Shaylah 1. Yehuda is famished and spots a pizza shop with a reliable hechsher. Entering the shop, he sees no place to wash before eating, but the friendly counterman assures him, “No problem, our pizza is mezonos!” Is the counterman’s psak correct?
Shaylah 2. While driving inter-city, Baila snacks on some packaged cookies. Before realizing it, she has single-handedly eaten the entire box! Must she bensch or does she recite al hamichyah?
Shaylah 3. It is hard for Dovid to wash at work, so instead of taking sandwiches, he eats crackers with his meal. Can he thereby avoid washing netilas yadayim?
Shaylah 4. When Shifra invited her new Sefardi neighbor for a Shabbos meal, they told her that they do not make hamotzi on challah that tastes sweet. When Shifra offered them matzoh instead, she was told that they make mezonos on it! Why is there such a difference between our practices?
To answer each of these shaylos, we need to study the halachic subject known as “pas haba’ah bikisnin,” a term we will translate later. As a working definition, we could say that this includes baked goods usually eaten as a snack rather than as a meal. Although we will discuss the halachic details of pas haba’ah bikisnin, in general these items are mezonos and al hamichyah when eaten as a snack, and require washing, hamotzi, and the full bensching when eaten as a meal.
HOW CAN SOMETHING SOMETIMES BE HAMOTZI AND SOMETIMES MEZONOS? DOES IT HAVE AN IDENTITY CRISIS?
In a way, yes. Sometimes these items fulfill the role of bread and sometimes they do not. But before we explain the role of pas haba’ah bikisnin, we must first explain why bread is unique.
As we know, Chazal established a special bracha just for bread, hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz, and it is the only food that requires full bensching. The Torah views bread as mankind’s staple food and as such it has brachos of its own.
WHAT IS BREAD?
My dictionary defines bread as something made from flour and water (or another liquid) and baked. This definition is highly inadequate, since according to this definition, croissants, cake, cookies, pretzels, pastry, tarts, pies, teiglach, kichel and many other items are all “bread,” yet even Marie Antoinette did not serve them as substitutes for bread on a regular basis.
Thus, we need a better definition for bread, or at least for bread that always requires netilas yadayim, hamotzi and bensching. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 168) explains that these halachos apply to bread prepared the way it is typically used for sustenance, rather than as a snack. Baked goods that are typically eaten not as a staple but as a snack are placed in a different halachic category.
With this introduction, we can now discuss our subject. The Gemara (Berachos 42a) tells us that if one eats as much pas haba’ah bikisnin as most people consider a meal, one must treat it as bread. Under such circumstances, one must wash netilas yadayim, make hamotzi and bensch. The rationale is that by eating pas haba’ah bikisnin for sustenance, we are treating it like bread. Thus, usually pas haba’ah bikisnin is eaten as a snack, and when eaten this way its bracha is mezonos and al hamichyah (Rosh).
WHAT CONSTITUTES PAS HABA’AH BIKISNIN?
There are three basic interpretations of pas haba’ah bikisnin:
1. Bread made from spiced or sweetened dough (Rashi, Berachos 41b; Rambam, Hilchos Berachos 3:9). Most pastry and cake fit into this category.
2. Bread made with pockets that are filled with sweets before it is baked (Tur). This is similar to kokosh and rugelach, where regular bread dough is rolled between layers of chocolate or cinnamon before it is baked.
3. Hard bread like a cracker, biscuit, kichel or pretzel (Rav Hai Gaon).
The “bread” of all three above instances is usually not eaten as a staple, but as a snack. According to many later authorities we rule like all three opinions above: therefore, any baked item that is sweetened, spiced or has too hard a texture to be eaten as regular bread, is considered pas haba’ah bikisnin (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 168:7; see also Maamar Mordechai and Biyur Halacha to 168:8). All of these items will be mezonos and al hamichyah if eaten as a snack, and will be hamotzi and require full bensching if eaten as a full meal.
Matzoh is baked similar to a cracker, yet is usually eaten as a substitute for bread rather than as a snack. Since it is usually eaten in order for one to be satiated rather than as a snack, Ashkenazim treat matzoh as regular bread. On the other hand, they are not eaten that regularly the rest of the year and are also not too different from other crackers. For these reasons, Sefardim treat them as pas haba’ah bikisnin the rest of the year, and only treat them as bread on Pesach when they function as our regular bread, whereas Ashkenazim contend that they are a staple and are therefore hamotzi. (It should be noted that on Pesach Sefardim also recite hamotzi over matzoh, since this is the regular bread of the Yom Tov, see Machazik Bracha 158:5). Thus, we have explained Shifra’s questions (that we mentioned above) why Sefardic and Ashkenazic practice are so different.
We should note that boiled or fried items never have the law of pas haba’ah bikisnin, but are always mezonos even if eaten as a full meal. Thus, most authorities rule that pasta, kneidlich, donuts and chremzlich (the latter two are deep fried) are mezonos and al hamichyah and do not require netilas yadayim, no matter how much you eat and regardless how many calories one gains. (It should be noted that there is an opinion that disagrees, see Shulchan Aruch 168:13).
