov. “Blessed are You, Lord, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who grants good to those who are guilty, for He granted me much good.” The assembled then respond with “Amen,” and then add Mi shegemalcha kol tov hu yigmalcha kol tov sela, “May He Who has granted you much good continue to grant you much good forever.” The established Sefardi custom is to recite two pesukim prior to reciting the bracha, which calls people to attention, so that they can focus on the bracha and respond appropriately (Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 219:14).

The wording of the bracha sounds unusual, for it implies that the person who recited this bracha is assuming that he was deserving of Divine punishment, yet was saved because of Hashem’s kindness. Why should the saved person make this assumption?

The Maharam Mintz (Shu’t #14), an early Ashkenazi authority, explains that someone who became ill or was imprisoned should be introspective, seeking to learn a lesson by discovering why this happened to him, and, in so doing, he should realize that he is indeed guilty of things for which he needs to do teshuvah. In this context, the Avnei Nezer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #39) asks the following: while the Maharam Mintz’s reason explains why a person who was captured or imprisoned should consider himself guilty, it is not clear how it applies to someone who survived a journey on the high seas or through the desert, since he himself chose to undertake the trip. To this, the Avnei Nezer answers that there could be one of two reasons why this traveler undertook this trip: one alternative is that he felt a compelling need to travel, for parnasah or some other reason, in which case he should ask himself why Hashem presented him with such a potentially dangerous situation. The traveler should contemplate this issue and realize that he needs to do teshuvah for something — which now explains why the bracha calls him “guilty.”

The other alternative is that the traveler could have avoided the trip, in which case he is considered guilty, because he endangered himself unnecessarily. In either instance, we can now appreciate why the person reciting the bracha refers to himself as being “guilty.”

What about a child?

If a child survived a situation that would require an adult to recite birchas hagomeil, does he do so?

Early halachic authorities rule that a child under the age of bar or bas mitzvah does not recite birchas hagomeil. The Maharam Mintz explains that it is inappropriate for a child to recite the wording hagomeil lachayavim tovos, “Who grants good to those who are guilty.” Since the evil that befalls a child is not a result of his own evildoing, but of his father’s, a child reciting this text implies that his father is guilty, which is certainly improper for a child. Furthermore, to modify the bracha is unseemly, since one should not change the text of the bracha handed down to us by Chazal (quoted by Elyah Rabbah 291:3).

Some authorities are dissatisfied with this last answer, since we see that Rav Yehudah felt he had fulfilled his requirement to recite birchas hagomeil on the basis of the bracha in the form of praise recited by Rav Chona of Baghdad, “Blessed is Hashem that returned you to us and not to the earth,” which is quite different from the text “Who grants good to those who are guilty, for He granted me much good.” It would seem that any bracha text that includes a praise acknowledging thanks for Hashem’s rescue fulfills the requirement (see Shaar Hatizyun 219:5). Thus, it should be relatively easy to structure a birchas hagomeil text for children.

The above-quoted Avnei Nezer similarly disapproves of the reason presented by the Maharam Mintz, although he agrees with the ruling that a child should not recite birchas hagomeil – but for a different reason. The Avnei Nezer explains that although one could modify the text so that a child would be able to recite birchas hagomeil, having a child recite a different bracha would no longer accomplish the mitzvah of chinuch, which requires a child to fulfill the mitzvah the way he would as an adult.

On the other hand, the Chida (Birkei Yosef 219:1) quotes authorities who disagreed with the Maraham Mintz, and ruled that a child should recite birchas hagomeil, although he does not cite the rationale for this ruling. Presumably, they contend that having a child recite this bracha is no different from any other mitzvah in which we are required to educate our children. Most authorities agree with the rulings of the Maharam Mintz and the Avnei Nezer and, as a result, in most communities, both Ashkenazi and Sefardi, children do not recite birchas hagomeil (Kaf Hachayim 219:2).

Travels daily

The Minchas Yitzchak (4:11) was asked by someone who lived in Copenhagen, whose livelihood required him to travel among the nearby Danish islands of the Baltic Sea, whether he was required to recite birkas hagomeil every time he traveled through the Sea, in which case he would be reciting it almost daily.

Based on the above-quoted Avnei Nezer, who explained why all four categories of people who recite birkas hagomeil are categorized as “guilty,” the Minchas Yitzchak concludes that one does not recite birkas hagomeil if one lives in a place where each day requires sea travel. One cannot consider someone “guilty” for living in a place that is considered a normal place to live, and if a recognized livelihood in such a place requires daily sea travel, this cannot be considered placing oneself in an unnecessary danger.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Tehillim 100:1) notes that the root of the word for thanks is the same as that for viduy, confession and admitting wrongdoing. All kinds of salvation should elicit in us deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done for us in the past and does in the present. This is why the blessing can be both an acknowledgement of guilt and thanks.

We often cry out to Hashem in crisis, sigh in relief when the crisis passes, but fail to thank adequately for the salvation. Our thanks to Hashem should match the intensity of our pleas. Birkas hagomeil gives us a concrete bracha to say to awaken our feelings of gratitude for deliverance. And even in our daily lives, when, hopefully, we do not encounter dangers that meet the criteria of saying birkas hagomeil, we should still fill our hearts with thanks. It is certainly appropriate to focus these thoughts during our recital of mizmor lesodah, az yashir, modim or at some other point in our prayer.

What Warrants Birchas Hagomeil?

