Topical Tropical Plants — Papaya, Pineapple, and Palm Hearts

A visitor to the food market today may choose from a vast assortment of tropical and exotic fruits that were unknown in earlier generations. Many of these fruits grow in unique ways and create interesting shaylos. Other tropical products, such as heart of palm and sugarcane, were well-known, but have undergone major production changes or involve interesting shaylos. These gifts of Hashem provide a wonderful opportunity to discuss some of the halachos pertaining to trees.

We learned in previous articles that whether something is a tree or not influences several areas of halacha, including what bracha one recites before eating its fruit or smelling its fragrance, and many details of the halachos of arlah, kilayim (mixing species), shmittah, maaser, and ba’al tashchis (destruction without benefit).

As we noted, although it is obvious that an oak tree is not a vegetable, many species of Hashem’s botanical wonders are questionable whether or not they are trees. In a different article I discussed the status of eggplant, several varieties of berry including raspberry and cranberry, and several fragrant plants and flowers. In that article we learned that there is a three-way dispute regarding whether woody plants are categorized as trees, specifically whether:

(1) Any perennial plant (one that grows each year without replanting) is considered a tree, even if everything that is above ground dies off each year and only its underground root remains. We will refer to this as the opinion of the Rosh (Berachos 40a; Tur, Orach Chayim 203).

(2) Only a plant whose trunk or stem remains above ground from one year to the next to produce fruit qualifies as a tree. We will refer to this as the opinion of Tosafos (Berachos 40a; Ritva, Sukkah 35a).

(3) It is only a tree if it has branches that remain from one year to the next. We will refer to this as the opinion of Rashi (Berachos 40a).

We also mentioned that the prevalent minhag is to make a pri ha’adamah on species that grow less than ten inches tall (Ritva, Sukkah 35a; Mishnah Berurah 203:3). As we noted, cranberries fit into this category since they are perennial, yet grow prostrate on the “ground” of bogs. Nevertheless, we treat these species as trees concerning the laws of arlah. Furthermore, if one recited borei pri ha’eitz before eating them one has fulfilled the requirement of a bracha and should not recite borei pri ha’adamah.

Other poskim add other qualifying factors to define a tree, such as:

(a) A species capable of producing fruit within its first year (after planting from seed) is not a tree.

(b) A species whose fruit production deteriorates the year after it begins producing is not a tree.

(c) A species that produces fruit from shoots that never produce again is not a tree.

(d) A species whose physical appearance is markedly different from a typical tree is not a tree.

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

We also learned that poskim dispute whether the definition of a tree for the purposes of the bracha “borei atzei besamim” is different from the definition for the bracha of “borei pri ha’eitz” and for the halachos of arlah, shmittah, maaser, and kilayim.

With this introduction, we can now discuss some topical tropical issues:

What is the correct bracha to recite before eating coconut or palm hearts?

Does the prohibition of arlah apply to papaya?

If someone recited a borei pri ha’eitz on pineapple or on cane sugar, must he recite a new bracha?

BANANAS AND PINEAPPLES

Bananas are perennial plants whose new fruit grows directly from the root every year. Pineapple is a perennial herb which grows about three feet high, bearing long, stiff leaves in a circular cluster. The fruit grows from the center of this cluster, and, when removed, the plant produces another fruiting stem. This process can repeat itself for years, although in practice, the farmer usually uproots the entire field and replants it every few years.

Whether the bracha on these fruits is ha’eitz or ha’adamah depends on the dispute quoted above. According to the Rosh, the bracha recited on these fruits is ha’eitz since the root remains from one year to the next. However, according to the opinion of Tosafos and of Rashi, the bracha is ha’adamah, since the part of the plant that is above ground does not produce fruit again.

If we are uncertain whether the correct bracha on an item is ha’eitz or ha’adamah, one should recite ha’adamah. This is because someone who mistakenly recites borei pri ha’adamah on a fruit that should have been borei pri ha’eitz fulfills the minimal requirement bidie’evid (after the fact) and should not recite an additional bracha of borei pri ha’eitz. The reason for this is that every tree grows from the ground – Thus praising Hashem for “creating the fruit of the ground” when eating a fruit that grew on a tree is not inaccurate. Therefore, someone who is uncertain whether a certain fruit is “of the tree” or “of the ground” should recite borei pri ha’adamah before eating it since it is more inclusive.