A LITTLE SWEET
What about an item that is just a bit sweet, such as many Ashkenazi Shabbos challos?
The poskim dispute how sweet something must be to be considered pas haba’ah bikisnin. The Shulchan Aruch, followed by the Sefardim, rules that even if the dough is only a little sweet, one should treat it as pas haba’ah bikisnin and it is mezonos as long as the sweetness is noticeable, whereas the Rama, who is followed by Ashkenazim, rules that it has to be very sweet or very spicy to be pas haba’ah bikisnin.
WHEN IS PAS HABA’AH BIKISNIN CONSIDERED A STAPLE?
I mentioned before that one must wash netilas yadayim before eating pas haba’ah bikisnin, and recite hamotzi and bensch on it when it is eaten as a staple rather than as a snack. What defines the difference between a staple and a snack?
According to many poskim, if what one ate is enough to be considered a large meal then it is treated like bread. Other poskim contend that even if one ate an amount the size of four eggs, one is already required to wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi. (For our purposes, we will say that four kibeitzim is approximately 8.4 ounces.)
Some contend that one makes hamotzi even for the equivalent of three kibeitzim, or about 6.3 ounces. Thus, someone who eats four kibeitzim or more of pastry outside a meal creates a shaylah as to what bracha to recite before and after eating, and whether he must wash netilas yadayim. One should avoid this shaylah by eating less than four kibeitzim unless one eats it as part of a meal (Mishnah Berurah 168:24), and some contend less than the equivalent of three kibeitzim (Birkei Yosef 168:4).
DOES THIS AMOUNT INCLUDE THE OTHER ITEMS ONE IS EATING, OR JUST THE “PAS” PART OF THE MEAL?
If someone ate an entire meal of meat and vegetables without bread but with pas haba’ah bikisnin, must he wash netilas yadayim, and does he recite hamotzi and bensch? The Magen Avraham (168:13) rules that he must wash netilas yadayim, make hamotzi and bensch since he ate pas haba’ah bikisnin together with the meal. Thus, he is satisfied from eating a meal containing pas haba’ah bikisnin, which requires him to treat it as bread. As we will see, Ashkenazim usually follow this psak (Mishnah Berurah 168:24). Thus, substituting crackers instead of bread for supper and eating as many crackers as is typical with a meal will not exempt someone from washing netilas yadayim and he will still recite hamotzi and bensching.
Birkei Yosef (168:6) disagrees, contending that we calculate only how much pas haba’ah bikisnin he is eating. Thus, one is exempt from netilas yadayim as long as one ate less than four kibeitzim of pas haba’ah bikisnin. If someone eats less than three kibeitzim, one recites mezonos on the crackers, ha’adamah on the vegetables, and shehakol on the meat, and afterwards recites al hamichyah and borei nefashos since he did not eat four kibeitzim of pas haba’ah bikisnin. One should avoid eating between three kibeitzim and four outside a meal, but if one did eat this much, he would make an al hamichyah afterwards (VeZos HaBeracha pg. 37). This is the approach usually followed by Sefardim.
We can now explain how Shifra can accommodate the needs of her Sefardic guests. There are a total of three different disputes all related to the halachos of pas haba’ah bikisnin.
1. Do we consider sweet challah to be bread or pas haba’ah bikisnin?
2. Do we consider matzoh to be regular bread or pas haba’ah bikisnin?
3. If someone eats a full meal containing less than three kibeitzim of pas haba’ah bikisnin does he recite hamotzi and bensch or not?
In all three of these shaylos, Ashkenazim follow the first alternative and Sefardim the second. Therefore, whereas an Ashkenazi makes hamotzi on a sweet challah or on matzoh, a Sefardi will not make hamotzi on it unless he intends to eat four kibeitzim. Thus, an Ashkenazi inviting a Sefardi should ideally provide challah that has no noticeable sugar to make his guest comfortable. A Sefardi eating at an Ashkenazi’s house where there is only sweet challah should eat four kibeitzim of the challah in the course of the meal.
We can also now paskin Baila’s shaylah – our traveler who ate an entire bag of cookies while driving. If she ate so many cookies that she is full from them, she must bensch, even though she did not wash netilas yadayim before imbibing her cookies, since she ate enough to be considered a filling, if not particularly balanced, meal.
At a large kiddush or a smorgasbord, many courses are served that certainly suffice for a full meal. In addition, crackers and cake are usually also served, both of which qualify as pas haba’ah bikisnin. Thus, an Ashkenazi who eats enough for a full meal should wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi on the crackers if he intends to eat the amount of crackers that one would usually eat with this meal.
According to many poskim, a Sefardi merely needs to keep track that he eats less than three kibeitzim of pas haba’ah bikisnin to avoid a shaylah.