In parshas Chukas, the Torah alludes to a miraculous salvation that the Bnei Yisrael experienced prior to entering the Holyland. Certainly an appropriate time to discuss this topic.

Situation #1: “Frequent Flyer?!”

“I daven in an Ashkenazi shul, and a Sefardi fellow who attends the shul who must be some incredible, frequent flyer. He seems to recite birchas hagomeil every Monday and Thursday, whether or not they give him an aliyah.”

Question #2: Infrequent Flyer

“I do not understand why we bensch goimel when we fly over the ocean, but not when flying over land. It is just as dangerous to fly overland — as a matter of fact, it is actually somewhat safer to fly over water, since there is a far greater chance of surviving a crash landing at sea than on land.”

Question #3: Recuperating

“I recently underwent some surgery. At what point do I recite birchas hagomeil?”

Answer:

Our Sages instituted a beracha, called birchas hagomeil, which is recited when someone has been saved from four different types of treacherous predicaments: those who traveled by sea, those who journeyed through the desert, someone who was ill and recovered, and someone who was captured and gained release (Berachos 54b). In a different essay, I discussed the Biblical and Talmudic sources for this beracha, the requirements to recite it in the presence of ten people and its relationship to the reading of the Torah. This essay will discuss some of the circumstances for which one recites birchas hagomeil.

How much traveling?

One of the four instances for which the Gemara requires birchas hagomeil is surviving a trip through a desert. However, when the Rambam quotes this Gemara, he states, “those who traveled on intercity roads recite birchas hagomeil when they arrive at a settled place,” instead of “those who traveled through the desert.” The authorities dispute what the Rambam means. The Tur assumes that he means that one recites birchas hagomeil after any trip. This is the position held by the Ramban, who writes that the Gemara mentioned those who traveled through the desert only because that is the context of the verse in Tehillim, but that anyone traveling recites birchas hagomeil upon reaching his destination safely. For this reason, the Ramban and the Avudraham record that many Sefardim recite birchas hagomeil for any out-of-town trip, for, to quote the Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachos 4:4), kol haderachim bechezkas sakanah, “all highways should be assumed to be dangerous.

The Rosh, however, disagrees with the Ramban, contending that there is a difference between tefillas haderech, which one recites for any trip, and birchas hagomeil, which one recites only when one would be required to offer a korban todah. In the Rosh’s opinion, the statement kol haderachim bechezkas sakanah means that one should recite tefillas haderech any time one travels between cities, but not that one should recite birchas hagomeil upon one’s return. Reflecting this approach, the Rosh and Rabbeinu Yonah mention that, in France and Germany, the practice was to refrain from reciting birchas hagomeil when traveling from one city to the next.

The Bach also follows this approach and takes issue with the Tur’s interpretation of the Rambam. He contends that the Rambam agrees that someone traveling through an area where food and water can be readily obtained does not recite birchas hagomeil afterwards. The Bach suggests that the Tur was not quoting the Rambam, but the Ramban, and that scribes erred while redacting.

How far?

The Beis Yosef rules that one should not recite birchas hagomeil or tefillas haderech if his trip takes him a parsah, a distance of somewhat less than two and a half miles, outside a city. In practical terms, many Sefardim recite birchas hagomeil only after an intercity trip that took longer than 72 minutes, regardless of the distance covered or the method of transportation (Shu’t Yabia Omer 2: Orach Chayim #14).

Port call

Does someone on an extensive sea voyage recite birchas hagomeil each time his ship docks or only when he has reached his final destination?

If the ship pulls into port for a day or two, one does not recite birchas hagomeil until the voyage is over (Bach and Elyah Rabbah 219:1, quoting Olas Tamid; Mishnah Berurah 219:1 adds that this also holds true if someone traveling through the desert visits a city en route). However, the Bach is uncertain whether one should recite birchas hagomeil if he will be in port for an extended period of time before continuing his voyage. He also writes that someone who survives a mishap at sea should refrain from reciting birchas hagomeil until he arrives ashore. At this point, the traveler should recite birchas hagomeil on the entire voyage, including the specific accident that he, fortunately, survived.

The Biur Halacha discusses whether one travelling a short trip by river on a raft should recite birchas hagomeil. He says that it depends on the above-mentioned dispute between Ashkenazim and Sefardim whether one recites birchas hagomeil for a short intercity land trip. According to minhag Ashkenaz, that one does not recite birchas hagomeil for a short trip, one should not recite birchas hagomeil for a trip by raft; whereas, according to minhag Sefard, which recites birchas hagomeil even for a short intercity trip, one should recite birchas hagomeil for a short river trip.

Travels daily

The Minchas Yitzchak (4:11) was asked by someone who lived in Copenhagen, whose livelihood required him to travel among the nearby Danish Islands of the Baltic Sea, whether he was required to recite birchas hagomeil every time he traveled through the sea, in which case he would be reciting it almost daily.

To answer the question, the Minchas Yitzchak refers to a responsum of the Avnei Nezer, who asks why the text of the beracha is that the traveler was chayov, guilty. The Avnei Nezer explains that there could be one of two reasons why this traveler undertook this trip: one alternative is that he felt a compelling need to travel, for parnasah or some other reason, in which case he should ask himself why Hashem presented him with such a potentially dangerous situation. The traveler should contemplate this issue and realize that he needs to do teshuvah for something — which now explains why the beracha calls him “guilty.”

The other alternative is that the traveler could have avoided the trip, in which case he is considered guilty, because he endangered himself unnecessarily.