The Shulchan Aruch and the Rama (Orach Chayim 302:2) rule that the bracha on perennials whose stem dies each year is ha’adamah. However, it is disputed whether the reason we recite ha’adamah is because the Shulchan Aruch concluded like Tosafos and ha’adamah is indeed the correct bracha, or because it is a safek whether the bracha should be ha’eitz (like Rosh and Tur), or ha’adamah (like Tosafos), and we recite ha’adamah because of this uncertainty (Maamar Mordechai; see also Graz and Aruch HaShulchan).

This dispute is not merely theoretical. According to the first opinion, someone who recited ha’eitz on a banana should not eat any banana but must recite a new bracha (Chayei Odom 51:9), whereas those who follow the latter approach rule that he should not recite a new bracha and may continue eating.

STRAWBERRIES

The Chayei Odom (51:9) rules that the bracha on strawberries is a safek since some of the plant remains above ground from year-to-year (Mishnah Berurah 203:3). Therefore he rules that one should recite ha’adamah before eating them, but that someone who mistakenly recited ha’eitz should eat one strawberry so that the bracha is not vain. Then he should find an item whose bracha is either ha’adamah or shehakol to be motzi the bracha on the rest of the strawberries.

However according to the Maamar Mordechai and other poskim quoted above, someone who recited ha’eitz on strawberries should not recite a new bracha and may continue eating.

PAPAYA

The Spaniards discovered papaya in Mexico and Central America from where it was transported to the Old World. The earliest halacha 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 what bracha to recite on its fruit. Before quoting his answer, we need to understand the unique way that papaya grows.

Although the papaya may grow ten feet tall or more, it is technically a “woody herb” rather than a tree, 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.

Based on information provided, the Rav Pe’alim discusses what the appropriate bracha on papaya is. He begins by comparing papaya to the eggplant, which I discussed in a previous article. Notwithstanding the eggplant’s woody stalk, it is not subject to the prohibition of arlah, although poskim cite several different reasons. The Radbaz contended that any plant that produces fruit within its first year is not halachically a tree (Shu’t Radbaz #966).

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 (The author admits to not understanding what the Rav Pe’alim meant with this concern, since there are many trees, such as dates, which only produce 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 very atypical from any other tree, whereas dates, although the fruit grows on the new growth high up the tree, they do not grow on the top of the tree.)

2. The stem of the papaya is hollow, which is not characteristic of trees.

3. The fruit grows directly on the trunk and not on the branches. (The author admits to not understanding what the Rav Pe’alim meant with this concern, since there are many trees, such as dates, which produce 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 on 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 arlah 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 arlah and its bracha is ha’adamah (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 4:52) whereas others rule that papaya does have arlah concerns (Mishpetei Aretz, page 27, quoting Rav Elyashiv). I refer the reader to an article on the subject published by the OU, which I can send you.

A contemporary dispute is whether one draws a distinction between papaya growing in Eretz Yisroel and that growing in chutz la’aretz. Whereas the prohibition of arlah exists both in Eretz Yisroel and in chutz la’aretz, questionable arlah fruit is prohibited if it grew in Eretz Yisroel but permitted if it grew in chutz la’aretz. Usually, questionable arlah occurs when we are uncertain whether fruit grew during the first three years. However, in this instance we have a different shaylah. Does a dispute whether arlah applies to a specific species constitute safek arlah, rendering the fruit of this plant permitted if grown in chutz la’aretz?

This question is disputed by poskim, with the above-quoted Radbaz ruling stringently whereas the Maamar Mordechai (203:3) and the Maharsham (Shu’t #196) rule leniently.

COCONUT

Coconut fruit grow on the stem and not on the branches. Thus, according to the reason cited by the Rav Pe’alim that the bracha on papaya is ha’adamah because its fruit grows directly on the stem, the bracha on coconut should also be ha’adamah. Furthermore according to Rashi who says that one of the defining aspects of a tree is that its fruit grows on its branches, the coconut may not be a proper tree, and the correct bracha on coconut would be ha’adamah.

I note that several of the contemporary books on hilchos brachos rule that the correct bracha on coconut is ha’eitz. Some discuss whether the correct bracha on coconut is ha’eitz or shehakol, since the vast majority of coconuts are cultivated for their oil and not for the fruit (VeZos HaBeracha, pg. 376). However, none of the sources I have seen discuss the possibility that the bracha should be ha’adamah, although I think this possibility should be considered.