How does an Ashkenazi participate in the kiddush without eating a full seudah and yet without creating a shaylah what bracha to make?
The two best options are to eat the cake and crackers either before or after he eats the rest of the Kiddush foods. If he eats them first, the optimal way to avoid the shaylah is by reciting an al hamichyah and then eating the other items at the kiddush (VeZos HaBeracha pg. 35). This demonstrates that the pas haba’ah bikisnin and the rest of what he is eating are not one big meal.
An interesting phenomenon results from this discussion. It is not uncommon for someone to attend a kiddush and eat a considerable amount of cake, crackers and other food without washing netilas yadayim. This is incorrect because they have eaten a full seudah that requires washing and bensching. Then, they come home fairly full and, wanting to save room for the rest of the Shabbos meal, they eat only a small piece of challah, less than they need to fulfill the mitzvah of seudas Shabbos, or even to require them to bensch. They should make sure to eat a kibeitzah of challah within a few minutes in order to make sure that they fulfill the mitzvah of seudah.
What if someone decides in the middle of a snack that he is going to eat enough to make a meal? If he will still be eating enough to be considered a meal, he should wash, and make hamotzi on what he is yet to eat. On the other hand, if what he intends to eat is not enough for hamotzi by itself, but only in combination with what he ate already, then he should not make a new bracha but complete eating what he has left without washing (Magen Avraham 168:14). When he finishes eating, he bensches – creating the rather unusual situation of reciting mezonos before eating and bensching afterwards.
Bakeries that produce so-called “mezonos rolls” knead them with enough juice or milk to consider them pas haba’ah bikisnin according to some authorities. These rolls should taste fairly sweet, and if they do not, are hamotzi for an Ashkenazi even if one takes only a nibble from them.
However, the bracha is mezonos only when one eats a small amount. When eating a full meal together with mezonos rolls, one must wash netilas yadayim, recite hamotzi, and bensch afterwards. Thus, the “psak” of the pizzeria’s counterman (quoted above) that the pizza is mezonos was certainly not accurate if the partaker is an Ashkenazi eating a full meal. Furthermore, it is not the preferred method if he eats three kibeitzim or more of pizza, and certainly not if he ate four.
There is another reason to question his psak, as we will discuss.
PIZZA, BUREKAS AND MEAT PIES
The Shulchan Aruch (168:17) rules that the bracha on an item called “pashtida,” a baked item filled with meat, fish or cheese, is hamotzi. This sounds exactly like a case that should have the halachic status of our second type of pas haba’ah bikisnin mentioned above, where one filled a dough, yet the Shulchan Aruch rules that it is considered bread! Why is pashtida different?
The poskim present several answers to this question.
(A) Pashtida is indeed a form of pas haba’ah bikisnin. The Shulchan Aruch is discussing a case in which he ate a full meal and that is why the bracha is hamotzi (Taz 168:20).
(B) There is a difference between dough filled with sweet things and one filled with satisfying things like cheese, fish or meat. The latter case, which is the case of pashtida, is always hamotzi since it is meant to satisfy and not as a sweet snack (Emek Bracha, quoted by Taz 168:20; Graz 168:10).
(C) Pashtida is regular bread dough and therefore its bracha is hamotzi. If it was made with a oily dough, such as one makes burekas, then indeed it would be considered pas haba’ah bikisnin (Birkei Yosef 168:7; see a similar approach in Aruch HaShulchan 168:50).
At first glance, pizza and pashtida seem comparable and both should be hamotzi. However according to the first approach above, this is true only if one ate a lot of pashtida and pizza, otherwise it is still comparable to pas haba’ah bikisnin. According to the second approach above, both pashtida and pizza are hamotzi even if one eats only a small amount. Thus, there is an additional reason why pizza might be hamotzi even if one ate only a small amount.
Adding milk or juice to the flour will only make a difference according to the last approach. According to this opinion, pizza produced with regular bread dough is hamotzi, whereas adding milk or juice to the dough might make it into pas haba’ah bikisnin. Even this is by no means certain, since the pizza itself does not taste different by virtue of the milk or juice added to its dough.
Thus, according to many poskim, pizza is always hamotzi, whereas according to some poskim it is pas haba’ah bikisnin and therefore sometimes mezonos as I explained above. As in all other shaylos, one should ask one’s individual Rav what to do.
According to the Gemara (Bava Kamma 30a), someone who desires to become a chassid (exemplary in his behavior) should toil in understanding the halachos of brachos. By investing energy into understanding the details of how we praise Hashem, we realize the importance of each aspect of that praise and how we must recognize that everything we have is a gift from Hashem. Furthermore, when reciting the proper bracha, one is acquiring the item from Hashem in the proper way. Pas haba’ah bikisnin functions in two different ways, sometimes as our main sustenance and most of the time as a pleasant snack. Reciting the correct bracha focuses on our understanding the appropriate praise for Hashem at the correct moment.