Based on the above-quoted Avnei Nezer, who explained why all four categories of people who recite birchas hagomeil are categorized as “guilty,” the Minchas Yitzchak concludes one does not recite birchas hagomeil if one lives in a place where sea travel is required each day. One cannot label a person as “guilty” for living in a place that is accepted to be a normal place to live, and if a recognized livelihood in such a place requires daily sea travel, this is not considered placing oneself in unnecessary danger.

Airplane travel

Does someone who travels by airplane recite birchas hagomeil?

In researching the different teshuvos written on this subject, I found a wide range of halachic opinion. Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that anyone traveling by airplane must recite birchas hagomeil, regardless as to whether he was traveling over sea or over land, exclusively. He contends that even those authorities who rule that one should recite birchas hagomeil only for the four types of calamities mentioned in Tehillim and the Gemara also require birchas hagomeil for flying, since flying by air is identical to traveling by ship, as the entire time that one is above ground, one’s longterm life plans are all completely dependent on one’s safe return to land (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:59). I found a ruling basically identical to Rav Moshe’s that cited a different reason. One should recite birchas hagomeil, not because air travel should be compared to seafaring, but because we rule that one recites birchas hagomeil for any type of danger to which one is exposed (Shu’t Betzeil Hachachmah 1:20).

Rav Ovadyah Yosef rules that Sefardim should recite birchas hagomeil after any air trip that takes longer than 72 minutes, just as they recite birchas hagomeil after any trip on land that takes this long (Shu’t Yabia Omer 2: Orach Chayim #14).

On the other hand, many contend that, since this is a different method of travel from what was included in the original takanas Chazal, and, in addition, air travel today is not highly dangerous, one should not recite birchas hagomeil, at least not with the Names of Hashem, out of the concern that this might result in a beracha levatalah (Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 2:9; Rav Sion Levy, in his question to Rav Ovadyah Yosef, published in Shu’t Yabia Omer, Orach Chayim II #14).

According to what we have written thus far, there should be no distinction drawn as to the length of the flight or whether it traverses land or sea. According to Rav Moshe Feinstein’s approach, one should always recite birchas hagomeil for air flight, and according to those who dispute this approach, one should not. Notwithstanding the strong logic, there is a prevalent custom that people bensch gomeil when flying overseas, but not when flying domestically. The Be’er Moshe (2:68) notes this practice, which he feels has very weak halachic foundation. Nevertheless, since this is the prevalent custom, he attempts to justify it and says that people should follow the custom.

How sick?

How ill must a person have been to require that he recite birchas hagomeil upon his recovery? I am aware of three opinions among the rishonim concerning this question.

(1) Some hold that one recites birchas hagomeil even for an ailment as minor as a headache or stomach ache (Aruch).

(2) Others contend that one recites birchas hagomeil only if he was ill enough to be bedridden, even when he was not dangerously ill (Ramban, Toras Ha’adam, page 49; Hagahos Maimoniyus, Berachos 10:6, quoting Rabbeinu Yosef).

(3) A third approach holds that one should recite birchas hagomeil only if the illness was potentially life threatening (Rama).

The prevalent practice of Sefardim, following the Shulchan Aruch, is according to the second approach — reciting birchas hagomeil after recovery from any illness which made the person bedridden. The prevalent Ashkenazic practice is to recite birchas hagomeil only when the illness was life threatening, notwithstanding the fact that the Bach, who was a well-respected Ashkenazic authority, concurs with the second approach.

How recuperated?

At what point do we assume that the person is recuperated enough that he can recite the birchas hagomeil for surviving his travail? The poskim rule that he does not recite birchas hagomeil until he is able to walk well on his own (Elyah Rabbah; Mishnah Berurah).

Chronic illness

The halachic authorities rule that someone who suffers from a chronic ailment and had a life threatening flareup recites birchas hagomeil upon recovery from the flareup, even though he still needs to deal with the ailment that caused the serious problem (Tur).

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Tehillim 100:1) notes that the root of the word for thanks is the same as that for viduy, confession and admitting wrongdoing. All kinds of salvation should elicit in us deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done for us in the past and does in the present. This is why the blessing can be both an acknowledgement of guilt and, at the same time, an expression of the thanks that we owe Hashem.

We often cry out to Hashem in crisis, sigh in relief when the crisis passes, but fail to thank Him adequately for the salvation. Our thanks to Hashem should match the intensity of our pleas. Birchas hagomeil gives us a concrete beracha to say to awaken our thanks for deliverance. And even in our daily lives, when, hopefully, we do not encounter dangers that meet the criteria of saying birchas hagomeil, we should still fill our hearts with thanks, focusing these thoughts during our recital of mizmor lesodah, az yashir, modim or at some other point in our prayer.

The Basics of Birchas Hagomeil

Among the many topics covered in this week’s reading are the mitzvos of the woman who just gave birth. This provides an opportunity to discuss the basics of Birchas Hagomeil:

Question #1: An offering or a blessing?

“The Torah describes bringing a korban todah as a thanksgiving offering. How does that relate to the brocha of birchas hagomeil? Did someone recite birchas hagomeil while offering the korban?”

Question #2: Blessing at home?

“May I recite birchas hagomeil if I will not be able to get to shul for kri’as haTorah?”

Question #3: Exactly ten?

“Our minyan has exactly ten people today. May someone recite birchas hagomeil?”