CANE SUGAR

Another tropical plant that has been cultivated for food for millennia is the sugar cane. Sugar cane is actually a very tall grass. Why discuss sugar cane in an article about trees?

The Rambam (Hilchos Brachos 8:5) quotes a dispute among the Gaonim whether the appropriate bracha on cane sugar is “borei pri ha’adamah” or “borei pri ha’eitz,” and then concludes that the finished product should not be considered a fruit at all but shehakol because of the vast change it undergoes during production.

Why would the bracha on cane sugar be ha’eitz? Why should we consider it a tree?

In answer to this question, let us quote Tosafos (Berachos 36b s.v. biritiva), “And on sugar we recite the bracha borei pri ha’eitz because (the verse) Ya’ari im Divshi, “My forest with my honey” (Shir HaShirim 5:1) refers to sugar.” In Tosafos’ opinion, since Shlomo HaMelech describes a field of sugar cane as a “forest,” the cane is considered a tree! A similar reference exists in the Book of Shmuel (I:14:27), where it refers to “ye’aros hadevash,” or forests of honey, also understood to refer to a sugarcane field.

If the bracha on sugar is ha’eitz, then why isn’t all sugar prohibited because of arlah?

The Radbaz (Shu’t #563) points out that arlah only applies to what is derived from the fruit of a plant, as opposed to sugar cane which derives from the stalk (Birkei Yosef 331:22). Thus, there is no arlah concern on cane sugar, even according to those opinions who rule that one should recite ha’eitz before eating it.

The Shulchan Aruch (202:15) rules that the bracha on sugar is shehakol. However if someone recited either borei pri ha’eitz or borei pri ha’adamah on cane sugar, he should not recite a new bracha since the correct bracha is disputed (Tur, Beis Yosef, and Biyur Halacha ad loc.) However, if the sugar is refined from beets, a person who recited borei pri ha’eitz must recite a new bracha. It is interesting to note that the Mishnah Berurah himself [174:39] mentions sugar as an item to use to be motzi the bracha on other items.

EAT YOUR HEART OUT!  THE PALM STORY

What are palm hearts?

Palm hearts are the immature center of a palm tree that the grower harvests while it is still soft. It is consumed as a vegetable.

Whereas most of the other items listed in this article are all relatively recent innovations to the Jewish diet, Jews have been eating hearts of palm for probably two thousand years. The Gemara (Berachos 36a) cites a dispute what bracha to recite on them! Rav Yehudah contended that the bracha should be ha’adamah like any other vegetable, whereas Shmuel held that it should be shehakol since it eventually hardens. The Gemara then points out that there are other vegetables such as radishes that harden and become inedible, and yet the bracha is ha’adamah. This seems to conflict with Shmuel’s opinion. Shmuel responds that farmers plant radishes intending to eat them as radishes, whereas palm trees are not planted intending to eat the hearts!

The Gemara concludes that the halacha is like Shmuel that the bracha on palm hearts is shehakol, and this is the accepted psak halacha (Shulchan Aruch 204:1). However, contemporary canners and producers of palm hearts do not usually harvest them from wild growth because of environmental and market availability concerns. Instead, they cultivate plantations of particular species of palm for the hearts just like any other cash crop. Based on this information, it seems that the correct bracha before eating palm hearts should be ha’adamah and not shehakol. (It would not be ha’eitz because one is eating the stem, not the fruit.)

In addition to the palm hearts, both dates and coconut grow on varieties of palm tree.

One of the unique features of the palm tree is that it has a central stem that continues to grow, but no real branches; the lulav is really a leaf, not a branch. The Gemara (Sukkah 45b) makes note of this fact and proceeds to compare the Jewish people to our heavenly Father. In the words of the Gemara, just as a palm tree has only one heart, so too the Jewish people have but one heart – to our Father in heaven.

The author acknowledges the tremendous assistance provided by Rabbi Shmuel Silinsky and Rabbi Zusha Blech for the horticultural information used in researching this article.

Rav Ovadia holds that if you have an apple and a banana in front of you and wish to eat both, you should first make “Ha’Adama” on the banana (having in mind not to be “motzei” the apple), and only afterwards say “Ha’Etz” on the apple. Otherwise you’ll have a safek on whether the bracha said over the apple also was the appropriate bracha for the banana, and you cannot make “Ha’Adama” over it.

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