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).

 

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.