Answer:

There are two mitzvos related to thanking Hashem for deliverance from perilous circumstances. In Parshas Tzav, the Torah describes an offering brought in the Mishkan, or the Beis Hamikdash, called the korban todah.

There is also a brocha, called birchas hagomeil, which is recited when someone has been saved from a dangerous situation. The Rosh (Brachos 9:3) and the Tur (Orach Chayim 219) explain that this brocha was instituted as a replacement for the korban todah that we can no longer bring, since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash lies in ruin. Thus, understanding the circumstances and the laws of the korban todah and of birchas hagomeil is really one combined topic. This article will discuss some of the basic laws of birchas hagomeil.

Tehillim on Salvation

The Gemara derives many of the laws of birchas hagomeil from a chapter of Tehillim, Psalm 107. There, Dovid Hamelech describes four different types of treacherous predicaments in which a person would pray to Hashem for salvation. Several times, the Psalm repeats the following passage, Vayitzaku el Hashem batzar lahem, mimetzukoseihem yatzileim, “when they were in distress, they cried out to Hashem asking Him to deliver them from their straits. Hashem hears the supplicants’ prayers and redeems them from calamity, whereupon they recognize Hashem’s role and sing shira to acknowledge Hashem’s deliverance. The passage reflecting this thanks, Yodu lashem chasdo venifle’osav livnei adam, “they acknowledge thanks to Hashem for His kindness and His wondrous deeds for mankind,” is recited four times in the Psalm, each time expressing the emotions of someone desiring to tell others of his appreciation. The four types of salvation mentioned in the verse are for: someone who successfully traversed a wilderness, a captive who was freed, a person who recovered from illness, and a seafarer who returned safely to land.

Based on this chapter of Tehillim, the Gemara declares, arba’ah tzerichim lehodos: yordei hayam, holchei midbaros, umi shehayah choleh venisra’pe, umi shehayah chavush beveis ha’asurim veyatza, “four people are required to recite birchas hagomeil: those who traveled by sea, those who journeyed through the desert, someone who was ill and recovered and someone who was captured and gained release” (Brachos 54b). (Several commentators provide reasons why the Gemara lists the four in a different order than does the verse, a topic that we will forgo for now.) The Tur (Orach Chayim 219) mentions an interesting method for remembering the four cases, based on words from our daily shmoneh esrei prayer: vechol hachayim yoducha selah, explaining that the word chayim has four letters, ches, yud, yud and mem, which allude to chavush, yissurim, yam and midbar, meaning captive, the sufferings of illness, sea, and desert: the four types of travail mentioned by the verse and the Gemara. (It is curiously noteworthy that when the Aruch Hashulchan [219:5] quotes this, he has the ches represent “choli,” illness [rather than chavush, captive], which means that he would explain the yud of yissurim to mean the sufferings of captivity.)

Not all troubles are created equal!

Rav Hai Gaon notes that these four calamities fall under two categories: two of them, traveling by sea and through the desert, are situations to which a person voluntarily subjected himself, whereas the other two, illness and being held captive, are involuntary (quoted by Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #51). Thus, we see that one bensches gomeil after surviving any of these types of dangers, regardless of their having been within his control or not.

Some commentaries note that the Rambam cites the Gemara passage, arba’ah tzerichim lehodos, “four people are required to thank Hashem,” only in the context of birchas hagomeil and not regarding the laws of korban todah. This implies that, in his opinion, korban todah is always a voluntary offering, notwithstanding the fact that Chazal required those who were saved to recite birchas hagomeil (Sefer Hamafteiach). However, both Rashi and the Rashbam, in their respective commentaries to Vayikra 7:12, explain that the “four people” are all required to bring a korban todah upon being saved. As I noted above, the Rosh states that since, unfortunately, we cannot offer a korban todah, birchas hagomeil was substituted.

Thus we can answer the first question asked above:

“The Torah describes bringing a korban todah as a thanksgiving offering. How does that relate to the brocha of birchas hagomeil? Did someone recite birchas hagomeil while offering the korban?”

At the time of the beis hamikdash, birchas hagomeil had not yet been invented. We look much forward to its rebuilding so that we can again offer the korbanos and thereby become closer to Hashem this way. (However, note that the Chasam Sofer shares another possible way which disagrees with this interpretation of the Rosh and the Tur.)

A Minyan

When the Gemara (Brachos 54b) teaches the laws of birchas hagomeil, it records two interesting details: (1) that birchas hagomeil should be recited in the presence of a minyan and (2) that it should be recited in the presence of two talmidei chachamim.

No Minyan

Is a minyan essential for birchas hagomeil, as it is for some other brachos, such as sheva brachos? If someone cannot arrange a minyan for birchas hagomeil must he forgo the brocha?

The Tur contends that the attendance of a minyan and two talmidei chachamim is not a requirement to recite birchas hagomeil, but only the preferred way. In other words, someone who cannot easily assemble a minyan or talmidei chachamim may, nevertheless, recite birchas hagomeil. The Beis Yosef disagrees regarding the requirement of a minyan, feeling that one should not recite birchas hagomeil without a minyan present. However, he rules that if someone errantly recited birchas hagomeil without a minyan, he should not recite it again, but should try to find a minyan and recite the text of the brocha while omitting Hashem’s Name, to avoid reciting a brocha levatalah, a blessing in vain (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 219:3). The Mishnah Berurah follows an approach closer to that of the Tur, ruling that if one will be unable to assemble a minyan, he may recite birchas hagomeil without one. However, someone in a place where there is no minyan should wait up to thirty days to see if he will have the chance to bensch gomeil in the presence of a minyan. If thirty days pass without the opportunity, he should recite the birchas hagomeil without a minyan and not wait any longer.

When do we recite Birchas hagomeil?

The prevalent custom is to recite birchas hagomeil during or after kri’as haTorah (Hagahos Maimaniyos 10:6). The Orchos Chayim understands that this custom is based on convenience, because kri’as haTorah also requires a minyan (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 219). The Chasam Sofer presents an alternative reason for reciting birchas hagomeil during or after kri’as haTorah. He cites sources that explain that kri’as haTorah serves as a substitute for offering korbanos, and therefore reciting birchas hagomeil at the time of kri’as hatorah is a better substitute for the korban todah that we unfortunately cannot offer (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #51). He concludes nevertheless that, under special circumstances, one may recite birchas hagomeil without kri’as hatorah, which answers the question asked above: “May I recite birchas hagomeil if I will not be able to get to shul for kri’as haTorah?” The answer is that, when there is no option of hearing kri’as hatorah, one may recite birchas hagomeil without it.

Do we Count the Talmidei Chachamim?

I quoted above the Gemara that states that one should recite birchas hagomeil in the presence of a minyan and two talmidei chachamim The Gemara discusses whether this means that birchas hagomeil should be recited in the presence of a minyan plus two talmidei chachamim, a minimum of twelve people, or whether one should recite birchas hagomeil in the presence of ten people which should include two talmidei chachamim. The Rambam (Hilchos Brachos 10:8) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 219:3) rule that the minyan includes the talmidei chachamim, whereas the Pri Megadim rules that the requirement is a minyan plus the talmidei chachamim. Notwithstanding the Pri Megadim’s objections, the Biur Halacha concludes that one does need more than a minyan including the talmidei chachamim.

No Talmid Chacham to be found

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 219:3) then adds that someone located in a place where it is uncommon to find talmidei chachamim may recite birchas hagomeil in the presence of a minyan, even without any talmidei chachamim present.

Ten or ten plus one?

There is a dispute among the authorities whether the individual reciting the brocha is counted as part of the minyan or if we require a minyan aside from him (Raanach, quoted by Rabbi Akiva Eiger to 219:3). Most authorities rule that we can count the person reciting the brocha as one of the minyan (Mishnah Berurah 219:6). Shaar Hatziyun rallies proof to this conclusion, since it says that one should recite the brocha during kri’as haTorah, and no one says that one can do this only when there is an eleventh person attending the kri’as haTorah.

Thus, we can answer the last question that was asked above:

“Our minyan has exactly ten people today. May someone recite birchas hagomeil?”

The answer is that he may.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Tehillim 100:1) notes that the root of the word for thanks is the same as that for viduy, confession and admitting wrongdoing. All kinds of salvation should elicit in us deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done for us in the past and does in the present. This is why it can be both an acknowledgement of guilt and thanks.

We often cry out to Hashem in crisis, sigh in relief when the crisis passes, but fail to thank adequately for the salvation. Our thanks to Hashem should match the intensity of our pleas. Birchas hagomeil gives us a concrete brocha to say to awaken our thanks for deliverance. And even in our daily lives, when, hopefully we do not encounter dangers that meet the criteria of saying birchas hagomeil, we should still fill our hearts with thanks, focus these thoughts during our recital of mizmor lesodah, az yashir, modim or at some other appropriate point in our prayers.

Saying Amen to My Own Beracha

The beracha of Ga’al Yisrael, which commemorates our Exodus from Egypt, is one of the blessings whose laws are discussed in this article, and therefore this topic is very appropriate for parshas Bo.

Question #1:

“Why do Ashkenazim recite “amen” after the beracha of Bonei Yerushalayim, but not after any other beracha that we recite?”

Question #2:

“Why do Sephardim follow a different practice? And, why do they appear to be inconsistent?”

Question #3:

“Someone once told me that some authorities rule that one may recite “amen” after reciting the beracha of Ga’al Yisrael right before Shemoneh Esrei, and that this does not constitute an interruption. Can this possibly be true?”

Answer:

The Gemara (Berachos 45b) quotes two apparently contradictory statements whether one should recite “amen” after one’s own beracha; one Beraisa stating that it is meritorious to do so, and the other frowning on the practice. To quote the Gemara:

“It was taught in one source, ‘Someone who responds “Amen” after his own blessings is praiseworthy,’ whereas another source states it is shameful to do this.” The Gemara explains that the two statements do not conflict, but refer to two different situations. The Beraisa that declares that it is praiseworthy to recite amen after one’s own blessing is referring to reciting amen after reciting the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim in bensching, whereas the Beraisa that asserts that reciting amen after one’s own beracha is shameful refers to someone reciting amen after any other beracha. The halacha concludes that one who completes a beracha at the same time as the chazzan or anyone else may not recite amen to the other person’s beracha, since, in doing so, he recites amen to his own beracha. For example, when reciting Baruch She’amar, if one completes the beracha at the same moment as the chazzan, one may not recite amen (Elyah Rabbah 51:2).

Why Bonei Yerushalayim?

What is unique about the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim that one may recite “amen” after one’s own beracha?

The Rishonim note that it is not the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim that makes its law special; rather, it is its location, as the last of the three main berachos of birchas hamazon. (Although there is still another beracha afterwards, this last beracha is not part of the series, since it was added later. The fourth beracha of birchas hamazon, which Chazal call Hatov vehameitiv, was added hundreds of years after the Anshei Kenesses Hagedolah wrote the rest of the birchas hamazon as a commemorative to the burial of those who had fallen in the destruction of Beitar. This is a topic that I will leave for a different time.

Because it is not part of the series, it begins with a full berachaBaruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam, whereas berachos that are part of a series do not begin with these words [Pesachim 104b].) Reciting amen after Bonei Yerushalayim demonstrates the completion of a series of berachos (Rambam, Hilchos Berachos 1:17, 18). On the other hand, reciting amen after one’s own beracha any other time implies that one has completed a unit, which is not true (Rabbeinu Yonah). We find a similar idea that upon completing the pesukei dezimra where we repeat the last pasuk (both at the end of Chapter 150 and at the end of Az Yashir) to demonstrate that this section has now been concluded (see Tur, Orach Chayim Chapter 51).

Is Bonei Yerushalayim unique or simply an example of the last beracha of a sequence? If the latter is true, are there other instances when it is praiseworthy to recite amen to your own beracha at the closing of a sequence?

Rashi, in his comments to the above Gemara, indeed mentions that one concludes “amen” after reciting the last beracha of the birchos kerias shema, those berachos that surround the daily kerias shema that we recite every morning and evening. These two “concluding” berachosGa’al Yisrael in the morning, Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad in the evening — would then both be followed by the word “amen” to indicate the end of the series. (The beracha that begins with the words Baruch Hashem Le’olam, recited after Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad on weekdays by Nusach Ashkenaz outside Eretz Yisrael, is a later addition added in the times of the Geonim, and technically not part of the birchos kerias shema.) Many other Rishonim advise reciting amen at the end of any sequence of berachos, adding to Rashi’s list also Yishtabach, considered to be the end of a “sequence” of two berachos that begins with Baruch She’amar; and the closing beracha of Hallel, considered the sequel to the beracha beginning Hallel (quoted by the Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 66). Rabbeinu Hai Gaon goes even further, advising the recital of amen after every “after blessing,” considering it the end of a series begun with the beracha recited before (cited by Rabbeinu Yonah).

Ashkenazim all realize that there is something more to the story. Whereas Ashkenazim always complete the beracha of Bonei Yerushalayim with amen, we do not follow this procedure for any of the other berachos mentioned. This specific practice is very old and is already mentioned by Tosafos.

To explain this practice, we will first see what other Rishonim have to say about it. For example, although accepting the premise that we may recite amen following the last beracha of a series, the Rambam appears to dispute what we have quoted above as to what is considered a succession. He appears to hold that if anything interrupts in the middle, the berachos are no longer considered a series – thus, Yishtabach, the latter beracha of Hallel and the beracha of Ga’al Yisrael are not considered the ends of series, although the berachos immediately before kerias shema are (see Hilchos Berachos 1:17, 18, as explained by Beis Yosef). The pesukim recited in the middle break up the succession, and therefore one should not recite amen. Those who dispute with the Rambam contend that both Yishtabach and the ending beracha of Hallel are considered the end of a series, since they connect back to the original beracha.

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch, reflecting Sefardic halachic practice, rules a compromise position; contending that after Yishtabach one may add amen after his own beracha, but one is not required to do so (Orach Chayim 51:3). It is curious to note that in another place (Orach Chayim 215:1), the Shulchan Aruch mentions that Sefardic custom is to recite amen after Yishtabach and the last beracha of Hallel, and the Rama there notes that, according to the Shulchah Aruch’s conclusion, one should also recite amen after concluding the beracha Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad, the last beracha of the evening kerias shema series.

Although Ashkenazim agree that one may recite amen after these berachos, we usually do not do so. However, if one hears the closing of someone else’s beracha when completing one of these berachos, one answers amen to the other person’s beracha (Elyah Rabbah 51:2). Thus, we see that there is a qualitative difference between berachos that complete a sequence and those that do not. After the first group, one may recite amen after his own beracha, whereas after the second group, one may not.

However, we have still not answered the original question: Why single out the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim? If, indeed, one may recite amen after the last beracha of any series to signify that the series is completed, why does the Gemara mention this halacha only regarding the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim? And, furthermore, why is the prevalent Ashkenazic custom to recite amen, almost as if it is part of the beracha, only after the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim, but not after other closing berachos?

Both of these questions can be answered by studying a different passage of Gemara (Berachos 45b), which cites a dispute between Abayei and Rav Ashi as to whether the word amen recited following Bonei Yerushalayim should be said aloud. Abayei used to recite this amen aloud, in order to let everyone know that he had completed the first three berachos of birchas hamazon. He did so in order to remind workers employed by other people that it was time for them to return diligently to work. That is, although Chazal had instituted a fourth beracha to birchas hamazon, they specifically exempted those working for others from reciting this beracha, thereby emphasizing the responsibility of an employee to his employer to observe a full day of work. (In today’s environment, where it is assumed that workers take off for coffee and rest breaks during the workday, an employee is required to recite the fourth beracha of birchas hamazon.) Abayei recited “amen” aloud at the end of the third beracha so that everyone would realize that the fourth beracha is not part of the series and is treated differently.

Rav Ashi, on the other hand, deliberately recited amen softly, so that people would not treat the fourth beracha with disrespect. It appears that the practice of reciting amen after the third beracha of Bonei Yerushalayim is a carryover of Abayei’s practice – that is, we choose to emphasize that the fourth beracha is not min haTorah.

At this point, we understand the laws applicable to whether one recites amen after Bonei Yerushalayim, Yishtabach, Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad, and the end of Hallel. Sefardim recite amen after all these berachos. Ashkenazim hold that this is permitted, but do so only when reciting amen to someone else’s beracha at the same time.

However, the Beis Yosef and other early Sefardic authorities note what appears to be an inconsistency in Sefardic practice: whereas they recite amen after the above-mentioned list of berachos, they do not do so after other series of berachos, such as the morning berachos, or sheva berachos. The answer is that a series for our purposes means a group of berachos connected into a unit in a way that it is forbidden to interrupt between them. Thus, although morning berachos, and the berachos of sheva berachos are recited as a group, they are technically not a unit. The designation of a group of berachos as a unit is limited to cases where one may not interrupt between the berachos, such as in Hallel, pesukei dezimra, birchos kerias shema and birchos hamazon.

Papaya and the Beginning of Elul

clip_image002Whether a particular plant is defined halachically as a tree or not influences several areas of halacha, including:

 

1. What bracha one recites on its fruit.

2. What bracha one recites on its fragrance.

3. Whether the prohibition of orlah applies to its fruit.

4. How severe is the prohibition to destroy it (ba’al tashchis).

5. There are several agricultural halachos concerning kilayim, shmittah, and ma’aser, all of which are relevant only in Eretz Yisroel.

 

What does this have anything to do with the impending beginning of Elul and the papaya tree? Stay tuned and find out.

The Gemara mentions that a tree that takes root thirty days before Rosh Hashanah is halachically considered to complete its first year and begin its second year on Rosh Hashanah. This has major ramifications for determining which fruit are no longer prohibited as orlah, but more so, can actually be a factor as to whether certain crops are permitted or not. As we will soon see, the question germane to papaya is because most papaya fruit often grows before the tree is three years old, which may create a problem whether one may eat the papaya fruit. As we will soon see, although this problem is more serious in Eretz Yisroel, the question also exists germane to papaya that grows elsewhere.

What is a Tree?

Although it is obvious that an oak tree is not a vegetable, the status of many species of Hashem’s botanical wonders is questionable: are they trees or are they not? The Random House dictionary I have on my desk defines a tree as, “a plant having a permanently woody main stem or trunk, ordinarily growing to a considerable height, and usually developing branches at some distance from the ground.” If we exclude the two qualifiers, “ordinarily” and “usually,” then this definition does not consider a grape vine to be a tree since it lacks height if not supported and does not develop branches some distance from the ground. Since we know that halacha considers grapes to be fruits of the tree, this definition will not suffice. On the other hand, if we broaden the definition of “tree” to include all plants that have a “permanently woody stem or trunk” we will not only include grape vines, but also probably include eggplant, pineapple, and lavender, all of which have woody stems. On the other hand, several plants, such as the date palm and papaya, fit the Random House definition as a tree and yet grow very differently from typical trees. Are all of these plants trees?

For halachic purposes, a better working definition is that a tree is a woody perennial plant that possesses a stem that remains from year to year and produces fruit. This definition is also not without its difficulties. In a different article, I discussed the status of eggplant, several varieties of berry including raspberry and cranberry, and several fragrant plants and flowers, which may or may not qualify as trees, depending on our definition. There are many times that we treat a plant “lechumrah” as a tree regarding the very stringent laws of orlah, although we will not treat it as a tree regarding many or all of the other halachos mentioned. In that article, I noted that the following characteristics might be qualifying factors in providing the halachic definition of a tree:

(a) Is the species capable of producing fruit within its first year (after planting from seed)?

(b) Does the fruit production of the species begin to deteriorate the year after it begins producing?

(c) Does the species produce fruit from shoots that will never again produce fruit?

(d) Is its physical appearance markedly different from a typical tree?

(e) Many poskim contend that the prohibition of orlah does not apply to a tree that produces fruit for three years or less.

We should also note that poskim dispute whether the definition of a tree for the purposes of the bracha “borei atzei besamim” is the same as the definition for the bracha of “borei pri ha’eitz” and for the halachos of orlah, shmittah, ma’aser, and kilayim.

Is papaya a tree?

A papaya may grow ten feet tall or more, but it bears closer similarity in many ways to being a very tall stalk since its stem is completely hollow on the inside and it does not usually produce branches. Its leaves and fruits grow directly on the top of the main stem, and it usually produces fruit during the first year, unlike most trees.

Commercially, the grower usually uproots the plant after four to five years of production, although the papaya can survive longer, and in some places it is standard to cut it down and replant it after three years.

With this introduction, we can now begin to discuss whether papaya is a tree fruit and its proper bracha borei pri ha’eitz, or whether is it is considered a large plant on which we recite ha’adamah as we do for banana. A more serious question is whether the prohibition of orlah applies to papaya. If it does, this could create an intriguing problem, since it may be that there are plantations, or even countries, where the entire papaya crop grows within three years and may be prohibited as orlah.

Commercial and Halachic History of Papaya

The Spaniards discovered papaya in Mexico and Central America, from there it was transported to the Old World. The earliest halachic reference to it that I am aware of is a shaylah sent from India to the Rav Pe’alim (Vol. 2, Orach Chayim #30), author of the Ben Ish Chai, asking which bracha to recite on its fruit.

The Rav Pe’alim discusses what the appropriate bracha on papaya is. He begins by comparing papaya to the eggplant. Based on four factors, Rav Pe’alim rules that papaya is not a tree and that the appropriate bracha is ha’adamah. These factors are:

1. The part of the stem that produces fruit never produces again. Instead, the fruit grows off the newer growth higher on the plant. Initially, I did not understand what the Rav Pe’alim meant with this, since there are many trees, such as dates, which produce only on their new growth, not on the old. Thus, this does not seem to be a feature that defines a tree. After further study, I realized that the difference is that papaya produces fruit only on top of the “tree,” and it looks atypical, not resembling other trees, whereas with dates, although the fruit grows on the new growth high up on the tree, it does not grow on the top of the tree, but from branches on the new growth.

2. The stem of the papaya is hollow, which is not characteristic of trees. (Rav Moshe Shternbuch, in his teshuvah on whether papaya is included in the prohibition of orlah, describes papaya as a tall stalk. See Shu’t Teshuvos VeHanhagos 3:333).

3. The fruit grows directly on the trunk and not on the branches.

4. The papaya produces fruit within its first year.

In a follow-up letter, a correspondent wrote that the custom among Jews in India is to recite ha’eitz before eating the papaya’s fruit. Rav Pe’alim responded that he does not consider this custom to be a halachic opinion, since the community lacked Talmidei Chachomim to paskin shaylos. He points out that if the papaya is a tree, then we must prohibit its fruit as orlah since the grower usually cuts it down before its fourth year.

Among contemporary poskim, some follow the ruling of the Rav Pe’alim that papaya is exempt from orlah and its bracha is ha’adamah (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 4:52), whereas most rule that papaya does have orlah concerns (Shu’t Shevat Halevi 6:165; Mishpetei Aretz, page 27, quoting Rav Elyashiv; Teshuvos VeHanhagos). One should note that Rav Ovadyah Yosef, who rules that papaya is exempt from any orlah concerns, also rules that passionfruit, called pasiflora in Hebrew, is also exempt from the prohibition of orlah since it produces fruit in its first year. Most other authorities do not accept this approach.

Papaya outside Eretz Yisrael

There should be a difference in halacha between papaya growing in Eretz Yisroel and that growing in chutz la’aretz. Whereas the prohibition of orlah exists both in Eretz Yisroel and in chutz la’aretz, questionable orlah fruit is prohibited if it grew in Eretz Yisroel but permitted if it grew in chutz la’aretz. This is because the mitzvah of orlah has a very unusual halachic status. There is a halacha leMoshe meSinai that prohibits orlah fruit outside of Eretz Yisroel, but only when we are certain that the fruit is orlah. When we are uncertain whether the fruit is orlah, the halacha leMoshe meSinai permits this fruit.

Based on the above, one should be able to permit papaya growing outside Eretz Yisroel either because (1) there is the possibility that this particular fruit grew after the orlah years had passed or (2) that perhaps papaya is not considered a tree for one of the reasons mentioned by the Rav Pe’alim.

There are two important differences in halacha between these two reasons. The first is whether the bracha on papaya is ha’eitz or ha’adamah. The Rav Pe’alim ruled that it is not a tree fruit and therefore its bracha is ha’adamah. According to the first approach, it may indeed be ha’eitz and still be permitted, since it is only safek orlah.

Here is another difference in halacha between the two reasons.

Papain

Papain is a highly popular enzyme extracted from the papaya. In the early twentieth century, Belgian colonists in the Congo noticed that the local population wrapped meat in papaya leaves. The colonists discovered that the papaya leaves preserved the meat and also tenderized it. Laboratory analysis discovered an enzyme, now called papain, as the agent of the process. This spawned a new industry producing and selling papain from papaya plantations around the world.  New applications were discovered, and papain is now also used in the production of beer, biscuits, and is very commonly used as a digestive aid.

If papain were still produced from leaves there would be no orlah issue, since orlah applies only to the fruit of a plant. Unfortunately, today’s papain is extracted not from the leaf, but from the peel of the papaya. If a fruit is prohibited as orlah, its peel is also prohibited.

In actuality, there is a more serious problem of orlah in papain than in eating the papaya fruit itself. Papain is collected by scratching the peel of the growing fruit, which causes a liquid containing the papain to exude from the peel, without harming the fruit. A bib is tied around the middle of a papaya tree, which catches all the papain from that particular tree. The papain is collected and sent to a plant where all the papain harvested is blended. The process can be repeated many times before the fruit is ripe for picking. Thus, the papain is a second crop.

However, this method of harvesting the papain creates a halachic complexity not encountered with the papaya fruit. Since safek orlah is permitted in chutz la’aretz, if we are uncertain as to whether a particular tree growing is within its orlah years, we may eat the fruit because of the halacha leMoshe meSinai that safek orlah is permitted. Therefore, even if we consider papaya a tree, the fruit grown outside Eretz Yisroel is permitted if there is a possibility that it is not orlah.  The papain, however, would be prohibited because the papain used is a mixture of extracts of all the fruit. If indeed this particular grove contained some trees that are orlah, then the mixture is permitted only if there are 200 parts of non-orlah fruit to one part orlah, which in essence prohibits all the papain.

The above is true if we assume that the papaya is a tree subject to the laws of orlah. However, if we assume that the different reasons suggested are enough bases to rule that it is questionable whether papaya is subject to the laws of orlah, then we may permit papaya from trees that grow outside Eretz Yisrael even when we are certain that the tree is less than three years old. The latter reason would permit papain that originates in chutz la’aretz.